He walked into the classroom and drew three stair steps on the blackboard. On the bottom rung he wrote “To Know.” On the second rung he wrote “To Feel.” And finally the third rung received the phrase “To Do.” This was J.B. Richardson’s formula for Christian education, and I never forgot it. I like things that are simple, make sense, and work.
When preaching, for instance, I would use the “stair steps” to evaluate the sermon. To Know—what is the truth this sermon exposes? To Feel—is the truth presented in a way that can reach the heart and cause some kind of emotional response? I know, faith isn’t feeling, but if I go to church and don’t feel moved in some way, why would I want to return? To Do—is the listener moved enough by this truth to take a tangible action step?
Another time the “steps” come to mind is when reading through the book of Acts. Every time I got a new preaching Bible one of the first things I did was highlight the passages with numbers in the first nine chapters of Acts. I always found them motivating. Have you ever noticed the pattern? People of the first century were taught the truth about Jesus Christ, and they were acting on that truth as increasing numbers were being saved. To Know and To Do are obvious.
But what about To Feel? In every text marking a numbered response to the Gospel, something had stirred the emotions of the people. It was Pentecost power in Acts 2. Peter and John healing, preaching, and then going to jail was followed by numerical growth in Acts 3 and 4. Ananias and Sapphira’s fate brings “great fear” on the whole church and “multitudes” were added to their number in Acts 5. Even the Acts 6 church squabble, always emotionally charged, resulted in great increase. Emotions were certainly high in Acts 8 when Saul persecuted the church, resulting in the scattered preaching of the Word. And after Paul’s conversion, I love the summary statement in Acts 9:31. The church is “being built up” [To Know]; “going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” [To Feel]; “it continued to increase”* [To Do].
I was fortunate to spend three-fourths of my ministry with Mandarin Christian Church (Christ’s Church) in Jacksonville, Florida. The first decade there brought some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. The final decade presented some of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. The middle decade was some of the most exciting ministry I’ve ever experienced.
We began the 1990s as a congregation of about 600. We ended the decade with more than 3,000. We built buildings and eventually relocated to a new campus to accommodate new growth. We began a K-12 Christian school. Our Faith Promise mission ministry was rapidly expanding. Ministry staff was growing. And most importantly, people were being saved.
It was a time of constant change and inconvenience that we all relished because we sensed God doing something in our midst. We were able to keep focused beyond our own church walls to the needs of our community. We even accepted the mantra that we “do what we do, spend what we spend, all for the sake of those not yet members of our congregation.” Those were happy, unleashed, “figure out what to do next” kind of days.
The question Christian Standard posed to me is this: Is there a particular Bible verse that made a memorable difference at a crossroads in your ministry? The answer is yes. It was our “To Know, To Feel, To Do” Scripture for a new decade:
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:20, 21).
We adopted the “God is able” verse as our Scripture for the 1990s. Consistently through that decade we referenced the truth—God is able . . . to do . . . according to his power . . . working within us. We began to feel that truth as our reality. And our church began to discover a new kind of faith in action. People worked hard, gave sacrificially, prayed, and experienced God working within us.
We often thought we were asking too much or dreaming too far outside the box. But repeatedly we discovered God had bigger plans for us than we’d imagined. He showed us he had plenty of power and provision to exercise his sovereign will in his church. Our challenge was to live lives he could honor and walk in the path he chose to bless.
We didn’t always get it right. We were flawed people for sure. But there were times . . . times when we knew God was at work. We knew it. Felt it. And we served God together. There were times when we felt like a glove through which the hand of God was at work. What a marvelous biblical concept. His power . . . at work within us.
*Scripture verse is from the New American Standard Bible.
Dennis Bratton is retired after serving 43 years in the pulpit ministry, the last 33 in Jacksonville, Florida. He serves as executive director of KORE Foundation focused on the Christian poor, offering “beyond relief” enterprise in Haiti, as well as the related 6.25 Feeding Ministry providing animal protein meals to Haitian children. He and his wife, Brenda, now live in Gallatin, Tennessee.