Especially For Pastors and Teachers: The Nine Basics That Will Carry Your Congregation Through Hard Times — Including Two Surprises
I was a very young Christian, sitting with an elder in the faith, a teacher who’d been a missionary. I asked him how he’d kept strong in Christ his whole life long. He said, “You never get past the basics.”
I’ve been around a few years now myself, and I’m convinced he was right. As we enter a time of testing, nothing can be more crucial for any Christian than staying strong in the basics of following Jesus Christ. Pastors in particular, you must emphasize these absolute essentials of discipleship:
- Bible reading, study, meditation, memorization.
- Fellowship and community.
- Worship, both individual and corporate.
- The teaching of the Word.
- Financial stewardship, giving.
- Outreach: witness, discipling others, beneficence, aid, and stewardship of time and effort, including daily work.
- Systematic doctrine: Knowing intimately well what we believe.
- Apologetics: Knowing why we believe it.
I’m guessing the first half-dozen items were about what you were expecting. Number seven might have had you scratching your head: “I get that I’m supposed to teach them to live as Christians in their daily work, but I’m not used to thinking of it as basic, in the same way as prayer and Bible reading are.” If I’d used a different word, I’m sure would have made more sense. A Christian’s daily walk is a matter of obedience to Christ, all week long.
Is God Going to Give Us a Doctrine Test On Our Way Into Heaven?
So far so good? Then let’s get to the ones that hardly any church in the country treats with the importance they deserve: knowing what we believe and why. If you teach these things, more power to you! You are too rare a breed. Too few churches give them the attention they need.
I felt the sharp taste of that when I was leading a committee devising a church health survey at my own church. I suggested including several agree/disagree questions such as, “Jesus Christ was born of a virgin.” “Jesus was God in the flesh.” “All humans have a sin nature.”
Another member of our committee — a man known for leading high-intensity Bible studies, objected to including these items. “God isn’t going to give us any paper-and-pencil test to get into heaven.” Somehow for him such doctrines had become extraneous knowledge. And our church was one of the better ones in the community.
Our Numbers Aren’t Looking So Good
It wasn’t just him, though. Ligonier Ministries’ latest State of Theology survey shows that about a third of evangelical Christian agree that “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” More than half agree that “Jesus Christ is the first and greatest being created by God.” One in seven say that “Jesus Christ was a great teacher, but he was not God.” Nearly half think the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. One-third say humans may sin a little, but really we’re good by nature.
God wants us to know. Christianity isn’t just a religion of the heart and the hands; it is a religion of the head, too. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Three-of-ten in that same survey say that “worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church.” And about 17 percent either agree or they think it might be true that “Religious belief is a matter of personal opinion; it is not about objective truth.”
These are people who call themselves evangelical, but not one of those statements is true Christian doctrine. (The numbers for Roman Catholics are significantly worse, I’m sad to say.)
The Bible Makes Knowledge a Definite Essential
But what if my friend was right? What if all this knowledge isn’t really that important? Then the Bible has its priorities all mixed up. Right there in that meeting when he said that, I opened up my computer-based Bible and asked it quickly to show me every place the New Testament used words relating to know, study, teach, or learn. The result was even more emphatic than I’d expected.
Later on I repeated the search more carefully, crossing out cases where the text really wasn’t about Christian discipleship, and found that these words occur much more often than words related to belief, faith, trust or love, compassion, caring.
God wants us to know. Christianity isn’t just a religion of the heart and the hands; it’s a whole-person religion, including our heads, too. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Nothing Dry or Dusty Here!
But isn’t this a recipe for dry, dusty teaching? It can be, if you have a dry, dusty teacher delivering it. Look at what the apostle Paul did, though, with the doctrine of Jesus’ deity in Philippians 2. He ran the gamut, starting out practical, using it to illustrate the humility with which we should treat each other. To ground our hope for the future, a day when every knee (which includes His enemies’ knees) will bow to Jesus and confess His glory. And he turned it into one of the most glorious songs of praise to our God.
Who will keep on following Jesus closely if they’re not sure who He really is, why we really need Him, or what promises He will surely deliver on for us? Who will keep on with Him if they’re halfway convinced He’s no more than a nice fable?
Look further at how the author of Hebrews used that same doctrine. He used it in the book’s first paragraph to introduce a long list of reasonslong list of reasons the Hebrew Christians should follow Jesus no matter what. How practical is that?
Now, I’ll admit that for us today, Melchizedek and Leviticus aren’t edge-of-the-seat soul-gripping issues, but the author wasn’t writing it for us. He was addressing his immediate readers’ issues, not ours. If he were writing today, you can be sure he’d be all over today’s hot topics, such as science, sexuality, and claims that the Bible is mere myth.
Your Church Needs This, Now More Than Ever
The Bible makes knowledge — study, teaching, learning, and knowing — one of its highest priorities. Think, too, of its practical value in holding us close to Christ in times of trial. Who will keep on following Jesus closely if they’re not sure who He really is, why we really need Him, or what promises He will surely deliver on for us? Who will keep on with Him if they’re halfway convinced He’s no more than a nice fable?
Somehow we’ve let too many of our church members think it’s enough to show up and listen on Sunday mornings, or maybe read an easy chapter in an easy Sunday School book and fill in some easy blanks there. We won’t get anywhere — and it would be rude, besides — browbeating them with the “H” word (homework).
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Instead we could be inspiring them with the thrill of knowing the great truths that will keep them strong through whatever may come. It comes from recommending great reading, and from setting the example yourself in it. It comes even from setting a challenge. Whoever said cookies taste better when we serve them from the lower shelf, anyway?
All nine of the basics are crucial. We’re each prone to being better at some of them than others, so it’s worth asking ourselves now, how can we shore up the rest of them?
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the recently released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.