“Wesley, if six weeks in one place, would preach myself and the people dead.”
Those words are from John Venn, a contemporary of Wesley. Alongside other members of the Eclectic society, Venn was discussing the apostles method of preaching. His point was that the local church pastor has a different ministry than a traveling evangelist, like Wesley. The apostles were more like traveling preachers than local church pastors. Therefore to preach like Wesley, week after week, would not lead to healthy sheep.
This is something I must keep in the forefront of my mind as I read through the sermons of Puritans, Edwards, and other Great Awakening heroes. Their congregations were markedly different than the one that I serve. One major difference is that people who are in attendance are here because they want to be (excepting the handful of children dragged here by parents). Those present do not face imprisonment or social shame for not attending.
I love reading books for pastoral ministry that are hundreds of years old. I’m often amazed that these men of old face similar issues that I face in the twenty-first century. Their thoughts, so often grounded in the gospel, are timeless and beneficial. It’s helpful to me to see the same types of issues hundreds of years ago, as it anchors me in eternal truth in the midst of the present streams of culture. But if I’m not careful I can start preaching to a congregation that is not my own.
What I’m meaning to say is that as a Southern Baptist I believe in regenerate church membership. That has to mean something for the way I preach on Sunday mornings. It means that while I expect to have unbelievers in our midst a vast majority of my listeners are going to be those who are followers of Jesus. This is markedly different from those who lived in Puritan England or even in the Deep South of the 1950s.
Revivalistic preaching in previous eras was far more effective because a vast majority of those gathered were Christian by name only. They were there because either social or governmental pressure required their attendance. Thus preaching mostly evangelistic messages about conversion was entirely fitting. But a steady diet of this type of preaching to believers will lead to a shallow and colloquial faith.
If we truly believe that our members are regenerate then we ought to preach in a way that is focused upon feeding the sheep and equipping the saints for the work of ministry. This is not to mean that we are not sensitive to outsiders. Nor does this mean that we do not proclaim and clearly spell out the gospel in every sermon. But it does mean that as we walk through the Scriptures our points of application are not solely focused on how a person is to be saved, but rather how believers ought to live out the Christian life.
If we are constantly trying to get our members saved then we’ve dropped the ball somewhere. I have a suspicion that the real problem is that many professing believers look a bit too much like the world, but rather than treating it as a discipleship problem we treat it as an evangelism problem. And so we keep going with revivalistic preaching and make the whole of the Christian life about where one spends eternity. It is true that we never graduate from the gospel but it is not true that we never graduate from the question of whether or not we are saved. To continue trying to get our members saved and making that the entirety of our preaching ministry will leave our sheep malnourished. And we also had better stop telling people we believe in regenerate church membership.
Shouldn’t a belief in regenerate church membership have an impact on our preaching ministry?
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