There was a preacher who had been in the ministry for twenty years. In a conversation he had with one of his church members, he said with pride, “I have averaged preaching three times a week for the past twenty years. This means that I have preached over 3,000 sermons over the course of my ministry.” The church member, who had endured one too many of the preacher’s dull, plodding, predictable attempts at preaching, replied, “No, you have preached one sermon over 3,000 times!”
I like this illustration because it reminds me, as a preacher, of my need to grow. While I must never attempt to change the unalterable word of God, I do have a responsibility to preach what the apostle Paul called “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and not just a handful of my cherry-picked topics. It’s also not a bad idea for me to use different styles (expository, topical, verse by verse, outlined, not outlined) in my preaching. This keeps not only the preaching but also the preacher fresh.
Now let me relate all of this to being a Christian. Remember that the word “disciple” translates the Greek word for “learner.” Well, the truth is that it’s impossible to be a “grower” without being a “learner.” Just as a child grows up by learning to talk, walk, put on clothes, brush his teeth, etc., the Christian must grow by learning more of the Bible, learning to pray more effectively, learning to live a holy life in an unholy world, learning to give, learning to witness, and learning to spiritually discern.
But, sadly, many Christians aren’t learners. Instead, they are like children who reached a certain stage of growth and stopped growing. Why do surveys consistently tell us that the bulk of our churches are either plateaued (at best) or in outright decline (at worst)? It’s because most of the Christians who make up these churches are either plateaued or declining. When you stop learning, you stop growing. Perhaps they were once disciples of Christ, but they aren’t now. They’ve dropped out of class. They’ve turned in their textbooks. They’ve left school. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean that they aren’t legitimately born-again Christians. But there is a vast difference between sleepwalking through the routine of a casually Christian lifestyle and getting up each day, taking your seat in Christ’s classroom, and letting the master teacher take you through your lessons for the day.
Wouldn’t it have been absurd for Jesus to look at the chosen twelve one morning and find only a chosen eight? “Where are James and John today?” “Lord, they went home to help their dad, Zebedee, with his fishing business.” “And where is Matthew?” “He decided to return to his job as a tax collector so that he could start saving for retirement.” “And what about Peter?” “He went back to his house last night because his mother-in-law wasn’t feeling well.”
You say, “Oh, come on, Russell. The chosen twelve wouldn’t have done such things. That’s crazy talk.” Maybe, but is it any crazier than when Christians today refuse to move up from the level of “Christian” to the level of “disciple”? Is it any crazier than Christians who peaked at the spiritual state of toddler? Is it any crazier than Christians who have been saved for years, even decades, who still act downright infantile when it comes to spiritual matters? Think about it.