My pastor sat in on a meeting yesterday with a group of pastors who have been in the ministry for quite a while and have some influence in certain circles. He relayed that more than a few of them said that someone will never grow a large church with a “sharp word.” That is, the way to grow large churches is to preach fluff; tickle ears. Trust me, I get what they meant; if you want butts in the seats and aren’t necessarily concerned about things like salvation and discipleship, then sure, fluff will work. But I’d still disagree with the more general point, which was something like you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
I had the opportunity to say a few words to the congregation this morning and I opened the Bible to Mark’s Gospel and read the first 15 verses. There we read about John the Baptist preaching repentance in the wilderness and baptizing with the baptism of repentance. Then after Jesus’ baptism he takes up the same message: Repent and believe! This was the consistent message of every one of God’s prophets since at least Noah so we shouldn’t be surprised to see John and Jesus preaching it.
I also commented that this was central to Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2. “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” he said. 3000 lives were saved that day! That’s a mega-church folks! And repentance is a “sharp word” to say the least. Given more time I would have loved to have gone through the Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s epistles to show how the very gospel itself qualifies as a “sharp word.” Paul says that the preaching of the cross is scandalous to Jews and folly to Gentiles!
And yet it’s that very message that has grown the church to its present size, which is quite large, even excluding nominal Christians. And while we’re on nominal Christians I’d just add that a large congregation doesn’t equate to a large church, that is, if we believe the church to consist of born again believers and not necessarily those who just show up for Sunday service. Growing a large following isn’t the same as growing a large church.