Church leaders, to the extent that they oblige our interest in other things, seem to have lost confidence in the ministry of the Word. Sure enough, the answers you'll find in books and conferences for church leaders have them looking every which way. They're told they need better lay visitation, more dynamic worship, holistic small groups, more participatory decision-making, better personal accessibility, adequate parking, solid financial resources, attractive programs, the presence of the Holy Spirit, passionate spirituality, gift-oriented ministry, speaking in tongues, visionary leadership, strategic leadership, empowered leadership, loving relationships, contemporary worship, God-exalting worship, high-impact worship, a vibrant public witness, incarnational ministries, missional living, creative worship forms, liturgical reverence, contextualized outreach, a sophisticated knowledge of culture, and the list goes on.

Are any of these things bad? Not at all. Most are fine or even good. The question is, where are we placing our confidence? As Christians, we believe God created the universe by his word. We've heard about Ezekiel bringing dead bones to life with words. And we know Paul commanded Timothy to "Preach the word." Yes, yes, we know all that. But…

Let's be realistic. Our day is a day that's captivated by images. It's an age for the eye, not the ear. "Give us flat screens and big screens," the people say. "Give us satellite feeds and video-on-demand." It's how our brains are wired. Just consider, my oldest daughter learned the alphabet when she was three from a family of frogs by watching a video called "The Letter Factory." I didn't mean for this to happen. But I hit "play," and it happened. What can I say? She's now been conditioned by video. It's how she learns.

Church leaders are catching on. I remember learning about "faith" in one devotion by watching a movie clip with Harrison Ford, where he steps off a cliff and onto an invisible bridge to save his dad's life. I can still remember the picture.

Of course it's not just video clips that people what to see. They want to see good deeds in action. People today are enamored with authenticity, which means being something, not saying something. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a young Christian repeat those words attributed to St. Francis, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words."

Surely images have more octane than words. A picture's worth a thousand words, we say. And seeing is believing. Haven't you ever found yourself mid-way through a movie, and sympathetic with the main characters, only to realize that you don't know their names? But you certainly know their faces. 

ONE THING IS NECESSARY 

How important, really, is preaching the Bible to the life and existence of local churches? Not important? Kind of important? One of several things that's important?

My guess is that, if you're a Christian, you pay at least lip service to the idea that God's Word is important. Yet my first goal in this book is to help you see theologically and practically how uniquely essential it is. I want to help you see that God's Word, working through God's Spirit, is God's primary instrument for growing God's church. In fact, God's Word is the most powerful force in the universe. God created the universe through his Word (Gen. 1:3). He is recreating it through his Word (2 Cor. 4:6). And he sustains all things by his Word (Heb. 1:3). God speaking involves all three persons, as the Father speaks through the Son by the Spirit. All three wonderfully conspire to pour forth their power through speech, to accomplish their single will through words.

What's more, God creates and grows his church through his Word, which is the second goal of this book. God grows us as individuals and as local churches through our ears.

Then again, maybe you "know" all that. If so, it's worth asking whether that confidence translates into how you choose a church, or how you try to lead, structure, and grow your church if you're a church leader.