Church health is more important than church growth. When something is healthy, is will be growing. Growth in the body of Christ is a byproduct of healthy disciples who make disciples. Thabiti Anyabwile is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands, and he wrote a great little book some years back that was titled, “What is a Healthy Church Member?” In the book, he mentions several key characteristics of healthy church members that I would like to share with you in a few posts on my blog.
To begin with, Anyabwile points out that a healthy church member is an EXPOSITIONAL LISTENER. To understand what he means, you need to understand what expositional preaching is. Simply defined, expository preaching is that preaching which takes for the main point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture. It is simply saying from the pulpit what God has already said in His Word. It is preaching that feeds the flock of God. Thabiti writes, “When we listen to the preaching of the Word, we should not listen primarily for practical how-to advice, though Scripture teaches us much about everyday matters. Nor should we listen for messages that bolster our self-esteem or that rouse us to political and social causes. Rather, as members of Christian churches we should listen primarily for the voice and message of God as revealed in His Word.” Expositional listening is careful attention that is given to the meaning of passage and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for one’s life as a disciple.
Jesus said so very much about the importance of hearing and paying attention. He frequently said, “Take heed how you hear.” In many of his epistles, the apostle Paul called on the churches to be discerning and careful in their hearing and application of truth. The truth is that we forget most of what we hear not very long after we have heard it. As a young Christian, I was taught the importance of taking notes during the sermon. I had a college professor who once told me, “A short pencil is better than a long memory.” An expositional listener is someone who takes notes so that he or she has a point of reference to come back to.
Anyabwile lists several benefits of expositional listening. First, it cultivates a hunger for God’s Word. When we begin to listen to expository preaching and dive into the Word as disciples, we will want more and more of it. Second, it helps us to focus on God’s will and to follow Him. God has revealed His will in His Word, and there is no place for our own agenda. We listen for God’s agenda and must seek to reorder our lives and priorities around His agenda. Third, it protects the gospel and our lives from corruption. Hiding God’s Word in our heart will keep us from sin. Fourth, it encourages faithful pastors. Nothing has encouraged my heart in ministry any more than seeing people grow in their hunger and appreciation for Scripture. Last, it benefits the gathered congregation as a whole. It builds unity among the people of God like nothing else. After all, the gospel is what has brought us together, and therefore the gospel must be kept front and center in all that we do.
If this habit of listening is so vital to our health as church members, the question then becomes how do we become expositional listeners? Anyabwile gives us six practical expressions to begin incorporating in our lives:
1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time
2. Invest in a good set of commentaries
3. Talk and pray with your small group about the sermon
4. Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week
5. Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself
6. Cultivate humility
Anyabwile, Thabiti M. What Is a Healthy Church Member? Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008.