This is an encouraging testimony from a pastor sent to Mark Dever and posted at 9 Marks.
An “anonymousized” version of a testimony sent to Mark Dever. Read on and enjoy this refreshing reminder about the power of expositional preaching to change both preachers and their people.
Mark, I am a Senior Pastor of a Baptist Church. I am writing to thank you for your remarks at the Shepherd’s Conference. Your book “9 Marks…” has also been a great help. I guess I could simply say you have been a blessing to me and the ministry God has given me.
You should know that what you are doing to help rally reformed pastors to restore the church to health and biblical authority is an important work!
In [this large metro area], churches are wealthy enough to market themselves a crowd (I am also guilty). And how do we market? By asking and supplying what people say they prefer for their church experience. Given that my community finds “relevance” the most important value to hold, I have been feeding them human enrichment rather than eternal and powerful truth (I have been like Joel Osteen in style with a little SBC culture thrown in). I have grown a church of baptized pagans.
I thought you might be encouraged to hear the short version of what God is doing in me and through me.
I finished [seminary] in 2001 with my M. Div in Church Growth and came to [the church I now pastor]. As soon as I got to [this church], I began to market my church and move full on in contemporary ways (mailers, movies, skits, felt needs preaching, topical preaching, improve your life preaching etc). It worked to grow the crowd. We went from 300 to 500 then to 800. We built a new worship center of 1200 seats. We hired staff and started language congregations on our campus totaling 6 now. We were successful by the world’s standard. What I have seen in these years is a lifetime of church growth tricks, ideas, and “miracles in a box”. I added up the mailers we have done to be more that 500,000 pieces in these years – all with felt needs appeals. Though my crowd was growing, we were not growing a church. We would gain 100 then lose 50 because of fighting and selfish demands of one group with another. I would do another growth campaign and gain more only to lose others. Growing numerically has been a roller coaster! What a miserable thing always looking for the next fad. What a sad life for the local church!
Then, about a year ago God convinced me to teach a verse by verse series through the book of 1st Peter. I don’t know why I agreed. I guess since it was Sunday night I thought I would appease some of the more conservative in the church. I thought I would spend about 1 message per chapter. I began early 2005 and now I am beginning chapter 3! I must say that God had a miracle for me in His Word. I began preaching 1 Peter 1:1 and I began seeking what God meant in the text instead of what I wanted to find in the text. Over the summer, the scales fell from my eyes and I saw things previously unknown. Namely, I saw the sovereignty of God in converting sinners! I simply taught each Sunday night what God taught me the week before. The audience sat watching in amazement. They saw God; they saw me alive with the power of God. They saw truth. They didn’t know what was happening to me or them but God’s children liked it! I saw them with pads and pens taking down every word I said! Every week since then we have been glorying in the Word.
So, my testimony is that I was able to remain an Arminian and retain a felt needs approach through 8 years of study during Bible college and seminary. None of the great professors could change my mind. What listening to the brightest minds in theology today could not do one summer’s expository preaching did. God’s Word is powerful – not our use of God’s Word but God’s true message in His Word is powerful! Powerful not just to convert sinners but also to transform preachers!
My Sunday night group liked so much the teaching and I loved so much the learning that I began on Sunday in the AM an expositional series through the Gospel of Matthew (a big change from “You can have the Abundant Life Now” kinds of sermons). Some loved it and others hated it. I would get a call one minute from someone who just discovered some new blessed truth in the Word and in the next moment I would get a call from a church leader saying I was ruining the church with the theological teaching! We are approaching one year in Matthew and I am in chapter 5.
At this time our attendance has dropped back to about 500 but those who remain are happier, more peaceful, and hungrier for God than ever. We are adding new people who are coming because of our beliefs and teaching rather than our gimmicks. Those who came for the bread are moving on but those who love the meat are growing and loving God more.
Frankly, I am in a tension filled time. The members I taught to value growth above all things now want me to pull more growth tricks—I am lying in the bed I made. I have a lot of teaching to do to turn this ship completely. What I am working to do at this point is teach biblical values that can empower my membership to make Godly decisions and allow me to move the ministries into a model that honors God not man.
I am beginning to teach the 9 Marks on this coming Sunday in worship and in Sunday School classes. I am working behind the scenes to move the church into some bylaws, covenants, and practices that honor God. I feel that this season will spell the future for this great congregation. We will move on and up or they will reject the hard truths and we will fail.
Please pray for me and this church as I seek to do what you are doing in restoring my church to a healthy model. Only God can do it. He has given me every encouragement that He is at work because He has done so much so far without my help. In fact He did much of this in me without my consent!
Thanks for reading this and I hope my story encourages you to keep your hands to the plow!