Some movies have quotes that have become so inimitable, so distinctive, that you could say the first part of the line, and most folks could finish it for you. Let’s try a few:
- “Houston, we have __ _______.”
- “Go ahead, make __ ____.”
- “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she ____ ____ ______.”
- “Frankly, my dear, I don’t . . .” (Well, let’s not go there.)
The movie Field of Dreams has one of those lines as well: “If you build it”—can you finish the quote?—“he will come.” Some people think it’s “they will come.” In fact, when I graduated from seminary, long before the movie came out (back when the earth’s crust was cooling), I thought a similar line would be true in the church: if you preach it, they will come. Wow . . . was I wrong!
I have lived long enough to realize that while a strong pulpit is essential, a contagious church also requires a context of other distinctives. There must be more than preaching. More than one gift at work. More than the conviction of one person. A contagious church has a number of individuals living out clear, biblical principles with the result that people pause in the midst of their busy lives. They realize this is a place worth coming to and participating in.
When you look across the landscape of churches today, you find many congregations that have experienced phenomenal growth. Unbelievable growth. But upon closer examination, you discover that they have not committed themselves to the four biblical essentials for a church as prescribed in the book of Acts: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer (see Acts 2:42). The church may have more than these four . . . but it must never have less.
It is precisely these four areas that the Adversary will attack so that he can disrupt and, if possible, destroy the church. That’s why it’s important to keep our priorities straight. It’s essential that we not get distracted by all that we can do as a church . . . and stay focused on only what we must do as a church. Otherwise, we may be attracting a crowd for the wrong reasons.
This emphasis on the essentials is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he passed on the torch of ministry to a young pastor named Timothy:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)
Notice both the command . . . and the reason for it. The command is clear: “preach the word”—followed by an explanation of when and how to do it. But there’s also a why, a reason to proclaim boldly the Bible on a consistent basis: there will come a time when biblical truth will be rejected in favor of the stuff people want to hear. The biblical alternative? I have said before that the Lord will honor and bless any plan that upholds prayer and promotes His Word.
This is what Paul was affirming to Timothy.