CHURCH GROWTH – GOD'S WAY (Pt. 1)
(The Church – God’s Masterpiece – Pt. 9)
by Pastor-teacher Dennis Rokser
In this ongoing series regarding "The Church – God's Masterpiece," we have previously studied the Scriptures concerning…
Lord willing, we are planning in upcoming editions to search the Scriptures regarding…
Since the Church is the divine institution at the core of God's purpose for this present age, we all do well to be thoroughly acquainted with God's blueprint for His Church. And when it comes to the popular subject of "church growth," it is imperative that believers in general and pastors in particular are very clear regarding what the Bible teaches. Unfortunately, too many church leaders have succumbed to the intense pressure to pragmatically practice "the end justifies the means" in an effort to achieve worldly standards for success, which boils down to bodies in a building.
Kent Hughes, in his book, "Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome," candidly comments;
Marketing. When the church first began, my denomination sent me to an institute for church growth. There I was taught the pragmatic foundations of numerical growth. Very high on the list of essentials was the marketing principle of visibility and accessibility. Simply stated, it is this: if you want to sell hamburgers you must make sure that your store is visible to the community and easily accessible. Smart preachers will do the same. And their churches will grow.
Sociology. In the early stages of planning our church, the church growth expert emphasized that my wife and I must be the right match for the community. He perused the area, met with us observing how we dressed, and asked what our tastes were in such things as clothing, furniture, and education. After analyzing our answers, he pronounced us "perfect" for the work.
The idea, of course, was the "homogenous unit principle." Likes attract and win likes: doctors best evangelize doctors; mechanics, mechanics; athletes, athletes. Our family was just right to lead a growing church in our community.
Stewardship. In the back of my mind I believed that "a church that gives grows" and "a church that gives to missions will be a growing missions church." Giving meant growth. (Thus, I retained a hybrid strain of the prosperity gospel in my unarticulated thinking.) Giving meant getting more people – numerical growth.
Godliness. Also unspoken but firmly rooted in my thinking was the belief that if our people were truly godly and thus exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, their spiritual ethos would attract both the lost and the searching. Our church would grow.
Certainly no one could question the means. Godliness is a rare quality. Moreover, the growth that would come through authentic Christianity would be eminently healthy. But again, behind this lay the ever-so-subtle thought that godliness was merely a means to something more important, and in this case it was increasing numbers and success.
Preaching. The seminary from which I graduated emphasized the expositional preaching of God's Word. It is an emphasis for which I am grateful. However, though it was never crassly stated, the implicit belief was that if you preach the Word effectively, your church will grow. During my seminary years this belief was unwittingly emphasized by the parade of pulpit stars from large churches brought before us in our daily chapels. My interpretation of this was: growing churches have fine communicators. Those not growing have otherwise.
So the messages kept coming to me, "If you will do this one thing well, your church will grow."
I realized I had been proud of the discriminating use I had made of these principles. I thought that God was going to bless the ministry with great numerical growth because I had not bought into wrong methods and was doing things "right."
But what I did not realize is that while rejecting wrong methods I had bought into the idea that success meant increased numbers. To me success in the ministry meant growth in attendance. Ultimate success meant a big, growing church.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with the wise use of any of the above principles. They should be part of the intelligent orchestration of ministry. However, when the refrain they play is numerical growth – when the persistent motif is numbers – then the siren song becomes deeply sinister: growth in numbers, growth in giving, growth in staff, growth in programs – numbers, numbers, numbers! Pragmatism becomes the conductor. The audience inexorably becomes the driving force.1
Unfortunately, evaluating the success of a church based solely on numbers instead of on its faithfulness to God and His Word is not a new problem. Over fifty years ago the late Dr. Harry A. Ironside bemoaned,
The church of God has gone into the entertainment business. People must be amused, as the church needs the people's money, the church must of course supply the demand and meet the craving! How else are godless hypocrites to be held together! How otherwise can the throngs of the unconverted youths and maidens be attracted to the services! So the picture show, and the entertainment, and the form of music, and the minstrel show take the place of the Gospel addressed to the solemn worship of God! And thus, Christ-less souls are lulled to sleep and made to feel religious while gratifying every carnal desire under the sanction of a sham called "the church!"
Since it is easier to diagnose a problem than to provide a solution, you may be still wondering, "how does a church grow, God's way?" I submit to you that the pattern for the progress of the building of the church is found in Eph. 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.
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 found at the beginning of verse 12… "for the perfecting (equipping) of the saints."
When the saints are perfected or equipped, they will do "the work of the ministry." When they do the work of the ministry, the body of Christ will be built up qualitatively (through education) and normally quantitatively (through evangelism). This will result in "the unity of the faith." Then will come the "knowledge of the Son of God" into Christ-likeness. Then we will no longer be "children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine." But in contrast, by "speaking the truth in love" they will "grow up in all things into Him who is the Head – Christ."
Since this passage rotates around the phrase, "the perfecting of the saints," let us analyze this statement carefully. The Greek word translated "perfecting" (katantesomen/katartizo) means to equip fully; a making fit.
To a doctor, "katartizo" would be used of the setting of a broken bone in place. To a fisherman, "katartizo" was used to refer to the mending of a broken net. To a soldier, "katartizo" would carry the nuance of being equipped for battle. To a sailor, "katartizo" might be used to speak of the process of outfitting a ship for voyage. Depending on the context, "katartizo" would carry the meaning of repairing (like bones or nets) or preparing (like soldiers and ships). Thus, the New King James and New American Standard translations render this phrase, "for the equipping of the saints."
