My wife and I are blessed to be a part of a great church. Next month will mark our 14th year as members of WFR Church in West Monroe, LA. Yes, it is the “Duck Dynasty church”. But, it was a great, thriving church long before the popular TV show and the popularity of the Robertson family. WFR (Whites Ferry Road) has been one of the leading churches in northeast Louisiana for many years, and among churches of Christ there are few churches in the state that are as large and far-reaching.
I have been an observer of churches for many decades and pastor/teachers have been among my best friends since the early ’70’s. I believe there are some concrete reasons some churches succeed while others survive. Success can be measured in many ways and is quite subjective. However, given the mandate to reach the lost with the saving gospel of Christ I believe numbers matter, though for sure membership numbers, the number of baptisms, etc. are only one piece of the puzzle. As I think about why WFR Church of Christ is the size and kind of church it is, the reasons are the same ones that other great churches share. A few of those markers, from my perspective, follow.
Men and women of vision Our history is one of men like Alton Howard, Carl Allison, Bill Smith, Norm Rhodes, and a host of others whose vision for the impact of the work in West Monroe always and forever included the whole world. Every great church I have observed, without regard to the brand, is global in scope of mission. Yes, they are impacting their communities, but their reach is to the far corners of the world.
WFR’s leaders believed they could get the gospel to the ends of the earth so World Radio was born. Now many decades later tens of thousands of people have been reached with the good news and thousands of churches have been planted because of visionaries who thought big. Every church I am aware of that is baptizing people weekly at home are global in the scope of their mission. WFR Relief was begun to serve the planet in the aftermath of natural disasters. Since the early ’80’s WFR Relief has responded to the needs of hurting people around the world. Vision is not confined to only the men. Dr Joneal Kirby began a ministry to young mothers called Heart to Home. It’s a ministry where the older women teach the younger women by example, by word, and monthly meetings where “Heart mom’s” host “Heart sisters” for a great meal, fellowship and a Bible lesson. In the group my wife helps host women who a few months ago were really troubled are now themselves ministering to others and becoming great leaders among our woman. Heart to Home has been a blessing to our church and many others and is soon going national. What a great work!
People with no real vision past their church walls will do little to help anyone.
Transparent leadership Sadly, in most churches, the people in the pews believe the pastor, the elders, or deacons, are somehow on a higher spiritual level than they are. In some cases that is surely true but for the most part its baloney. Leaders who never hint that they have struggles in life, who never admit they struggle with sin just like everyone else, will not produce sold out followers of Jesus. The most holy people I know are also the most honest and the quickest to admit they are flawed people who desperately need God’s grace. Unless church leaders are marked by humility and the willingness to be honest about themselves, publicly, they will not be good leaders.
One of the most important reasons many people come forward at the invitation at WFR to confess some sin, to be baptized, to be prayed for about some sickness or marriage problem is that they know they will not be judged by any of our leaders, or our members as less than one of the family who is hurting. It’s OK to be up front with all of life’s problems, even when it’s ugly and sinful. The folks are met with several people around them, giving hugs, words of encouragement, and unconditional forgiveness.
Generosity One of the first marks of the church after Pentecost was their generous hearts. People who had stuff sold it and gave the money to brothers and sisters who had little. A stingy congregation will never do much good. Many of the fastest growing churches in America give almost 50% of their funds away every year. Someone once said “If you get a man’s heart you’ll get his billfold”. I think there is some truth to that. Some people are just plain stingy and as a result are either broke or can’t enjoy what they have been blessed with because they hoard. Churches should be givers. They should help the helpless. I have been amazed at the generosity of our people at WFR over these years. All great churches heavily support missions but also give to other worthy causes.
Christ centered-Grace driven Every great church shares this distinctive. Far to many churches invest their time and resources in the wrong places. God never called anyone to do “sin management”. Christ came to crush the power of sin and to make men and women righteous. Most preachers on Sunday give the folks in the pew a devotional that appeals to their emotions, or they try to encourage spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, having a quiet time, giving, etc), or some other message with a view of behavior modification. The preacher is thinking “If I can just get the church members to do this or do that or be this or be that….” I have a suggestion. Start preaching Christ and when they fall in love with him, when he becomes their greatest treasure they will do that stuff you want them to do.
No great church (and no great preacher) gets a fraction of an inch from the gospel. People need to not only know the basic facts of the gospel, they need to know what those facts mean for them. I know that when the light comes on and they know who they are and why they are who they are they will be different people. Every ministry of every age group should be gospel centered, Christ saturated. People desperately need to know that better behavior is not the answer to life’s difficulties, Christ is the answer to those problems. Preaching holiness to carnal Christians is like teaching physics to pigs. It’s a waste of time. I promise that if you will teach a man about Jesus and what Jesus has accomplished for him and who he now is in Christ his life will change for the better. Many churches are trying to make great disciples of people who are not even saved. Unless you preach Christ, think, eat, and sleep gospel and grace your ministry and church will do little good.
Every great evangelist, every great revival, every great pastor, and every great missionary have one thing in common. They keep the main thing the main thing. And that thing is the good news about Jesus and what He as done for ungodly sinners and what he offers as a free gift. It never gets outdated, it never looses its power, it never fails. Please, preach Christ to your people.