It’s a question that can be applied to any number of situations, but it always seeks to establish one thing: a clearly expressed goal. That goal may be so unrealistic that it is simply unattainable or so easy that it is underwhelming. Either one is worthy of another conversation, but neither is the ultimate point of the question. The question seeks to establish that not only is there a goal somewhere out there, but also a way to reach it.
A long time ago I had the conversation with myself in a newly furnished preacher’s office of a small church building on the plains of northeastern Colorado. The books had been unboxed and put on the shelves; the desk that I bought as a kit had been fully assembled. The telephone had a dial tone, and the computer and printer were hooked up and ready to go. And all the long hours in a classroom or studying at home in the wee hours of the morning were behind me, but Sunday was just around the corner—that first Sunday of my now officially new career. And I had to ask the question: What is the desired outcome?
For me, it boiled down to one thing. I wanted my preaching and teaching to strengthen the faith of others. I didn’t want to teach new things. I believed then, and still do, that all the truth God intends for man has been revealed in His word. I didn’t want to lead the congregation to do new things, for I believed then, and still do, that the model of New Testament Christianity in the 20th century had already been developed. It wasn’t to change the world or even a small part of it by promoting a cause other than the gospel. I still believe that it is the only cause that matters. Right or wrong, I stand by those same desired outcomes after all these years. I believe that it has helped me avoid some of the tragic mistakes often made by preachers and congregations alike.
I still stand for preaching the truth even when I see that it often falls on deaf ears. It has always fallen on deaf ears, but a few attentive ones as well. I’ve heard some express the idea that we should ditch the idea of holding gospel meetings because they are no longer effective as an evangelistic effort.
I would submit that it should never have been the case that baptizing lost sinners who come to the meeting and who respond to the invitation is THE exclusive desired outcome. If it was, then I’ll admit our best days are behind us. But then I have to ask the same question about weekly preaching from the pulpit. Why do we still offer an invitation at the end of every sermon? For those 104 invitations per year that are extended, we seldom get more than a handful of baptisms all year long and almost never in response to the Sunday evening invitation. Should we stop offering the invitation? Surely the lost souls in the pew understand that they can respond to the Lord’s grace at any time. Perhaps the invitation has lost its value as well.
Why do we struggle to find a teacher for every class and strive to offer “classes for all ages,” when it is obvious that the majority, when given the choice, choose not to attend a class at all? A lot of money could be saved if we weren’t spending it on curriculum or using it to illuminate and heat up or cool down classrooms.
We continue to offer invitations, and we continue to offer classes because we don’t have a desired outcome of one baptism per invitation or 100% lifetime attendance at Bible class. Instead we have a desired outcome of instilling hope to those who want to reach out for help and a desired outcome of strengthening those who want to be edified. If we had a desired outcome of offering a venue for the lost in our community to hear a lesson or a series of lessons on a gospel theme, then numbers wouldn’t be the gauge by which we measure success or failure. If we had a desired outcome of advancing the gospel, then we simply want the preaching to be done because men cannot be saved until they hear (Rm. 10:13-17) preaching. Also, because our God chose the foolishness of preaching to reach the lost (1 Cor. 1:21). I just can’t get comfortable choosing a different method than my God did. I want His desired outcome for those in and out of His church (1 Tim. 2:4), and I support any plan that He promotes and that accomplishes His desire.
Keep studying. DC Brown ©2016