According to Ephesians 4:7-11, the ascended Christ has given gifted men (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers) to be used by God for the perfecting or equipping of the saints. Though apostles and prophets were foundational to the church and have passed off the scene (Eph. 2:20), evangelists and pastor-teachers continue on for "the perfecting of the saints." God's Word clearly teaches that the saints (believers in Christ) desperately need this perfecting:
But why do believers in Christ need perfecting or equipping? Because every sinner that is born again (John 3:3, 7) by God's amazing grace (Eph. 2:8-9) through faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:14-16) enters the family of God (John 1:12-13) just like the invitation song title says, "Just As I Am." This means they carry over into their Christian lives a truckload of human viewpoint perspective and attitudes, sinful patterns due to the sin nature, etc. And though they have become "new creations in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:17), "blessed with all spiritual blessings" (Eph. 1:3), and possessing "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3), including the authoritative and sufficient Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and the resident Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20); they must learn of their riches in Christ (1 Cor. 2:12), and how to walk worthy of their vocation (Eph. 4:1) through daily living by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7, Gal. 2:20).
Thus, the primary role of the pastor-teacher is to teach the Word of God for the maturing and equipping of the saints. His task is not to get bodies into a building. Nor is his task to entertain, to coddle, or to stroke the saints with positive thinking, self-esteem sermons so that Christians learn to "like themselves" instead of "deny themselves" (Luke 9:23). Too many pastors are concerned about the empty pews instead of concentrating on the occupied seats. I have heard that a young preacher came to Charles Spurgeon years ago and said, "Mr. Spurgeon, I have a complaint. My congregation is too small." Pastor Spurgeon wittingly and wisely replied, "Maybe it is as large as you would like to give an account for on the day of judgment!"
Now please do not misunderstand me. I am not against a numerically growing church, or even a large church; provided that the Lord builds it through the uncompromising preaching of the Gospel and teaching of the Word of God. But church growth apart from true evangelism and godly edification, via some worldly Madison-Avenue gimmicks that appeal to the flesh and which bring honor and glory to the pastor, is sickening. I detest quasi-sanctified vaudeville, fleshly yuppie pep rallies, and charismatical nonsense called "worship" in order to draw a crowd. This is the flesh religiously rampant. Take a lesson from our Lord's evaluation of the church at Laodicea as to their estimation of the status of their church (Rev. 3:17a) versus Jesus Christ's evaluation (Rev. 3:17b).
When gifted men teach the Word of God and the saints get equipped and walk with the Lord, a second marvelous result occurs:
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry…
Who is to do the work of the ministry? The "saints" are; not just the pastor(s). And Spirit-directed ministry is "work." The Greek word translated "ministry" (diakonias) means "to minister or to serve." It was used of Martha in the kitchen in Luke 10:40; of serving tables in Acts 6:2; concerning giving to meet the financial needs of the saints in Jerusalem in 2 Cor. 8:4; and in commendation to the household of Stephanas in 1 Cor. 16:15 who "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints." Would God give this same commendation to you and your household?
As some wit as insightfully asserted, "There are two kinds of people in the church; those who are willing to work and those who are willing to let them." Which are you? There is a real need in every church for believers to be actively engaged in the ministry of intercessory prayer. Praise the Lord for every prayer warrior in your church. In too many cases, believers also have never been adequately equipped for the ministry of evangelizing the lost by proclaiming the Gospel. No wonder so little personal witnessing of the Gospel is occurring in our day. A pastor once told me that "the Church today is a lot like a child with muscular dystrophy. It has a perfectly fine Head with a non-responsive, non-functional body."
Without question, a right, vertical, maturing fellowship with Jesus Christ overflows horizontally in a life of service and ministry to others. Warren Wiersbe hit the nail on the head when he wrote, "Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God."2
Believer, is this true in your life? Take your spiritual pulse for a moment. Does this definition of ministry describe your Christian walk? And is the process of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry happening in your church? If the Word of God is not expositorily and doctrinally being taught, it will never happen. Too often churches get bogged down in bureaucracy, committees, programs, good-cause syndromes, etc., and never get to the task of doing the work of the ministry. No wonder the church of Jesus Christ needs a revival. May there be genuine repentance over this.
On the other hand, in some doctrinal churches there resides a spectator mentality instead of a service mentality among believers when they assemble together. They may come to Bible study, fill their notebooks with Greek and Hebrew words, and then go home to do nothing for Jesus Christ as they hide behind "the privacy of the believer" excuse. Instead of the Spirit-prompted response, "Lord, here am I, use me;" you too often hear the cry of the carnal; "who's ministering to me?" dominating the congregation. And then also there are those deluded believers who have wrongly concluded that they need a position in the church in order to minister, instead of a God-given passion to serve Jesus Christ. Remember that spiritual service by equipped saints who are walking in divine wisdom is everybody's task, but this requires "the perfecting of the saints." ˘
To be continued in the March/April issue.
1Kent & Barbara Hughes, "Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome" (Tyndale House Publisher), pp. 28-29.
2Warren W. Wiersbe, "On Being A Servant Of God" (Thomas Nelson Publishers), pg. 3.
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