This question has been on my mind lately. In the past my answer might have come quickly. I would probably have had some specific, results-oriented responses. Something like: If we were serious about church growth our attendance figures would be on the rise and these empty pews would be filled. My point would be, in essence, that if we were serious about church growth we would be achieving a series of quantifiable results. These results would be the proof positive that we are serious. After all, numbers don’t lie, right? Now, when you hear this you might be thinking, I wonder if he thinks we are not serious about church growth. After all, we do still have some empty pews and our attendance figures haven’t been on the rise. If this is the case, I understand this inference completely. Let me assure you, though, this is not what I’m thinking. My belief is that we are serious about the growth of this church. We would like to see the pews full and the attendance figures on the rise.
Lately, I’ve been brought face-to-face with a sobering question: Is this really what God wants for this church? More specifically, I’ve been wondering if this is all that God wants. This has caused me to reexamine the driving force behind this desire for growth. I’ve been compelled to ask the most basic of questions about this desire:
Does what we want square with what God wants for this church?
If, when we think of “church” we have in mind the ekklesia, which is the body of believers that has been called from the world into a kingdom relationship with God through the gospel of Christ; and, if we think of growth in holistic terms—terms which reflect the type of growth presented in Ephesians 4:12-13 where the ministry of evangelists and pastoring teachers (that’s the spiritual shepherds we call elders) is said to be designed “to equip [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”, then we are talking about the kind of growth which I believe God desires.
This is the kind of growth which I believe God wants us to be concerned about. All other growth is inconsequential, when contrasted to the significance God places on the spiritual growth and development of the body of Christ. Since the biblical record is clear that humans are God’s instruments for planting and watering the seed of His word, but it is God that makes it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6), we place our emphasis on the wrong part of the equation when we focus our energy on measuring and achieving results.
Simply stated, we must place emphasis on being the kind of people God can and will use to sow and water seed in our little part of His world. What would the church look like if we were serious about this type of growth? I believe it would be characterized by three things. They are: (1) We would be issuing a clarion call to all people to enter the life-changing, disciple-building community of Christ. (2) We would quit majoring in minors and minoring in majors, when it comes to following Christ. (3) We would constantly challenge one another to project a kingdom-presence in the world.
This morning, we only have time to look at the big picture with respect to each of these. The Lord willing, we will discuss them in greater detail in the days to come.
First, let’s consider the idea of issuing a clarion call to all people to enter the life-changing, disciple-building community of Christ.
This is the agenda which Jesus Christ outlined in Matthew 28:18-20. Listen to these words:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
There are several things to be noted here: (1) Under Christ’s authority making disciples of all ethnic groups is a priority. Diversity is not a Twentieth Century discovery! (2) There is no place for competing agendas. This is why Jesus makes the initial step so specific. Each disciple must decide up front if he or she will yield to His sovereignty. (cf. Matthew 5:3) (3) This is why Jesus makes the life-long objective so all-encompassing. Each disciple is to spend his or her life under the yoke of Christ, learning to obey everything He commanded. There is no place under Christ’s authority for personal agendas; political motives; pet projects or petty problems.
Second, I believe we would quit majoring in minors and minoring in majors, when it comes to following Christ.
This is what Jesus took the Pharisees to task for. He made this point in dramatic fashion when he was having a meal at Matthew’s house. In Matthew 9:9-13 we read about this:
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Again, several things need to be observed about this passage:
(1) In their understanding managing the minutia matter more than exhibiting the heart of God. This is the essence of Pharisaic legalism. This is precisely why Jesus further said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
(2) The flaw of legalism in brought to light in Matthew 15:1-20. Let’s look at these verses:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'”
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into your mouth does not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth, that is what defiles you.” Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these defile you. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile you; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile you.”
(3) While it’s easy to look down long noses at the Pharisees, their situation brings to light the fact that when we decide to follow Jesus our “isms” should become “wasms”. It’s easy to see that while the symptom is a misplaced emphasis, the malady is a heart-condition. It doesn’t matter whether problem judging Jesus for His dinner company; meticulously measuring minor things such as spices, while neglecting the major things such as mercy and justice; or merely giving lip service to God, it all comes from the same place—hearts that are focused more on self than on God. Lest we think that we are exempt, the same principles seem to apply whether we are talking about modern legalism; materialism; individualism; or hedonism. Anything that elevates self over God must is majoring in minors and majoring in minors; and, if we are truly interested in church growth we will quit doing it.
Third, if we were serious about church growth we would constantly challenge one another to project a kingdom-presence in the world.
Two specific passages make this crystal clear:
“He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” —Matthew 13:33.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” —Matthew 5:13-16
We project a kingdom-presence in the world by being:
(1) Salt – preserving and flavor enhancing influence
(2) Light – illuminating, exposing and guiding by reflecting Christ
(3) Leaven – inner and systematic working of a permeating presence
Are we serious about being the kind of people God can and will use to sow and water seed in our little part of His world? What would the church look like if we were serious about this type of growth? We would…
…be sounding a clarion call to all people to enter the life-changing, disciple-building community of Christ.
…quit majoring in minors and minoring in majors, when it comes to following Christ.
…constantly challenge one another to project a kingdom-presence in the world.
© Bill Williams
May 30, 2006