It is a thrill to take part in a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration for a church that has ministered well in a new community. However, whether this is going to be a great church through which many are led to Christ is yet to be seen.
It is a thrill for me to take part in the anniversary celebration of a church that has been a beacon light in the community for a hundred years. Each year the congregation grows stronger. It ministers to its members and others in times of joy and sorrow. It rejoices with the newlyweds and weeps with those who mourn. It sends members into places of leadership in the community and beyond. It watches its sons and daughters establish strong Christian homes and raise their newborn in the Christian faith.
What made that congregation a beacon light in the community? It was not its size and wealth. Other congregations exist in the same community with larger memberships and are well endowed, yet face many empty pews each Sunday morning.
I believe St. Paul has answers to this question that are worth considering. Remember now, we are talking about a congregation that will be a blessing in the community for many generations, not just an organization that grows rapidly and then fades away.
Sometimes we hear people say the preacher is responsible for the growth. If we are realistic, one would have to agree some pastors are more attractive than others in reaching the crowd. However, no human being can change the hearts of people and bring them into the kingdom of God. Listen to St. Paul: “What is Apollos and what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe Ð as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
The seed is the Gospel. In planting the seed Paul told the Corinthians they were sinners, but Christ had come into this world to die for their sins. If they would receive Him as their Savior and Lord, God would forgive them and restore them into fellowship with himself for all eternity. Through this message the Holy Spirit worked faith in the Corinthian’s heart.
When it was time for Paul to leave, the congregation was not left alone. Apollos was Paul’s successor. He continued with the same message and deepened them in this faith. The Holy Spirit worked, and lives were changed. Many of these people became strong servants in God’s Kingdom. The congregation grew in numbers, and it became a beacon light in Corinth.
Paul now moves from an agricultural picture to an architectural presentation. In verse ten the Apostle says, “I have laid a foundation.” This is the Gospel. Others followed who built on this foundation. Some built well using gold, silver, or costly stones. Others came and were not as faithful to the Word of God. Their work was described as building with wood, hay, or straw. The fruits of their work would eventually show as having accomplished little in the spiritual building of the church. This congregation would soon become just another organization in town. It is no longer a beacon light. People can attend that church and enjoy the fellowship, but their lives are not changed. They do not grow into strong servants of the Lord Jesus.
Recently I was visiting with some people who had attended the Moody Bible Church in Chicago. It was the church where Dwight Moody, the great evangelist, once preached. I asked these people about the service. They reported it was the same old church, proclaiming the same message from God’s Word preached there for decades. It is a beacon light in this large city, and people come from miles around, even arranging their visit to Chicago to attend a worship service in this old church.
Let me compare these well-known churches with great eating places. When I return to Maine, I eat much seafood. There is something about eating good haddock with the smell of the ocean and the roar of the waves. Now, while there are many great restaurants to choose from, one is my favorite. It has been in business for at least fifty years. It has a reputation Ð they really know how to fix clams.
This is a crude illustration, to compare a restaurant with a church, but I think you get the point. There are churches where you will always hear the gospel in an exciting way. The music will be outstanding, and you can sense that this place is alive with God’s Spirit. There is consistency in the preaching of the Scriptures. People’s lives are being changed in that place. It is a place that has something to share with me, be it a good or bad day in my life.
Paul continues in our text to tell us that what is taught in a congregation today will reveal itself in the future. Listen to John Stott: “Paul offers a solemn warning to all teachers. The Christian teaching ministry is of greatest importance, because it is designed to build up the Church. If what we teach is Biblical and balanced, we will be adding a valuable building to the foundation, and it will last. If, however, our teaching is unbiblical Ð the wisdom of the world Ð then we are adding a ramshackle superstructure that will not survive. Thus what we teach will bless or harm the Church not only for this time, but for eternity.”
This warning is for all who teach in the church, whether the message comes from the pulpit or the Sunday school class. This is also for the congregations who most often sit as listeners Sunday morning, but are teachers during the week in conversation with the public.
It is also the responsibility of the congregation to know what is being taught in your church. Most congregations at some time place some ridiculous demands on the pastor. He is supposed to be good at all things Ð preaching, teaching, counseling, pastoral care, and the list goes on. Be sensible in what you expect from the teachers in your congregation, but be insistent that the message is true to the Word of God.
I sometimes wonder when I hear people evaluate their pastors. Here are some of their comments: “He has such a beautiful voice.” “He is a wonderful communicator.” “He preaches without notes.” “He has a marvelous sense of humor in the pulpit.” All these qualities have a place. However, what if he possesses all of them, yet he does not hold up Christ? We do not go to church to be entertained. We enter God’s house to be fed. The entertaining church will never be a beacon light in the community. It will deteriorate into a social club with little to offer the sin-sick soul.
Well, if you are a person of the world asking questions about the church, or if you might even be looking around for a church home, think seriously about the purpose of the church. Don’t be in a hurry to join. Remember, what you are hearing will shape your life and your eternal destiny.
What made the church on the corner a beacon light in the community? It is faithfully preaching Christ, the crucified and risen Lord.