CHURCH GROWTH – GOD'S WAY (Pt. 2)
(The Church – God’s Masterpiece – Pt. 10)
by Pastor-teacher Dennis Rokser
I remember hearing one day a church growth guru explain to a nationwide radio audience how the church he pastored experienced enormous numerical growth. He explained how he began by going door to door surveying local neighborhoods to discover what they liked or disliked in a church and what turned them off. With this critical information in hand, he then mapped out a strategy to build a church that would draw the unchurched to his church. The result? A massive church of thousands of people which is now put on the pedestal by many of how to grow a church.
While his numerical results may sound enticing to the pastor who is struggling to have a hundred members, there is one gigantic problem with this approach. This pastor started with MAN instead of GOD; with human desires instead of God's design! For you to cooperate with Jesus Christ in the building of His church (Matthew 16:18), you must begin with God and His Word.
Furthermore, the bottom-line purpose of the gathering and meeting of the saints is not to make the unchurched feel comfortable in church. Otherwise, we will compromise the two-edged sword of God's Word; or replace it with drama and worldly gimmicks in order draw a crowd, while deluding ourselves that God is pleased and producing the results. The non-negotiable objective of all that transpires during our church gatherings is clearly to be the edification of the saints.
Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
(1 Corinthians 14:26)
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Thus, I proposed in our last article that the pattern for the progress of the building of the church, God's way, is found in Ephesians 4:11-16.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Permit me to capsulize our previous discussion by underscoring five key principles from this crucial passage.
#1: Church growth begins with Jesus Christ and His grace. (Ephesians 4:7)
#2: Church growth involves Jesus Christ having given gifted communicators of His Word to His church. (Ephesians 4:8-11)
#3: Church growth requires that the gifted communicators of God's truth concentrate on the equipping of the saints via sound doctrinal teaching. (Ephesians 4:12a)
#4: Church growth necessitates that the equipped saints do the work of ministry. (Ephesians 4:12b)
#5: Church growth is manifested by the church being built up qualitatively (through edification) and normally quantitatively (through evangelism). (Ephesians 4:12c)
This is the divine plan for the growth of the church. This is God's way of doing it. And the key phrase in this passage is… "the perfecting (equipping/ maturing) of the saints."
As believers are learning to walk by faith, growing in grace, and becoming equipped with God's Word; they will increasingly get involved with the work of the ministry. God has given each member certain spiritual gifts (to be discussed in a later article in this series) to function and serve maximally in and through their local church. These spiritual gifts can be exercised in numerous ways and contexts as believers are compelled and the Lord leads. As a result, the Body of Christ is edified and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is clearly and compassionately proclaimed to the lost.
HOW LONG A PROCESS DOES CHURCH GROWTH INVOLVE?
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:13)
"Till" (mechri) is an adverb meaning "until," emphasizing that church growth is a process. The growth of the church does not happen overnight. Pastors, be patient! Miles J. Stanford, in "Principles of Spiritual Growth," has wisely written:
Since the Christian life matures and becomes fruitful by the principle of growth (2 Peter 3:18) rather than by struggle and "experiences;" much time is involved. Unless we see and acquiesce to this, there is bound to be constant frustration, to say nothing of resistance to our Father's development processes for us.1
Dr. A.H. Strong also commented years ago about the importance of time in the growth process by saying:
A student asked the President of his school whether he could not take a shorter course than the one prescribed. "Oh yes," replied the President, "but then it depends upon what you want to be. When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but when He wants to make a squash, He takes six months."2
Pastors, do you want to shepherd a Squash Community Church of Podunk Flats, or do you want to see God build your fellowship into Oak Tree Bible Church? Beware of shortcuts and church growth gimmicks. Beware of fast food, express-line approaches to the building of the church. Stick to your spiritual knitting and seek to be faithful in feeding and leading the flock of God entrusted to your care. (Acts 20:28)
WHAT ARE THE FOUR OBJECTIVES IN CHURCH GROWTH?
