By Shawn McMullen
Born in London in 1615, the Puritan Richard Baxter entered the ministry at the age of 26. He spent his early ministry years as an army chaplain, and the next 14 years (1647-1661) ministering with a church in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England. Baxter had a passion for preaching. (He’s well known for his maxim, “I preached as never sure to preach again; and as a dying man to dying men.”) He also had a passion for souls—every soul in his community, in fact.
Kidderminster was a notoriously corrupt community and Baxter had his work cut out for him. Nevertheless, this small community was dramatically transformed during Baxter’s ministry.
In an article titled “Prayer Makes History,” David Smithers notes, “When Baxter arrived in Kidderminster it had a population of about 3,000 weavers who were reckless, ungodly, and content to remain that way. By the end of Baxter’s stay, the entire community was miraculously transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Writer Leonard Ravenhill observed,
The outcome of this contagious passion is best measured by Baxter’s own words: “To the praise of my gracious Master . . . the church at Kidderminster became so full on the Lord’s Day that we had to build galleries to contain all the people. Our weekday meetings also were always full. On the Lord’s Day all disorder became quite banished out of the town. As you passed along the streets on the Sabbath morning, you might hear a hundred households singing psalms at their family worship. In a word, when I came to Kidderminster, there was only about one family in a whole street that worshipped God and called upon His name. When I left, there were some streets where not a family did not do so.”
Ravenhill adds, “As one writer expresses with beauty, ‘Through his preaching and the power of his holy life, the whole community was changed from a habitation of cruelty and immorality to a garden of true piety.’”
What does the ministry of a 17th century Puritan preacher have to do with the 21st century church? It provides a model for what can happen when we give ourselves wholly to God and wholly to the communities we serve. If God transformed an entire community 350 years ago through the ministry of a single congregation, he can certainly do the same today. It begins by embracing a simple idea—that God has placed your church in your community to transform it for his glory.
Jesus told a parable about the impact of his kingdom on the world: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matthew 13:33, NIV 1984). Christ’s plan for his kingdom (and thus the local church) is to act like yeast in dough—quietly and steadily permeating its environment until everything around it is affected.
Churches that reach into their communities with the love of Christ and the transforming power of the gospel are the yeast in Jesus’ parable. It’s a standard we should all rise to.
This material is adapted from Unleashing the Potential of the Smaller Church by Shawn McMullen (Standard Publishing, 2006).