How to Build up a Church

The following words are straight talk from a time often forgotten. It was a time when Dallas, in the words of the author, “was scarcely more than a country town.” He wrote  of a religious meeting he attended. The first preacher spoke on how to build up a church and talked solely about the preacher’s role. He said that the preacher must be at all the community gatherings, mix well and know every member of every household, and do the visiting of faithful and unfaithful members of the church. After he spoke an older preacher addressed the subject. That preacher was Thomas W. Caskey of Mississippi, and it was F. D. Srygley who heard him speak and wrote down what he said. He recorded these words in Seventy Years in Dixie. Though he uses the word “pastor” for a preacher (which the Bible does not), his observations about what motivates people and what true spiritual growth means need to be read by people in our generation:

“I beg leave to differ from the brother who has preceded me on this question…There are certain kinds of people in the church, who have been brought into it by certain kinds of schemes, who cannot be kept in it without some man eternally trotting at their heels. When I find such stock as that in a church which I am preaching for, I give them plainly to understand, that, if they haven’t religion enough to come out to the Lord’s house and worship their God, without being driven up every Sunday like a parcel of stray cattle, they may jump over the fence and starve to death in the wilderness. Brethren, I’m not coming down from intellectual work in the pulpit, to make a common herd-boy out of myself. If I must do such work as that, I will quit preaching and hire out to some man to herd sheep or cows. Church members who cannot be brought out to the house of the Lord, except by pastoral visitations, are not worth standing room in a potter’s field anyhow…

Those who love God and walk by faith, in the religious life, do not gauge their zeal in the church by the personal popularity or ‘mixing’ qualities of the preacher. If I have studied the Bible to any profit, it teaches us to rely upon the gospel as ‘the power of God unto salvation.’ Pastoral visiting and clerical clap-trap may popularize a church and fill it with the irreligious and worldly-minded, but such things will neither convert sinners nor add to the spirituality of worship… ‘God is a spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ If you can convert sinners and build up churches by humoring spiritual weaklings and flattering simpering sentimentalist, in pastoral visiting without preaching the gospel, you  may as well throw away the Bible, get a fashionable preacher and rent hell out for a calf pasture.”

Paul said a gospel preacher’s feet are beautiful (Rom. 10:15), but he never said his hands are magical. The sun of a congregation does not rise and set with a preacher. Members must motivate themselves. For many congregations today, it is high time to go back to the New Testament, especially to I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus, to see what God’s view of the role of a preacher really is.

Kerry

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