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Sunday Evening Services?

January 9, 2015

Little churchPaul Chappell posted an article this week that caught my attention as it came through my blog reader. To my surprise I discovered it had caught a couple others attention as well. The original article was soon followed by others expressing their disagreement with him. Nothing was rancorous, but the responses cause me some consternation. In the time honored tradition of blogging, I have found something on the internet that is wrong and this is my attempt to offer a correction.

Pastor Chappell’s article was a list of ten reasons the church he pastors still has a Sunday evening service. The responding articles offered vague suggestions of legalism, skepticism at the value of another “corporate worship service” and, most disturbingly, denigration of the public preaching of the Word. Frankly, I am mystified that fewer corporate gatherings for the preaching of the Word would ever be considered healthy for the church. For the sake of full disclosure I must confess the church I am currently shepherding has an afternoon service instead of an evening service. That may disqualify me from addressing this issue, but I will, nonetheless, attempt to add some profitable things to our thinking about multiple services on Sunday.

The question of the number of church services revolves around the purpose of the corporate church gathering and the importance of the preaching of the Word. For sake of space I will only address the second. I  affirm the value of a second service because the preaching of the Word is primary to the life of the church. Yes, the church is more than the preacher’s pulpit ministry. Yes, ministry must happen at more times and places than the official corporate gatherings. Absent the corporate gathering of the flock together to hear the Bible read, explained and applied by the leadership of the church, all the rest of ministry is not church. It is good deeds. It is service. It is fellowship. It is not being a New Testament church. The pulpit ministry has the place of primacy in the work of the church. Those who elevate other aspects of the ministry to primary positions can readily drop a service, because some other ministry or activity is just as important. I beg to differ. No other ministry is as necessary for the health of the church as the public preaching to the gathered congregation.
I know preaching is not the only part of ministry the church is engaged in. I know a pastor who only preaches and studies is neglecting his duties. The Word must be presented through a myriad of relationships and studies, formal and informal, scheduled and serendipitous. However, the New Testament presents a single, monolithic model of church life which revolves around the corporate gatherings in which the Word is taught by pastors or itinerant ministers. The pulpit ministry is primary. There is no other option presented in the Bible for the sustained health of the entire church. The solution to anemic Christianity is not a decrease of the Biblical pattern to allow room to inject culturally relevant models that give time for people to go about their business. The solution to anemic Christianity is the robust preaching of the Word of God that teaches truth and makes clear application of the truth to daily living.
In 1 Timothy Paul gives Timothy a host of instructions regarding church ministry. Paul wrote the letter to his young apprentice to instruct him and the Ephesian church on how to behave properly as the church, “which is the pillar and ground of the truth.” The church’s relationship with truth, a relationship that places upon her the responsibility of being the visible buttress of truth within a world deceived by sin, places distinct demands on her. One of those demands is the public proclamation of truth. In 1 Timothy 4:13, in the middle of series of brief instructions to Timothy regarding public ministry, Paul tells him, “Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” In a time of great opposition and struggle, a time of discouragement and disorder, Paul stresses to Timothy the importance of the public preaching. He tells Timothy to pay close attention to the public preaching. Many things are beneficial and necessary to the life of the church. None more so than corporate gatherings to hear the exposition of the Word. These gatherings must not be abandoned.

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