Read Part 1.
The central purpose of the church is to exalt Christ. We do that through evangelism, worship, fellowship, prayer and in general, making disciples (Acts 2:42-43). The primary means by which disciples are made is through the transforming power of the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit uses the inspired Word to change lives (Rom 12:1-2). Therefore, it is vital that the local church provide a variety of means by which the life-changing truth of God’s Word is taught and applied to God’s people.
At this point I want to discuss specific means by which the Word of God can be taught in the church setting and conclude with some comments about personal study. I have to say that as a pastor of the same church for over four decades there is nothing that is on my mind more frequently than how to communicate God’s Word to His people in such a way that it transforms lives. I often wake up at night thinking of a family or individual who is not doing well spiritually, praying for ways that they might be reached with the truth of God’s Word.
Over the years our local assembly has incorporated many approaches to accomplishing this end with the goal of making more and better equipped disciples (Eph 4:11-12). Many methods have been short-lived, some on purpose, others because they have proven unproductive. Other means have been woven into the fabric of our church life. Below are some of the ways our church is attempting to communicate the Word at this time. This is not an exhaustive list, nor would every church want to duplicate what we are doing. As a matter of fact, many churches are doing a better job than we are and have developed approaches that work well for them. What I list below is simply what we are doing, and hopefully some value will be gleaned from detailing them.
I would say one more thing. We take a “many nets” approach. That is, we are throwing out many nets (means or opportunities) with the hope that, while a great number of our people may fall through some of the nets (that is, not take advantage of or express interest in many of the opportunities), hopefully one or more of the nets will “catch” them and they will become engaged in the study and application of Scripture. Below are some of our nets:
1. Leadership model
We begin with leadership. If the leadership of the local church (in our case, elders) is not modeling Christian living (1 Tim 3:1-7), prayer (1 Tim 2:8), and the importance of the instruction of the Word (1 Tim 4:12-16) before the congregation, then we cannot expect the church body to recognize the importance of these things. Our public prayers, reading of Scripture and exposition (2 Tim 2:15) lay out a pattern for the congregation to follow.
2. Preaching of expository messages
Expository preaching not only teaches the Word in context, it demonstrates how the Word should be approached, interpreted and applied. Almost all of our sermons are verse-by-verse expositions of the Word. Even though the majority of church goers today apparently have little appetite for sound doctrine, we nevertheless are instructed in the New Testament to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:1-5). To aid in this we offer:
- Sermon manuscripts – which are about eight pages long and are the documents from which I preach (about 70 individuals/families receive these during the week prior to the sermon). Some read these manuscripts during the week, looking up Scripture and preparing themselves for the preaching of the Word on Sunday. Others read, or re-read, the manuscript after the message has been preached, studying details or checking out portions they may have missed, misunderstood or want to research.
- Sermon note outlines – placed in each bulletin. We encourage note taking by providing a skeleton outline of the message with space to write whatever stands out to the listener. Our outlines are not “fill in the blanks.”
- Children sermon notes – we also offer notes for children not in junior church, which at times are “fill in the blanks” and other times are more general in nature. Two women in our church receive the sermon manuscript early in the week and construct these notes for children. Interestingly, one leader of the local chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletics uses the children’s notes in his Bible studies for high school and college students.
3. Sunday school classes
We have classes for all ages which are centralized around Scripture. When I travel to other countries I notice that Sunday school classes, or their equivalent, are often not offered. Increasingly in America the same is true. The popular church paradigm at present is sometimes called the “simple church” in which there is a weekend “celebration” that is geared toward the unchurched and the dechurched. For more in-depth Bible study small groups are organized. These groups are often uneven in their study of Scripture, depending on the leadership of the group. Suffice it to say, in the majority of simple churches the study of Scripture is not paramount. I believe many opportunities throughout the week must be offered if a good diet of biblical truth is on the menu. Sunday school remains an important part of that diet at least for us. Our structure is as such:
- Children – The 18 month to 3 year old children are being taught select Bible stories. Three year olds are using our own adaptation of Generations of Grace which covers Genesis to Revelation in three years. Generations of Grace material is taught from preschool through 4thgrade in a three year cycle. Thus students complete the series twice. The Generation of Grace material emphasizes the relevancy of Christ in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation focusing on the plan of salvation and our need of personal redemption. Fifth and sixth grades (11-12 yrs.) are taught apologetics/hermeneutics/world views /inductive Bible study using Answers in Genesis material as a guide. Additional topics covered are: the Young Peace Maker, Fear of Man, and an inductive Bible study of two books from the New Testament. Junior church is a two year cycle covering the attributes of God, the names of God, the fruit of the Spirit and apologetics from the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Ages 12-13 are taught Bible college level courses on systematic theology. High school age is taught biblical exposition, apologetics, and doctrinal topics with emphasis on biblical discernment. At this level many of them begin to teach children as well as their peers. We believe it is important that our youth contribute to the body life of the church through ministry and service.
