Thursday, October 3, 2013

42 Years, 1 Month, 2 Weeks

I was running the other day and started doing math in my head...the result is tongue-in-cheek and purposefully ridiculous. You have been warned.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), one of the greatest minds America has ever produced, played an important role in the First Great Awakening. But after around 20 years, the church in Northampton voted to bar him from the pulpit...for denying the Lord’s Supper to unbelievers. He was still in great demand as a preacher elsewhere, but his own congregation...

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), called the “Prince of Preachers,” was hugely popular in Britain in the latter half of the 19th century. He pastored the same congregation for 38 years. However, at the height of his influence, he attempted to lead the Baptist Union to adopt a confessional standard to combat the theological “Downgrade” taking over. They rejected any attempt to stand for even the most basic orthodoxy concerning Christ. Spurgeon’s health broke in this failed effort.

These two stories have always weighed heavily on me. How long? A pastor has a faithful, effective preaching/teaching ministry for decades, and ends in heartbreak over basic doctrine. How long must a preacher preach to have a problem-free ministry? I warned you this was a ridiculous line of thought. Just wait. It gets worse.

How long did Paul spend in Corinth“And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). Hmmm...obviously not enough. Ever read 1 Corinthians?!

How about Ephesus? Paul’s letter to the Ephesians doesn’t contain any strong rebukes. He covers some basic things like the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Church and the importance of godly speech to each other., no major problems. How long did he spend there teaching? “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:31).

Alright. 3 years. Day and night. Assuming 2 teaching opportunities a day for three years, we’re at 2,190 teaching times. Hmmm...there are some congregants I only see once a week (I’m being generous). To teach them as much as Paul taught the Ephesians, I’d have to teach them for 42 years, 1 month, and 2 weeks. Four decades of Bible teaching, and you’ll surpass both Edwards and Spurgeon...maybe that way you’ll avoid the heartbreak they experienced at the end of their ministries.

Except...I don’t preach like Paul. Or even Edwards or Spurgeon. Not even close. Plus, after 42 years, you have death-birth turnover. After that amount of time you’d be speaking to a very different congregation and might need to start again.

Plus, even though Paul didn’t need to strongly or directly correct the Ephesian congregation, the glorifying Lord Jesus did later (Revelation 2:1-7). Not the perfect Church.


I could hold two services a day for three years...better make that six years, since – again – I am not Paul.

Speaking of Paul, what was his attitude about that problem church in Corinth? Well, even though they broke his heart (I believe the “thorn in the flesh” of 2 Corinthians 12 was messengers about problems in the Corinthian church) he still gave thanks to God for them (1 Corinthians 1:4-8). He prayed for them. He loved them (1 Corinthians 16:24). He corrected them. He continued to teach them.

Well, just as I am not a Paul or Edwards or Spurgeon, neither is the congregation assigned to my care by the Lord a Corinth. Or anything even close. They’re a precious people. There are times looking at them every week over the Lord’s Supper table that my heart feels like it’s going to explode with love for them.

Now I’m reminded of my mentor’s general attitude about church problems: look to the pulpit. Have I prayed for them I even pray enough, period? Have I invested the time in discipling them I should? The little issues that worry me over them, are those issues found in my own life and heart?

I’ll keep preaching to them from the Word with full reliance on the Holy Spirit to do His work in them. I’ll keep seeking my own growth through prayer and that same Word through the same Holy Spirit. They’ll never mature past my own point of spiritual maturity.

And I’ll trust God with what they’ll be in two or three decades, or even 42 years, 1 month, and 2 weeks.

I am thankful for them, and love them. Especially because they so graciously put up with me.

Phew. At least they can’t hear my idiotic mathematical musings while I’m running! That’d be embarrassing!

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