Biblical Church Growth, Conclusion

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Here’s what Jesus said about church growth:

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 NKJV)

Our Lord made it crystal clear that it is His church and He is One building it. We forget that. The church you attend isn’t “your church.” The church I pastor isn’t “my church.” All churches belong to the Lord. They form His Body – the Body of Christ. Jesus is interested in His church growing, both in terms of spiritual maturity and in numbers, and He has given His church certain gifts to make that growth happen. Jesus builds His church but He does it through its members as they take advantage of the many gifts the Lord has given. Here is a sampling of those gifts:

Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. (Ephesians 4:11 TLB)

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, then prophesy whenever you can—as often as your faith is strong enough to receive a message from God. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If you are a preacher, see to it that your sermons are strong and helpful. If God has given you money, be generous in helping others with it. If God has given you administrative ability and put you in charge of the work of others, take the responsibility seriously. Those who offer comfort to the sorrowing should do so with Christian cheer. (Romans 12:6 – 8 TLB)

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching, and this is his gift from the same Spirit. He gives special faith to another, and to someone else the power to heal the sick. He gives power for doing miracles to some, and to others power to prophesy and preach. He gives someone else the power to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking. Still another person is able to speak in languages he never learned; and others, who do not know the language either, are given power to understand what he is saying. It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives all these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have. (1 Corinthians 12:8 – 11 TLB)

There are other spiritual gifts, but these are the ones most Christians are familiar with. God has given all Christians spiritual gifts to be used within the context of a local church. These gifts aren’t used in your office or at the library or in line at the grocery store. If you are a Christian, then you have at least one spiritual gift, but probably more than one, that God wants you to use in your church. When church members are obedient to the Lord in using their gift or gifts in their church, then their church will grow. It has to. God said it would.

Mature and immature members

As a church grows in both spiritual maturity and in numbers, all of a sudden there will be a mixture of mature and immature members in that congregation. It takes time for a Christian to become spiritually mature and we all mature at different speeds. Some Christians never mature. These “babes in Christ” love the Lord, they’re born again, they’ll go to heaven if they drop dead tomorrow, but even though they’ve been saved for 25 years, they’re still immature. Who knows why? These “babes in Christ” are the bane of my existence, and they may be yours, too. What do you do with them?

The Bible tells us that we who are strong must bear with those who are weak. Church growth takes place when strong members understand the weakness in others. For example:

  • There will always be a segment of the church that will be immature. They are the new converts who haven’t had time to grow yet. They are the worldly-minded members who make it to services on Sunday but that’s it. They don’t really have a relationship with the Body of Christ outside of that one, single hour on a Sunday. They are the members who rarely study or even read the Bible at home during the week. There will always be members like this in every congregation, and we who are strong must bear with them and help them to grow. We can’t punish them or ignore them.
  • As a church grows, sometimes things can get messy. Proverbs 14:4, in its own quaint way, gives us a precedent: Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox. Just so.
  • New members may be rough around the edges. Maybe they’ve had no good Christian role models and no discipleship since they found the Lord. Sometimes these new members are part of families that don’t understand what the Biblical roles of husband/wife/father/mother/children should be.

It takes time for Christians to grow and mature in the Lord and we who are strong must work with them. It’s not just the job of the pastor or of the elders. The apostle Paul – a strong member – understood this:

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1, 2 HCSB)

Spiritually weak and immature Christians are always, without exception, the cause of problems within a local church. That’s not to say that’s their intent, mind you. Sometimes it may be – some immature members are so because they are troublemakers – but generally speaking, in their ignorance these spiritual infants cause problems arising from their immature state. The solution to this problem are the mature believers in the congregation. As Paul wrote, “we who are strong” ought to be the ones reaching out to those who are weak. We are the ones who are to take the initiative. Paul uses the strongest word possible: obligation. The apostle is not making a suggestion here. Strong Christians are to bear with the shortcomings of the weak in love and understanding.

Does this mean if a weak member is engaging in some sin, we who are strong ought to ignore it? Of course not! Paul’s admonition here must be taken in context. Here is what he is getting at. We who are strong may have no issue with, say, listening to secular music on AM radio. But an immature believer may take issue with it – he may view it as being a sinful habit. We who are strong need to take HIS issue into consideration. When he is present, we refrain from turning the radio on. In love, we respect his feelings on the matter. To do the opposite – to keep the secular music blaring while he is present or to make fun of his belief as being infantile – is viewed as “self pleasing” or selfish.

This is what Paul means by “pleasing your neighbor,” or fellow member of the Body of Christ. In time the weaker member, with growth and maturity, may very well change his views on secular music. In the meantime, because we who are strong reigned in our freedom in Christ (to listen to secular music, for example), we kept a weaker member in church; we didn’t offend him and cause him to leave.

I used the example of secular music, but there are hundreds of things as innocuous as that hackneyed example that challenge a weaker believer’s faith.

Restoration

What if a fellow member has fallen into some sin? Does the church simply write him off? Again, we turn to Paul for a dose of ecclesiastical theology:

Dear brothers, if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong. Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command. (Galatians 6:1, 2 TLB)

It’s supposed to take a lot of work to be a member of a church! All this caring and respecting; it’s a lot more than just showing up to listen to a sermon. We’re supposed to be watching out for each other’s spiritual well-being. Being a member like that is, as Paul put it, “obeying our Lord’s command.”

To another church, with a whole different set of problems, Paul wrote this pithy admonition:

Dear brothers, warn those who are lazy, comfort those who are frightened, take tender care of those who are weak, and be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14 TLB)

Nowhere in that verse do you see the words “mock” or “cajole.” Instead, we get the impression that, again, the onus is on we who are strong to respect, care for, and love those who aren’t. The tendency is for the strong to expect too much from the weak. No church will grow in that atmosphere.

Don’t get frustrated!

It sounds like the spiritually mature and strong members of a church have a heavy responsibility. They do indeed.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9, 10 NKJV)

Paul wrote that because from time to time we do get tired. It’s not easy being a mature believer sometimes. It takes constant effort. But if you want your church to grow and if you want to honor the Lord, you’ll do what Paul says. You won’t grow weary. You’ll find the strength in your spiritual gifts.

The problem some churches have is that its strong members get weary. And they get frustrated and they get disheartened. Their solution is to just up and leave. They want to find a church where they’ll be appreciated.

But that’s not God’s solution.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV)

Look at the words that describe spiritually mature Christians: “steadfast,” “immovable,” “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” To be “steadfast” means to be “personally faithful,” it means you will “stick to it.” Being “immovable” suggests staying faithful no matter what. It means remaining clearheaded and objective. It means remaining grounded on the Word of God. And “abounding” means that if you are a mature Christian you will always go beyond the minimum requirements. It means you’ll do more than enough.

And you’ll have to. There are plenty of immature believers in our churches and it’s our job to help them grow and mature in the Lord. There are more of them than there are of us. We have our work cut out. But Paul encourages us to keep on doing the work of the Lord; it will pay off.

There is help

…glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20 TLB)

Whatever you need, God is able to supply in abundance. You need wisdom? He’ll give you more than you think you need. You need strength? He’ll give you more than you ask for. You want to do more for your church and for other believers? God will supply you with what they need.

And that’s why a church that allows the Holy Spirit to move and work within its members is a church that grows, both in spiritual maturity and in numbers.

 

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