By Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
Church leaders can become dangerously bored with doing what we have done before. Are we like the late Sarah Winchester of San Jose, California? As a result of her family owning the Winchester Rifle Corporation, she had an abundance of money. At some point in life, Sarah became somewhat addled in her thinking and decided she would continue to live so long as construction continued on her home. With the Winchester wealth available to spend, the work never stopped. Construction continued for thirty-eight years, and then Sarah Winchester died. Almost four decades of construction without rhyme, reason or benefit left an unusual house. When Mrs. Winchester died, the mansion consisted of 160 rooms. The need to be doing “something, anything” can be seen everywhere in this unique house. Attractive sets of stairs dead-end at the ceiling; doors open into walls or into “nothing.” Sarah Winchester’s life’s work is now a tourist attraction; the Winchester Mystery Mansion.
Think about the Winchester story as a portrayal of the approach some take toward ministry:
– Work is done without a beneficial outcome.
– Change is implemented simply for the sake of change! A better way has not been presented, but let’s do something new anyway.
– Different is good.
– There is a sense of disconnect between effort and accomplishment
Some are perpetually building new things resulting in a conglomeration of unfinished confusion- one’s own “Mystery Ministry.”
Becoming Weary of Worship
Near the end of the Old Testament, Israel became weary with the repetitive nature of worship. In speaking of their sacrifices they said: “The table of the Lord is polluted; . . . and the…meat is contemptible….Behold, what a weariness is it! And ye have snuffed at it.” (Malachi 1:12-13) They were weary of the routine and sniffed at their effort in ministry. Israel now disdained the thing that had established and sustained their relationship with God.
God’s perspective of what wearied them is quite different: “… in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen,” (Malachi 1:11).
The things that God enjoys and declares to be part of making His name great among the heathen had become tiresome to Israel. Perhaps they had become too sophisticated. Read verse 14 to understand how Israel’s attitude about the routine of worship had affected their behavior in worship. They had become weary with doing the things that pleased God, and in the process of time, that weariness had produced a loss of commitment.
A “New Thing” Mindset
Paul’s message in Athens was different than any other recorded message he preached. He quoted no Old Testament prophet; instead, he cited several Greek poets and philosophers. Perhaps it was the audience’s lack of knowledge of the Hebrew prophets, or it could have been that on Mars Hill, “the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing,” (Acts 17:21). Some would say that the Mars Hill outreach endeavor was one of Paul’s least effective efforts.
A “new thing” mindset is a “Boy, that will preach” approach that requires communication to be creative and constantly pursuing novel ideas through study. Unfortunately, so much of the “that will preach” stuff seems to be more entertainment than edification. Have we developed churches full of saints who expect every message to be milk for them? Are we developing aspiring preachers who equate great preaching with fiery camp-meeting fare, causing them to devalue their pastor’s expositional study of the book of Hebrews or the Sunday sermon from Acts 2:37-39? Conversely, an obscure observation that ignites in the hearers an awestruck question of, “Where did he come up with that,” can also leave the message of salvation unrevealed.
As a young minister I eagerly grasped and tried anything that seemed to be working for someone else. Prophecy evangelists were having hundreds receive the Holy Ghost, so I tried my hand at prophecy preaching. It was ugly and ineffective.
Each conference presented a new array of evangelism or church growth tools that someone was using to grow a church. I bought everything possible. Puppets, American Sign Language, Friends Day, Exploring God’s Word, Search for Truth, Follow me to Pentecost bumper stickers, etc. we had it all and tried most of it.
When I could get time off from work and also financially afford to attend another General Conference, I’d buy another assortment of tools that someone else was using effectively. Again, I’d go home and try them. In those days we tried a lot of new ideas and programs, but we didn’t do them long enough to excel at any of them.
I learn slowly – but I do learn. In time I realized we were trying so many “new things” that we were experiencing a constant cycle of frustration. We would do something a few months, then change in mid-stream and try another idea for a bit of time and . . . again, and again. We seemed to be always falling short of reaching the ring that would magically bring growth and help us to reach the lost. We were learning how to do a “new ministry,” but we did not do the “new ministry” long enough for it to become normal. As a result, it certainly never reached a point of excellence. I eventually stopped buying new church growth packets and started working to establish systems that took advantage of what we could do well.
Learning to Focus
Eventually, my focus settled on five areas:
– Home Bible Studies
– Bus Ministry
– Children’s evangelism
– Leadership development
Those five things are not cute or cuddly, but became the platform for grinding out consistent progress.
As effective pastor, Murrell Cornwell put it, “Xerox made a fortune by creating machines that had the power of duplication.” There is something to be said for deciding what one will do well and then repeating, improving and repeating . . .
God Likes Repetition
G.K. Chesterton is a British author of the early 1900’s. Chesterton observed, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, `Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, `Do it again’ to the moon… It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy;…”
Have you playfully tossed a little fellow who weighs about twenty-five pounds up in the air, and heard the peals of laughter as you catch him? What does the little guy say? “Do it again.” And the child says, “Do it again” until the person tossing him is worn out. Maybe we need to renew our child-likeness.
After two millenniums of gospel preachers telling of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is saying to the Church of today, “Do it again!” Tell that story yet again.
As the audience gathers and a praise leader guides the group to praise their Savior by clapping their hands, singing, shouting toward the heavens, and perhaps even leaping and dancing, God again is enthroned because they have “Done it again!”
Even in Heaven, repetition is the order of things. Seven hundred years before Christ was born, Isaiah saw cherubim crying, “Holy, holy, holy,” (Isaiah 6:3). Many years after the ascension of Christ back into Heaven, John the Revelator saw a door opened into the future and wrote about four beasts and twenty-four elders in Heaven declaring, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” (Revelation 4:8). As Chesterton noted, “It may be that [God] has the eternal appetite of infancy.”
Eternal things should not be sacrificed on the altar of a “new thing.”
Preach Acts 2 again!
Baptism in Jesus Name – Teach it again!
Infilling of the Holy Ghost – Teach it again!
Oneness of God – Explain it again!
Corporate prayer meeting – Have another one!
Repetition is the mother of learning. Nehemiah accomplished in less than two months what others could not accomplish in years, but Nehemiah had to call the elders together to restate the vision at the twenty-eight day mark.
Pastor, you will have to say it again and again! Until they start quoting you, they have not got it. Whatever your cardinal objectives are, at least every thirty days you will need to “say it again,” because people did not retain it the first time you said it!
It is possible for the constant search for a new approach to prevent us from becoming effective at anything we try to implement.
Somehow we have to get fixed on the essentiality of maintaining the basic things in life. In personal life, discipline is a necessity which involves a “do it again” concept. The weight-lifters’ strength is built by their repetitions. The pianist makes beautiful music by practicing again and again. This “one thing” I do over and over again must become a lifestyle.
1. Prayer is to be done without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).
2. Praise to God given again and again brings His presence into our midst (Psalms 22:3).
What non-negotiable systematic patterns will define your ministry?
Look over the last six weeks of preaching/teaching – has the Gospel been presented in a way that would lead a soul to salvation?
How long has it been since you taught about the wonder of repentance and being baptized in Jesus name?
Teach these basic doctrines again and again until every church member knows how to explain and give answers to everyone who asks them about their hope in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15).
The above article, “God Endorses Repetition” was written by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. The article was excerpted from North American Missions magazine. May – June 2015.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.