Preachers must resist temptation to water down their messages

Even though recent generations of pastors have debated about methods for growing churches, “church growth is no longer an issue,” Chris Osborne told seminarians at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary March 21. Osborne is the pastor of Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas, and a 1977 graduate of Southwestern Seminary.

Osborne said his generation fought a battle over the inerrancy of the Bible and a conservative view of theology in the seminaries and agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention. Then came issues about methods for growing churches.

“Today, anyone can grow a church,” Osborne said. “The question this generation faces is, ‘When you get them (to church), what are you going to do with them?’”

Osborne said young pastors can be tempted to lower the substance of their teaching on Sunday in order to attract people back next week. That is not the model Jesus demonstrated, though.

Osborne pointed out in John 6:26 that “the crowd came to Jesus” not for spiritual nourishment but for the physical food he gave them. But once the people came, Jesus gave them the truth in a direct and unvarnished way.

“In verse 53, Jesus told the people what they must do to have life in him,” Osborne said. “He put the truth to them in a hard way to see how many of the 12,000 people valued him more than they valued food.”

Osborne cited a popular Houston-based televangelist who openly and unapologetically advocates leaving out references to sin, holiness or hell in his nationally-televised sermons.

“What this pastor is saying is, ‘I’m not going to say anything that is going to keep you from coming back next Sunday,’” Osborne said. “And this is a typical agenda among many pastors, because your success will be evaluated by the number of people attending your church.”

Turning to John 6:60, Osborne showed that even Jesus’ own disciples grumbled about the harsh message Jesus preached.

“’Who can listen to it?’” Osborne said the disciples asked.

A few verses later, Osborne pointed out that many of the disciples left Jesus “and were not walking with Him anymore.”

Jesus asked Simon Peter if he wanted to leave, too. Peter’s response showed that the message had a profound and meaningful effect on him.

“Peter answered Jesus by saying, ‘You have the word of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God,’” Osborne said.

Osborne concluded: “When people leave because the truth you preach from the Bible is too hard to handle, you have lived well. It doesn’t matter how many people come to hear you; it is how many people, after they hear you, value Jesus Christ so much that it doesn’t matter what he asks them to do, they’ll do it.”

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