If you were to ask many church boards the above question, they would answer… a larger budget, a bigger building, more programs, etc. This worldly thinking again results in aiming aping the worldly church of Laodecia (Rev. 3:14-17).
In contrast, Ephesians 4 teaches that the edifying of the body of Christ is to go on until we arrive at the divine purposes of…
Since verses 4-6 address the church's positional unity, these verses must be referring to its practical unity. "The faith" is not emphasizing one's personal faith, for the article "the" preceding "faith" clarifies this to be "the revealed body of God's truth." This scriptural unity in a local church is based upon sound doctrine, not at the expense of it. Again, this implies that God's sheep need to be fed the life-transforming truths of the Word of God. Is your church becoming more united doctrinally and scripturally?
"Knowledge" (epignoseos) indicates an intimate relational knowledge and fellowship with Jesus Christ. The Written Word of God is designed to bring believers to a personal knowledge of the Living Word. Thus, sound doctrine is not an end in itself, but is a means to a relational end. Are the believers of your church coming to more intimately know their Lord and Saviour?
Doctrinal soundness and personal fellowship with Jesus Christ in the believer's walk of faith is to result in spiritual maturity. "Perfect" (teleion) does not mean sinless perfection, but reaching the goal of personal maturity into Christ-likeness ("unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ"). Are your perspectives, pursuits, and personal relationships becoming increasingly like Jesus Christ?
The church manifests it's ongoing, spiritual growth by "no longer being children" (nepioi), which happens to be the opposite of "teleion" (perfect/ mature).
And what characterizes spiritual immaturity?
Being tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; (Ephesians 4:14)
It seems like every year some old lie repackaged or a new false doctrinal twist comes down the ecclesiastical pike to deceive the church. Amidst these devices of the Devil, the equipped and growing believer remains stable and discerning as,
The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple. (Ps. 119:130)
WHAT IS THE MEANS TO CHURCH GROWTH?
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: (Ephesians 4:15)
"Speaking the truth" is a participle phrase of means; explaining how the saints are equipped (vs. 12), how these divine purposes are fulfilled (vs. 13), and how false teaching is thwarted (vs. 14). The gifted men Christ gave to His Church need to be communicating the doctrines of the Word of God in genuine love for Christ, for God's truth, and His flock. And when God's principles and promises are heard and mixed with faith (Hebrews 4:2), and consistently applied in believers' lives (Hebrews 5:14) by means of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16), the amazing result is that they "grow up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ." In doing so, these equipped and growing saints will also go about "speaking the truth in love" in ministry toward the saved and evangelism to the lost. How this is needed in bible-believing churches today!
WHO IS THE KEY TO THE GROWTH OF THE BODY?
Ultimately the answer to this question is none other than the HEAD – Jesus Christ!
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:16)
"From whom" (vs. 16) refers back to its antecedent at the end of verse 15, "even Christ." Jesus Christ is the Source from whom all life and power in the church is derived. And He designed how His body is to grow and function. Did you notice how He never asked for your input or opinion? Follow His blueprint! Rely on His wisdom and power! Then watch how Christ uses His Word to bring about harmony ("fitly joined together") and solidity ("compacted") in the body through equipped and growing saints ("by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part") resulting in the growth and building of the church in love ("maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love"). Jesus Christ is the Source of all that which is truly essential for the growth of the church.
SOME PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
This passage of Scripture more than any other has impacted and shaped our perspective of ministry at Duluth Bible Church. By His grace, we have been privileged to increasingly observe this divine pattern here in the building of His church to His glory. In light of the biblical principles derived from this passage, let me share a brief grocery list of practical applications that we have learned.
In the next article in this series we will consider "The Shepherding of the Church." Look for it!
1The Green Letters – Principles of Spiritual Growth, Miles Stanford, Zondervan Publishing Company, pg. 14.
2Ibid pg. 14
Dennis Rokser has been involved with the Duluth Bible Church for the last 17 years, serving as pastor-teacher for the last fourteen years.
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