A Right Attitude for Church Growth

Our church has recently experienced some numerical growth in our Sunday attendance. I am grateful and admittedly excited about this trend. I don’t know of many preachers who feel discouraged when numbers are going up! But I also find myself quickly checking my motives regarding numeric growth. In the back of my mind I am always aware that God’s blessing can easily turn into Will’s doing. To help keep things in balance I am drawn back to scripture. There, God does his work on my heart and reminds me who is in charge. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church I am reminded of four godly attitudes all of us need to have concerning church growth. 

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.(1 Corinthians 3:1-7)

Be Content and bloom where you are planted 

When Paul addresses the church at Corinth he first rebukes them for an unhealthy practice of the comparison game between church leaders. Some were saying “I follow Apollos,” others, “I follow Paul…” Even in the first century the church fell prey to the comparison game. Oh how things seldom change! How often do we as preachers and church leaders do the same. We observe other local churches with disdain and frustration just because they are larger or have been blessed in ways we have not. Bob Russell, former minister of Southeast Christian Church, reminds us all that no matter how big your church gets, this comparison game is always raising its ugly head:


“A few years into my ministry Southeast Christian Church was listed in a national religious magazine as the six fastest growing church in America. That was a big ego boost… For about 10 minutes. Then I begin asking “who are those other five? Are they telling the truth? I wonder if we can get ahead of them and be number one next year.… Take it from someone who has been blessed to be in a church that grew steadily for a long time. Enough is never enough.”

(Russell, Bob, After Fifty Years of Ministry, 82-83.)

Instead of playing the comparison game we need to be content and bloom where we are planted. We need to recognize the God has called us to the church we are serving. Thus, He is requiring faithfulness, not fruitfulness from our ministry. Furthermore, Instead of comparing ourselves to the unique outcome of other churches around us, perhaps we call up our fellow church leaders and thank them for their service—even if you don’t agree with all their programs and methodology! 

Do the hard work and don’t become complacent 

Notice in the passage, Paul says he and Apollos planted and watered! Though we are called to be content where God has placed us, it does not mean we are called to be complacent. There is a large difference between contentment and complacency. Many times we don’t see growth because we are not willing to do the hard work! Paul says elsewhere: 

 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.(Col. 1:29). The word translated “struggling” is where we get our English word “agonize” from. We can’t complain about stunted growth when we fail to put in the hard work.

Contentment is a settled conviction and resolve that you have given it your best. Complacency is settling for mediocrity but expecting the result of hard work.

Thom Rainer offers Characteristics of a complacent church in his book “Autopsy of a deceased Church.” If these characterize your church perhaps you are placing personal comfort over Purposeful growth.

  • The Past is the hero—“we’ve never done it that way before.”
  • The church refuses to look like the community—“We don’t want new visitors taking our seats”
  • The great commission becomes the great omission—These churches are internally focused. 
  • The Preference –driven church—These churches are never open to change in methodology. 

Trust that God will give the growth 

Notice the passage again, Paul says—“But God gave the growth”And again in Colossians 1: For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.(Col. 1:29)

This is what should keep every Church leader in check—no matter what happens in the church, all the glory, and all the praise, for any success, deserves to go to God and Him alone! 

Additionally, when we realize that God is the one who ultimately grows the church we can rest at ease when it comes to the results. If we are giving it our all and willing to “struggle” for the ministry, we should rest our heads on the pillow of grace every night, knowing God will take it from there! And as Al Mohler has said, “Leaders often overestimate what can be accomplished in a single year, but underestimate what can be accomplished in a decade.” (Mohler, Albert, The Conviction to Lead, 194.) Keep persevering fellow Pastor! You plant and water and let God grow the church.

Stay Humble 

I absolutely love verse 7: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 

If you ever get to a point where you think the success of your ministry is because of your talent, skill, and charisma, you have arrived at the very opposite end of where God wants you. 

The healthy church leader always recognizes that we are merely servants of Christ (see 3:5) and in reality ‘nothing.” It is God who gets the praise! 

