Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Expository Farming

When farmers go about making decisions many factors come into the equation, and each decision can in turn affect a prior or future decision.  I can pick the perfect variety for a field, have the perfect amount of fertilizer placed, have all the pests controlled and have my drainage all lined out only to watch it all wither away because it was scorching hot and never received any rainfall.   Not much I can do in a situation like that.

The point here is that farmers have some things in their control and some things out of their control, so we need to be experts in the areas we have some control over, and make sure our basics are covered.  I can't control temperature nor can I control rainfall, at least not on non-irrigated fields.  So, to position myself to be as successful as possible, I better make sure the things I do have some control over are being taken care of, such as proper soil fertility, pest control, proper timing of various field applications and the like.  I'm talking about the kinds of things you have to do week after week or month after month or year after year in order to maintain a crop to help it reach its maximum potential.  This is what we call taking care of the basics, or taking care of the fundamentals.

Agriculture like other professions has its fair share of scoundrels and snake oil salesmen.  They come along every year promising the moon, which for any given product is always a 3-5 bushel increase.  Evidently each attends the same snake oil school because regardless the product, each essentially use the same sales pitch promising the same result, all for the same price.  Yipee! We got ourselves a deal boys!

I suppose these guys continue to exist in agriculture, like other professions, because PT Barnum was probably correct when credited with saying: "A sucker is born every minute."  The problem is that by and large these "add-on" products just don't work and rarely pay off at a better than break even margin.  A fellow could spend a small (or large) fortune trying to outwit and outguess Mother Nature.  A wise dairy farmer once told me a big key to successful milk production was to obey the four C's: keep the cows clean, calm, comfortable, and cool.  The same logic can be applied to plants.  Rainfall will cover up a multitude of mistakes but if the basics haven't been taken care of along the way, fields will tattle on you come harvest.

Likewise, the church and her leaders has to take care of its basics, the fundamentals.  That all begins with faithful expositional preaching and teaching of Scripture.  What is expository preaching?  Short answer, it is the verse by verse, book by book teaching of Scripture.  What does this matter?  Bible scholar Don Carson lists 6 points as to why this method trumps the more common "topical" method:

  1. It is the method least likely to stray from Scripture.
  2. It teaches people how to read their Bibles.
  3. It gives confidence to the preacher and authorizes the sermon.
  4. It meets the need for relevance without letting the clamor for relevance dictate the message.
  5. It forces the preacher to handle the tough questions.
  6. It allows the preacher to expound systematically the whole counsel of God.

I bring this up because I was reading about a popular church that asked its members via Facebook to say in one word what they loved about their church.  These are some of the responses that question generated: 
  • relevant
  • a place of freedom
  • because the students are wicked awesome
  • come as you are (several versions of this one)
  • accepted as I am (again, multiple variations of this one)
  • because its a riverbed where flows living water (can someone explain this to me???)
  • thinks outside the box
I suppose it's a good thing it's a place of freedom since only one person managed to answer the question   with one word.  None of these responses are bad or wrong, though some of them leave me scratching my head in wonder, while some make less sense than applause at a Justin Bieber concert.  Most churches would do well to be a little more relevant, open to outsiders, and to think outside the box.  But what's a theme commonly missing when the "relevant" heavy church starts asking their people questions like this?  You guessed it -- not one mention of the preaching, teaching, discipleship, worship, vision, mission, missions etc. of the church.  Sure most people would quickly embrace these when suggested, but isn't there something telling when the basics of a healthy church are otherwise never mentioned?

I think, that's too often reflective of churches that either abandoned or never really embraced expository preaching.  Expository teaching and preaching is a key foundation of the church.  It's the fertility, the rich soil, that aids in the growth of all the other functions of the church -- teaching, worship, missions, discipleship, counseling, family life, discipline...  It's key because it places Christ in the proper place, at the head and at the center of everything in the life of the church.  When Christ is placed on the tail end of everything in the church he becomes like a caboose was on a train.  It's only a matter of time before he is completely left off.  

Churches and farms are a lot alike.  Some are healthy, some are not.  Both can and should always be looking for ways to improve.  Both are guilty of looking for quick and cheap fixes to sometimes deep problems and issues.  Both want the snake oil salesman to be right.  But we both know, if we examine ourselves, that if neither take care of the basics, all either of us will be left with is being relevant.

Then we get tattled on.    

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