“I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
“And of some have compassion, making a difference” (Jude 22).
In these passages of Scripture, we see two clear commands. First, stand and proclaim the principles of the Word of God boldly and uncompromisingly. Second, show compassion on those to whom we minister. Because we know the Bible does not contradict itself, neither command can be ignored, and both can and should be carried out by God’s people.
As Free Will Baptists, we have done a fine job of staying true to the truth of God’s Word. (If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be a Free Will Baptist!) However, I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of delivering that message to a needy and hurting world with caring, heartfelt concern and compassion. Instead, I believe we spend much time “singing to the choir” rather than reaching the world around us.
In “Songs That Answer Questions,” Bill Gaither addressed the issue of relevant ministry through a vow that should be the heart cry of every one of our churches:
Don’t wanna spend my life preaching sermons that give answers
To the questions no one’s asking anywhere;
When there’s so much pain and hurting, there’s no time to be searching
For the needles in the haystacks that aren’t there.
I wanna spend my time wearing myself out for Jesus
With the news a cure’s been found to heal our land;
Instead of making lists, inventing creeds that aren’t
concerned with people’s needs,
I'll show ’em how to touch the nail scarred hand.
I don’t believe I am exaggerating the importance of this subject when I say the very survival of our ministries, churches, and yes, even our denomination, may very well hinge on our getting this right. If your church has compassion without biblical commitment, you have a social club. If you have biblical commitment without compassion, you have dead orthodoxy. However, if you have biblical commitment coupled with biblical compassion, you have the ingredients for church growth, revitalization, survival, and revival.
Considering this, how do we move from rhetoric to relevance in ministry?
First, as a church, corporately, and as Christians, individually, we must be consistent.
We must be consistent to the Scriptures. No matter the hot-button topic of the day—whether abortion, homosexuality, addiction, or the authority of the Word of God—we must stand boldly, lovingly, and without apology for what the Lord says.
We must be consistent in our stand. We cannot stick our finger in the air to see which way the cultural winds are blowing and adapt our message to meet social norms. Despite the pressure to conform, we must lovingly stand without compromising on God's truth.
Finally, we must be consistent in our scope. We must be careful to declare the “whole counsel” of God’s Word, not only the parts that get enthusiastic applause from the pews. For example, it’s easy to rant and rave about the sin of homosexuality when all sexual sin is wrong, even a church member having heterosexual intimate relations before marriage. Addiction is wrong in all forms, whether addiction to alcohol or addiction to fried chicken. (Ouch!) For folks to respect our message, we must be consistent to teach all parts of the Word of God, not just relying on the easy parts.
The second key to relevant ministry is to be considerate. The definition of considerate is “showing careful thought.” Quite simply, before we preach, teach, and post on social media and our church signs, we need to think.
First, consider our audience. Who exactly is the audience to whom we are trying to minister? It is my opinion Free Will Baptists sometimes do a lot of “preaching to the choir” without putting much thought into crafting messages in a way to reach the lost and hurting in our communities. In our sermon preparation, in our lesson planning, as we prepare to post on social media or our church signs, we must consider those we are trying to reach with the gospel.
We also must be considerate in our approach. I recently saw a meme that read, “For the logic impaired: Abortion is MURDER!” While most Christians agree abortion is murder, how effective will that post be when it starts by inferring any pro-abortion person is stupid? I am convinced no one’s mind or heart will be changed by such a post, because the creator didn’t stop and think about a proper approach to sharing the truth of God’s Word.
It is one thing to be persecuted for taking a biblical stance for what is right. It is quite another thing to be taken to task for being purposely offensive and argumentative. Let me state this clearly: as Christians, God called us to be faithful. He did not call us to be stupid. Absolutely, we should be biblically consistent, but we can do that with a heart of compassion.
If we are going to minister effectively today, we must minister compassionately. We must be compassionate in our message. Yes, preach against sin, and yes, tell folks they are headed to Hell without Christ…but we shouldn’t act like we are happy about it! Difficult biblical truths should always be delivered with a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat. Knowing that people in our pews struggle with the sins we are preaching against should not change our tune, but it should change our tone.
We also must be compassionate in our methods. We can’t just reach the folks who look and act like us. We must be willing to use every means at our disposal to minister to those in difficult situations. Make no mistake about it, relevant ministry is often messy ministry. In those messy moments, remember this challenging quote from Sam Rainer, “If you really believe God’s plan of redemption applies to people of all backgrounds, you’re sinning if you intentionally neglect a group of people because they make you feel uncomfortable.”
Let’s continue preaching the truth of God’s Word to a lost and dying world, but let’s do it with loving care and concern. Only then, as Christians, as the church, and as a denomination, will we move from rhetoric to relevance.