Putting it like this first occurred to me when Tim Lane, director of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, was talking about the "ministry of the word" in an interview I did with him for the 9Marks eJournal. Tim said this: 

"The ministry of the Word doesn't stop [with the preaching]; it continues throughout the church. The discipling ministry, the children's ministry, the youth ministry, the missions work, the worship ministry, the friendships and families—all of this operates on the same page by being Word oriented and Christ centered. Elders and deacons are taking the Word into their work. Parents are learning to bring the gospel into how they train their kids. Husbands and wives are thinking about the centrality of the gospel as they relate to one another. And the list goes on and on."

Hearing Tim's words, I couldn't help but think of reverberating words.

Picture it this way. The evangelist or the preacher opens his mouth and utters a word, God's word. But the word doesn't sound just once. It echoes or reverberates. It reverberates through the church's music and prayers. It reverberates through the conversations between elders and members, members and guests, older Christians and younger ones. God's words bounce around the life of the church, like the metal ball in a pinball machine.  

But the reverberating words shouldn't stop there. The church building doors should open and God's words should echo out the doors, down the street, and into the members' homes and workplaces. The reverberations of sound which began in the pulpit should eventually be bouncing off the walls in dining rooms, kitchens, and children's bedrooms; off gymnasium walls, cubicle dividers, and the insides of city bus windows; through emails, text messages, and internet pages.

The goal of this book is to follow this path. We are going to take a theological and practical look at how God's Word establishes the church and grows it. The Word grows the church as unbelievers are saved and baptized into it, and then it grows church members in their life together. My hope for church leaders reading this book is that they will grow in their conviction of what they must do to build a church. And my hope for all Christians reading it is that they will grow in their conviction of what they need and therefore require in their churches.  

NOTHING NEW HERE 

Many of the books being published these days about the local church are looking for something new—some new way to engage with the culture, some new way to structure our churches, some new way to appeal to outsiders. And surely there is a place for such conversations. But I'd propose that churches become healthy and Christians become vibrant through the same things today as they did in New Testament churches: through evangelizing, preaching, teaching, singing, praying, and discipling one another with God's Word. True life, kingdom life, exciting life, will be created in our churches through nothing new, but through something quite old.

My plan therefore is to point to stuff that is really old, really good, and really powerful. I begin in chapter 2 by introducing the topic with the evangelist, who is the first to speak God's words of life-giving power. It might have made better sense to begin the book with a theological foundation of the Word, but I've held that off until chapter 3, because I want to start with real life pictures of the Word-in-action before asking what's happening behind the scenes.

With that foundation in place, the rest of the book follows the path of the reverberating Word. Chapter 4 traces it into the individual's heart. Chapter 5 watches it gather the local church. Chapters 6 to 8 listen to its reverberations in the sermon. Chapters 9 to 11 follow the Word through music, prayer, and discipleship. Finally, we'll cycle back to evangelism once more as we consider the church's mission and its purposes in scattering.