5 Ways You Can Know Your Church is Growing.

 

What is the Task of the Pastor?

Any organization knows that to be effective it must have a goal in mind. The same is true about the church. We, especially as church leaders, are never to parade around doing whatever feels fun or cool; whatever fits our fancies. We as a church have to be heading somewhere! 

The apostle Peter in his letter tells the elders to “shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2:).” This means we are to be tending the congregation, and also taking them somewhere! As we shepherd the flock of God we should have a goal in mind for the local church.

So what is that goal? What are pastors of the local church aiming to do? It is quite simple: the goal of the Pastors of a local church is the spiritual perfection of the members in their care. Another way to put it—the task of the pastor is to “present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).” 

James Wilhoit writes, “Spiritual Formation is the task of the church. Period. . .Spiritual formation is at the heart of its whole purpose for existence (James Wilhoit , Spiritual Formation as if the church Mattered, 15).” I couldn’t agree more.

So if the task of the Pastor is spiritual maturity of every member, what signs can one look for in order to determine the church is moving in that direction? The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians offers 5 of these signs that can offer enough for the local pastor to keep himself busy! Here’s what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:13-16:

until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

#1 Your Church has Doctrinal Unity

First, a church is moving toward spiritual perfection the more united they are on sound doctrine. The phrase “Unity of the faith” refers to the content of our beliefs and convictions as revealed in the scriptures. It is similar to Jude’s phraseology:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

Paul, elsewhere, instructs the elders of the church to teach and protect sound doctrine:

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.(Titus 1:9)

Unfortunately, sound doctrine is not something that we all get excited about. But a trait of a maturing church is a body of believers that crave spiritual content. One author laments this issue accurately:

“We prefer to focus on the experiential and the mystical rather than the intellectual. We want to ‘know Christ personally’ rather than to worry with doctrinal issues about him. The result? ‘Say the word ‘doctrine’ from the pulpit or in any other gathering of Christians and you can count on a response of yawning, nervous coughing, and glassy-eyed stares almost before the sound of the word has died in the air. Most people would describe doctrine as “dull, dry, dreadful, dreary.” (Cottell, Jack. The Faith Once for All, 32).”

But what Paul is telling us here is that Sound doctrine is vital to seeking spiritual maturity! And notice that he says it is the pursuit of uniting on the faith—That means we are to desire to agree on matters of doctrine and what the scriptures teach.
Furthermore, Paul says it is a unity in the “knowledge of the son of God.” As we grow in our unity of sound doctrine we also grow in our unity of knowing Christ. Knowing not only ABOUT him but KNOWING him intimately—the more we know and love Christ the more mature we are as a body! As Paul reflects in another letter:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)

#2 Your Church is Like Christ

Paul goes on to say that we build the body until we become , literally—“a perfect man.” Recall earlier in this epistle when he refers to the church as “One New Man (2:15).” Thus, the idea involves the church building itself up until it becomes this “Perfect Man” —to a complete mature person—Maturity is the goal!

But what does this mature man look like? Paul tells us—“To the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” I appreciate the New Living Translation, “measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”

We’ve all heard the expression “Measuring up”—this is the goal of the Church—to measure up to Christ!

When we are kids we want to measure up to our fathers—we idolize His height and stature! —When I was a kid we would always compete with our classmates about whose dad was the greatest. We all wanted to be like our dads.

It’s the same for the church—we all should desire to measure up to Christ—to be just like HIM! And this is again the goal of the church, to be like Christ! As Paul says plainly:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.(Romans 8:28)

#3 Your Church is  Spiritually Stable

In verse 13 Paul gives the positive reasons for why Christ gifted his church with spiritual leaders, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, and building up the body of Christ—that is, moving the church to spiritual perfection. In verse 14 he warns of the dangers if this doesn’t happen.

If the church is not equipped by spiritual leaders with sound doctrine through the word and the saints are not building up the body of Christ, then the church will be unstable and the body of Christ will begin to experience pain and sickness.

