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!

A Case for Local Church Membership.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the words “thou shall be a member of a local church.” However, the absence of the word “Trinity” doesn’t seem to keep us from believing in a triune God either. The reason involves simple logical deduction or inference from a holistic reading of scripture, which moves us to conclude that God is one in being yet three in persons. Similarly, while the words “local church membership” are not found in the Bible, a serious reading of the text cannot but persuade one to its validity.

With that said the following is my attempt to list details from the NT that, I believe, accumulatively make a strong case for the NT’s teaching of local church membership. But first allow me to define exactly what I mean by my terminology:
Local—I mean a specific geographical area where the church meets regularly to worship God, in contrast to what’s typically termed “the universal church,” that is, true believers throughout the entire world.
Church—I mean the assembly of believers for the purposes of worshipping God, edifying the saints, and manifesting the glory of God.
Membership—I mean the intentional and apparent recognition of each individual who has pledged their lives to a particular local church, for the advancement of the Gospel in the local community, and throughout the world.

With our terms set before us here are ten biblical reasons why, when put together, make a strong accumulative case that every believer should be a member of a local church:

  1. The word for “Church” implies in itself a group of people who gather regularly, in a particular place, for a uniting purpose. The word translated “church” comes from the Greek Ekklesia meaning “a gathered assembly.”
  2. When the apostle Paul wrote his letters they were written to specific churches in a specific geographical location.
    • To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2)
    • and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:2)
    • Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons (Philippians 1:1)
    • Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.(1 Thessalonians 1:1)
  3. The NT describes the first church as being established and having elders appointed to each local church.
    • And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.(Acts 14:23) (see also, 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)
  4. The NT teaches that believers met regularly to worship God together.
    • I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.(1 Timothy 3:14-15)
    • And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.(Hebrews 10:24-25)
    • But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse (1 Corinthians 11:17).
    • If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds. . . What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn. . .(1 Corinthians 14:23,26)
    • See also, Acts 2:42-27
  5. Paul at the conclusion of his letter to the church at Rome sends greetings to a number of individual believers. It seems from this list that there was a clear understanding of who had identified as being devoted to that particular local congregation.
    • See Romans 16:1-16
  6. The call for church discipline involves a mutual understanding between each member of a local church that they’re held accountable to each other for what they believe and how they behave.
    • Matthew 18:15-20
    • 1 Cor. 5:1-13
    • 2 Cor. 2:5-11
    • Galatians 6:1-5
  7. The call for church discipline implies that to be put out of fellowship with a congregation means that one would have once been in fellowship with a congregation. 
    • See passages in previous point
  8. The body/member metaphor given by Paul points to the design of a local church.
    • 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
  9. Leaders of the church being accountable for the souls in their flock assume they know who is in their flock.
    • Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
  10. Jesus established and taught the importance of the Local church 
    • Matthew 16:13-20
    • Matthew 18:15-20
    • John 17:20-26