My impression is that the last couple of decades or so have seen a renaissance in expository ministry- the commitment to open up a passage of the Bible and simply proclaim what is there. I am encouraged by the number of good expositors that have grown up within Woody Road and in some cases have now gone on to serve churches elsewhere. It has been a privilege to be involved with the South Central Ministry Training Course over the last few years where a significant number of people are equipped each year to teach the Bible in a helpful way to God’s people. Overall I suspect it is much easier to find “a good Bible teaching church” than it was a generation ago.

I am not the best person to judge whether Woody Road deserves the epithet of “a good Bible teaching church.” We aspire to it- certainly a fair chunk of my time is devoted to trying to handle God’s Word properly. I believe that God’s church grows as it hears God’s Word- nothing I am about to say is an argument for not training preachers or aiming at poor Bible teaching. But I have a couple of concerns- both for myself and for the church. The first is effectively expressed in a recent article in Evangelicals Now. The ministry of the Word is intended to go alongside serious prayer (Acts 6). We’ve recently had conversations as elders and pastors here at the church to see how we can make prayer more central in our own use of time.

My second concern, though, has been the subject of our recent study series in homegroups. What do we do with the Word when we hear it? The series was driven by a worry that I have- it is possible to admire Bible teaching but not have a serious commitment to being changed by it. When I was putting the series together I asked for help from Facebook friends (it does have its uses…) on what passages could be included. One suggested some verses from Ezekiel 33- not a section with which I was immediately familiar. But I am glad he mentioned it because this was the passage that struck me most of all those we studied:

“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

If I can put it like this- Judah, shortly before being sent by God into exile, was a “good Bible teaching church.” Ezekiel was a faithful prophet and he clearly spoke in a way that the people admired. Maybe- like the admired teachers of today- he spoke clearly with good illustrations (actually Ezekiel had some astonishing illustrations…) and solid cultural engagement. But admiring his teaching made no difference to the lives of his hearers. They had no intention of putting into practice what they heard. And they ended up in exile as a result.

Timmis and Chester hit the nail on the head in their book Gospel Centred Church:

Too often our desire is to be known as a church with good teaching. But good teaching, however engaging and orthodox, counts for nothing. What counts is good Bible learning and good Bible action. The measure of the teaching of our church is not the production of beautifully crafted sermons, but whether the word of God is preparing God’s people for works of service.”

Now in many ways I am thankful for what I see in terms of lives of service at Woody Road. But there is always the temptation to appreciate Bible teaching without working through its implications. Much of the time I suspect the issue is not deliberate disobedience but is what Jesus talks about in the Parable of the Sower- the cares and pleasures of this life choke the seed of the Word. We have so much to think about in our busy lives that the need to reflect on what we have heard in God’s Word is drowned out.

So maybe I should end with a practical suggestion. A few years ago I asked a fellow pastor what he was reading in his quiet times. He replied that he was working through his sermons from the last few years to see what difference they had made to him. I remember thinking that wasn’t a bad idea- perhaps I will imitate him one day. But, for all of us, perhaps we need to set time aside to look back on what we have learnt (occasionally instead of looking at something new) and ask the practical questions. Am I putting this into practice? Do I need to think and live differently? Because we must not rest secure on the fact that we belong to a “good Bible teaching church.”