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Biblical preaching a prerequisite to valid church growth, Rainer says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The notion that church growth can occur without biblical preaching may be popular, but it is foreign to Scripture, said Thom Rainer, dean of Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 8.
Preaching from 2 Timothy 4:1-8, Rainer expounded from the “words of a dying man” — the soon-to-be-executed Apostle Paul — to Timothy, his son in the faith. Rainer reminded the ministerial students that their call mandates vigorous preaching of the Bible, consistent personal evangelism and dogged perseverance in hardship.
“The Word will not always be popular,” he said. “And the Word in all of its forcefulness and truthfulness will not always be heard gladly.”
Rainer told of speaking at a recent meeting of the American Society for Church Growth after which he was confronted by a former president of the organization who was perturbed that Rainer had devoted his lecture to the topic of preaching when he had been assigned to speak on church growth.
“What does preaching have to do with church growth?” Rainer quoted the official as saying.
Rainer pointed to a recent study conducted by the Graham School which contrasts evangelistic and non-evangelistic churches. The evangelistic churches, those with at least 26 baptisms per year and a baptismal ratio of less than 20-1, were served by pastors who reported spending at least 10.3 hours in sermon preparation per sermon per week. The pastors of the stagnant, less-evangelistic churches reported studying only 1.9 hours per sermon per week.
“You want to hear someone talk about church growth?” Rainer asked. “Hear it well now: Preach the Word.”
Such preaching will not come without opposition from those who are rankled by its authority, Rainer said.
He pointed to this summer’s appearance by Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. on CNN’s “Larry King Live” broadcast discussing the statement on the family which the Southern Baptist Convention voted to add to the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement. As an example of the contemporary culture’s aversion to expounding the totality of God’s truth, Rainer pointed to Crystal Cathedral preacher Robert Schuller’s statement on the same broadcast that Paul’s words on submission should not be preached because they are offensive.
Such hurdles are not limited to nationally televised broadcast debates, but will be present in the arena of the local pastorate or mission field, Rainer said. Preachers must be equipped to weather the stormy trials of the ministry, he said, noting that the apostle’s words are clear: Endure hardship and persevere in the ministry.
The minister must remember the purpose of his calling as he undergoes the stresses of ministry, Rainer said. “You were not called of God for a certain package, a certain level of comfort or a certain stepping stone to success,” he said. “You were called to bring glory to his name.”
Citing Paul’s admonition that young Timothy “do the work of an evangelist,” Rainer asserted that a ministry without personal evangelism is an unfulfilled ministry.
Rainer related that he had been personally convicted of his own inadequacy in this area when President Mohler recently exhorted members of the seminary executive cabinet to make personal witnessing a top priority in their lives. Rainer said that while listening to Mohler’s encouragement he surveyed the past three months of his life and found his personal evangelism efforts to have been “anemic” for one who holds the title of dean of a school of evangelism named for the 20th century’s most renowned evangelist.
Rainer said that since that time he has made himself accountable to his faculty, sharing with them every week the stories of those unbelievers whom he has personally confronted with the claims of the gospel. He said that having partners to whom he is held accountable has proven to be a remarkable impetus for a daily effort to make Christ known. Rainer encouraged seminary students and professors to likewise find a friend or colleague to whom they can be held accountable for their personal evangelistic endeavors.
“I find that I pray more, I find that I am in the Word more, I find that my whole disposition is more Christlike when I ‘do the work of an evangelist,’” Rainer said. “We who are in academia sometimes can get caught up in good intellectual exercises, but I hope all of us, professors and administrators alike, would never forget this admonition: ‘Do the work of an evangelist.'”

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  • Russell D. Moore