- Adults – we offer several electives at a time, each course lasting two to three months. They are divided into three categories: Bible (normally a study of individual books of the Bible as well as surveys), theology (including church history), and Christian living topics. Offering multiple adult classes not only provides rich biblical instruction on a variety of subjects, it also gives numerous individuals the opportunity to grow through teaching.
4. Bible studies
We have Bible studies scattered throughout the week in various places at various times. While some of our studies will be based on a book handling a specific theme or topic, most center around the direct study of the Bible. Some of our groups include Iron Sharpening Iron (for men ranging in size from 4 to 7), and various women’s Bible studies.
5. Women’s ministries
In reference to the women of our church, we have two programs geared directly toward them. Our Titus 2 ministry includes any women who wants to be involved. Part of Titus 2 is our “Friendship Circles” in which four to six women meet once a month for fellowship, prayer and Bible study. We also have a ministry we call “Moms in Christ” which is aimed at mothers of younger children. Among other things they sponsor two small group Bible studies, one during the day and one on Wednesday nights.
6. Small groups
One Sunday night per month we have small groups. The majority of our church body participates in these groups which usually meet in homes, have a meal together, discuss that Sunday morning sermon and make application.
7. Wednesday evening service
Our Wednesday mid-week service is one of the highlights of our church life. We offer a light, inexpensive supper followed by our children’s club, teen Bible study and adult Bible studies and prayer. For adults, Wednesday study is a time to go even deeper into the things of God. The focus is on systematic theology, hermeneutics, and biblical themes.
8. Men’s Theological Study Forum
Our most in-depth exploration of Scripture comes at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings as about 20 men gather for a men’s theological study forum. No stone is left unturned in our attempt to understand the doctrines the Lord has given us. At this point the MTSF has replaced our Springfield Center for Biblical Studies which is an academic, class room form of instruction. We will probably resurrect the SCBS in time, but at this moment we are finding the MTSF more profitable.
9. Springfield Center of Biblical Counseling
As a unique means of developing disciples we now offer the Springfield Center for Biblical Counseling to address specialized behavioral and spiritual issues through the use of Scripture. The focus of the SCBC is an outreach to the community, but also provides counseling for some church members. In addition to our pastors we presently have 2 male and 3 female counselors certified by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). Our SCBC is now a training center for others who desire to pursue certification as a biblical counselor.
10. Bible conferences
Conferences are held annually to promote good Bible teaching from outside sources. It is important that our people know that there are many other good ministries and individuals scattered throughout the conservative evangelical community which hold to our understanding of the sufficiency and importance of Scripture.
11. Think on These Things
TOTT is devoted to literature designed to equip the saints and develop discernment. TOTT writings began in 1994 when a missionary organization asked me to write a short monthly paper to be distributed to their missionaries which would keep them up-to-date on theological and current issues facing evangelical believers. Other ministries and individuals discovered these papers and requested to be added to our mailing list. Through direct mailing and emails, in addition to our website and other ministries promoting these articles, many thousands of believers worldwide have made use of this material. In addition to the articles, book reviews, mostly written by myself, have been added to our website: www.tottministries.org. To date over 200 articles on contemporary theological matters and current issues are on our website, and approximately 650 book reviews as well as numerous teaching resources. The focus of this ministry continues to be biblical discernment, as we seek to keep in balance the exhortation of Scripture and the defense of it (Titus 1:9).
12. Young adult Bible study (for single young adults)
Young adults often find it difficult to know where they fit into the local church – too old to be in the high school programs but too young to see themselves running with older adults and not yet ready to establish a family. We believe it important to provide a net for this special group. For over 20 years we have offered a Bible study every other week in a home environment. We serve a meal, study the Scriptures and enjoy helpful fellowship. This is obviously a fluid group as life changes are common with young adults, but throughout the years it has proven to be a valuable tool.
13. Elder Care Groups
These are groups in which an elder shepherds a subsection of our church body. We have found it valuable to break our church body into smaller sections and place an elder over individuals and families to provide special attention to their physical and spiritual needs. The elders pray regularly for members of their group, visit them when sick, and assist our deaconesses in organizing meals for them when needed, for example illness or the birth of a baby, and give general spiritual oversite for them.
(Next: The responsibility of the individual believer.)
Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois since 1975. He has authored several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and six grandchildren.