Notice the text; notice the contrast between the “mature man” and the “children tossed to and fro.”

A mature and stable church is pictured as a strong stable man. The immature church is pictured as children who are easily manipulated, and swayed. The Hebrew writer pictures this as well:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.(Hebrews 5:12-14)

Notice that the immature church is tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.They are unstable and easily swept away by false teachers and their seemingly attractive false doctrine. Again to quote the book of Hebrews:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.(Hebrews 2:1)

Notice that the false teachers operate. They are full of “human cunning and deceitful schemes.” False teachers are not blatantly obvious. They always come with morsels of truth mixed in with their false doctrine, so that only the mature man can see it for what it really is. Interestingly, Paul had warned the Ephesians about this. Speaking to the Ephesian Elders Paul warned them of the following:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.(Acts 20:27-30)

Recall how Jude began his letter:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.(Jude 3-4)

False teaching and false teachers will always be around. In the early days of the church false teaching compelled the church to conduct ecumenical councils in order to clarify true doctrine from the false. Later it was Luther who spurned on the Reformation and his emphasis on Justification by faith in contrast to the abuse of the Catholic Church, and its teaching of salvation by works. In the Modern era we have had our own share of battles:

Theological Liberalism—Rejection of the supernatural
Post modernism —Rejection of Absolute Truth
Prosperity Gospel—The Gospel as a means for selfish Gain
Religious Pluralism—All roads lead to Heaven
Sexual Revolution—Denial of Marriage between one man and one woman

The Mature church then isn’t easily moved or deceived by false doctrine, they know the truth! It’s why Paul urged his protege Timothy with these strong words:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[a] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.( 2 Timothy 4:1-4)

#4 Your Church is filled with Truth and Love

Paul shifts from the negative to the positive—the mature church isn’t tossed to and from because it “speaks the TRUTH in LOVE!”

Again, Christian Leaders equip the saints, the saints take what they are given from the leaders, do the work of ministry, and build up the Body. This building up can be summed up by truth and love. I like the NET translation —“practicing the truth in love”
because the phase “speaking the truth” carries more than just talking, it involves confessing truth and living that truth out! So, the Mature church is one that is grounded in the truth—but not just truth, Love!

This is so important: As we seek to pursue maturity we are going to need a dose of truth —especially because we as a body will need correcting from time to time, and we will need that truth spoken into our lives. But we can’t do that harshly. We do it in LOVE! Recall 4:2-3

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.(Ephesians 4:2-3)

Stott is helpful here:

“Thank God there are those in the contemporary church who are determined at all costs to defend and uphold God’s revealed truth. But sometimes they are conspicuously lacking in love. When they think they smell heresy, their nose begins to twitch, their muscles ripple, and the light of battle enters their eye. They seem to enjoy nothing more than a fight. Others make the opposite mistake. They are determined at all costs to maintain and exhibit brotherly love, but in order to do so are prepared even to sacrifice the central truths of revelation. Both these tendencies are unbalanced and unbiblical. Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. (Stott, John. The Message of Ephesians, 172).”

#5 Your Church Works Together in order to Become Spiritually Mature

Finally, spiritual maturity means we work together to build up the body! Notice verse 16—“when each part is working properly.” This takes us back to verse 7—“to each one of us grace was given…” When the entire church is working with their own gifts to build up the body then we are moving to perfection!

I heard it again this week in a conversation :

…Where do you go to church, what’s your church home?

….Oh I have church wherever I go!

….But who are your Pastor-teachers, and your other Christian brothers and sisters you live the christian life with?

….Blank stare….

it is impossible for an individual Christian to grow in their maturity without being connected with a local church. Spiritual growth is intrinsically connected to living life with other Christians.

When we cooperate– look at the end of the verse—“it makes the body GROW!” And that is what we are trying to do—become that perfect man to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ!

So, pastor, your one goal is to lead your congregation to spiritual maturity. That’s it! If you determine to simply pour yourself into the Word and constantly encourage your congregation to become more like Jesus, you will have fulfilled your ministry!