There is a lot of discussion these days about making our ministries successful. Church growth – be it quantitative or qualitative – is the great concern of many a book, conference or leadership retreat.
So long as we define success against God’s yardstick¹, I don’t entirely dismiss the “success paradigm.” But I do believe this: no pastorate will be successful in the absence of biblical preaching. The faithful preaching of a humble, prayerful pastor is one of God’s greatest means for building up His people.
An illustration of this is found in the Old Testament. In Ezra 6 verse 14 we read that “…the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah.”
This is a truly remarkable statement. It would be like saying that “Ballymoney Baptist church flourished under the preaching of Colin Adams” (something that sounds unblushing and unlikely in equal measure!). Yet by the grace of God this potentially can be said of us. If we will commit ourselves to a biblical ministry, our churches can only profit.
Let us draw encouragement from the preaching ministries of Haggai and Zechariah. Consider three particular lessons:
God’s People Prosper Under Preaching
It is refreshing to read such a positive review of preaching: “the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah.” The word “prosper” could be translated “succeeded.” The Jews succeeded in building the temple as a direct result of the proclamation of Haggai and Zechariah. No preaching; no prospering.
Many today would claim the very opposite. They say that preaching is a hindrance to church life and growth. What we need, they claim, is less preaching and more practice. But the Bible disagrees with any such dichotomy. Scripture presents an integrated paradigm where Word and work, declaration and deeds, are in a dynamic causal relationship. The powerful word of God produces the earnest activity of God’s people. Pastors and teachers prepare God’s people for works of service by explaining Holy Scripture and exhorting people with it (Eph 4 v 11-12).
God’s Word Is The Answer to Spiritual Apathy
Haggai and Zechariah ministered in a period of spiritual lethargy. In recent decades, the Jews had returned from exile. Back from Babylon they literally rebuilt from the rubble. Unfortunately, however, they prioritized the building of their own homes to the neglect of God’s temple. Although they did lay the temple’s foundations (536 BC) the work halted for sixteen long years. In the year 520 BC, Haggai and Zechariah began to preach. Their essential message was that the temple must be rebuilt, no excuses! Energized by the Word God’s people worked, and the temple was rebuilt by 516 BC.
We too live in days of great spiritual lethargy, at least in Europe and North America. Its not only declining attendances that is of concern. In many quarters, there is a waning interest in prayer, missions, and personal holiness. The lure of materialism and personal fulfillment has too often eclipsed a desire for God’s glory, even within the church.
What will wake up our slumbering churches and breath fresh life into our deadened hearts? What will call us back to the priority of making disciples rather than building our own kingdoms? Zechariah and Haggai would testify: it is the preaching of God’s Word!
The Preacher Is To Be An Example For His People
We mustn’t get the impression that Haggai and Zechariah were standing aloof from all the ministry. I am very struck by Ezra 5 verse 2. It tells us that “Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, helping them.”
Preachers are not just to preach; they are to be practitioners. Paul’s apprentice, Timothy, was told to both preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2) and set an example to the flock (1 Tim 4:12). As heralds of God, we must seek to embody the very truths that we proclaim. If we call people to lives of faith, repentance, obedience and love, we must seek by the grace of God to live that life. There is nothing worse than a hypocrite; nothing better than a model of holiness.
¹ No book has helped me more in defining this than R.Kent Hughes and his book, Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome. Hughes examines the bible’s view of success. A successful ministry is marked by prayerfulness, faithfulness, holiness, servant-heartedness etc.Tweet