In 1984, people were enthusiastically re-engaging and testing George Orwell’s ominous warnings about state control in his book, “1984.”
One person invited into the discussion was Neil Postman a professor in New York. He profoundly observed in his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” (1985), that Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” was the better book to understand our times.
His reason was that in his observations people were more oppressed by amusement than by state control.
Sadly Postman’s thesis seems prophetic especially when one looks at the state of the church in 2019.
Recently, a set of statistics and trends revealed that while the church is growing in rapid fashion around the world, especially Africa, it is not growing in North America especially among Southern Baptists—the tradition with which I am connected.
The Book of Acts offers what might seem to be a radical departure from the amusement centered focus that is so prevalent in North American churches.
This remarkable biblical direction, however, is rather simple but would require a complete re-centering in most American churches.
What is this mysterious cure from the Book of Acts? When one reads the book of Acts an interesting feature becomes immediately recognized.
The increase of the church is rarely the focus of the stories action. Indeed, while the church does spread in number and geographically, the first followers were not trying to build the church using primitive church growth strategies.
Rather, early Christians were simply being obedient to the mandate to declare the word of the Lord to make disciples of all nations. As a result of their obedience, something unique became the focus.
At several places throughout the Book of Acts, the story pauses to narrate or summarize what had taken place through the witness and obedience of people like Peter, Stephen, Paul, and other followers of the way.
In Acts 6:7 it is stated, “And the word of the Lord continued to increase and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly, and a great number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
In Acts 12:24 it says, “But the word of God increased and multiplied.”
Finally, in Acts 19:20 it summarizes, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”
The word of God properly understood is the gospel message of good news. This message is what Tim Keller has tweeted, “is not merely the ABC’s of coming to faith in Jesus but the A-Z of the Christian life.”
The gospel message is the wonderful story of a world created by a perfect, holy God but whose worshippers rejected his reign and rule.
Consequently, God crafted a plan for these wayward worshippers that would require a perfect sacrifice. This is why Paul spent several weeks in Thessalonica (Acts 17:3) explaining from the Scriptures (The Old Testament) that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead and showing how Jesus was the Christ.
So, the story of the entire Bible is the grand story of Jesus fulfilling the plan of God in time and history so that all who believe in him might find life in his completed work for us.
Not only does it become the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-18) but it is indispensable for understanding who we are and transforming every area of our life. We never get past the gospel. It must grow and increase in us, too.
What do these summary statements suggest? The result of our obedience, worship, and efforts as a church should not focus on growing our attendance at our churches.
Instead, our effort and energy should be to see that the word of God is central and embraced and treasured. How many churches are known for their commitment to making sure people love God’s word more and are faithful to it rather than to get more people in attendance?
Imagine the result of what we might see in our own city if this change were to take place?
Mike Logsdon, originally from the Washington, DC area, has lived in the Charleston area since 2014. He has pastored churches in Texas, Maryland, and South Carolina. He has a BA degree from the College of William and Mary, a MA in Theology and a PhD from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Bonny and together they have three children – Michael, Zachary, and Olivia.