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!

The Relationship Between the Elders and the Members in a Local Congregation.

Healthy leaders lead to healthy congregations

If you were to list the ingredients for a healthy and vibrant church what would they be? What makes a successful church? Bob Russell in his book “When God Builds a Church” offers his insight on one of the major essentials for church health and vibrancy:

“When I’m asked to analyze why our church has grown so dramatically, I say there is one overriding reason God has blessed our congregation: excellent leadership. The elders…have consistently been an example of what godly leadership is all about.” 

He elaborates later on:

“Often we’re looking for gimmicks, programs, and ideas that will make our church grow, while God is looking for consecration and genuine commitment among the church’s leaders.” 

Alexander Strauch in his book “Biblical Eldership” writes the following:

“In a letter to a young presbyter named Nepotian, dated A.D. 394, Jerome rebuked the churches of his day for their hypocrisy in showing more concern for the appearance of their church buildings than their careful selection of their church leaders: ‘Many build churches nowadays; their walls and pillars of glowing marble, their ceilings glittering with gold, their altars studded with jewels. Yet to the choice of Christ’s ministers no heed is paid.”

I think Russel and Strauch are exactly right. The character and devotion of the eldership within the church will inevitably correspond to the church’ health and vibrancy. As Hosea remarks, “And what the priests do, the people also do (Hosea 4:9, NLT).” 

Furthermore, depending on the quality of the relationship between the elders and the congregation it can either ruin a church or energize her.

In the following I want to outline the relationship between the elders and the members in a local congregation as discussed in the New Testament.  Understanding the roles of the Elders and the members will help clarify the image of a healthy church.

Elders are qualified 

It seems to go without saying that an elder of a church is to be qualified in order to accomplish his ministerial tasks. But unfortunately I have experienced first hand men who were given the title elder without meeting biblical qualifications. And it is much more difficult removing a man from the position of an elder because he is not qualified than it is from simply holding off from placing one in that position.

This is precisely why Paul instructs us not to place men in leadership too quickly: Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure (1 Timothy 5:22)

The two list of qualifications for the church elder is found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Jeramie Rinne in his book “Church Elders” offers a helpful summary of what these qualifications entail:

  • You want to be an elder
  • You exemplify godly character
  • You can teach the Bible 
  • You lead your family well
  • You are a male
  • You are an established believer

The importance of the godly character of the elder can not be overstated. Robert Murray M’Cheyne who was a preacher in the early 1800’s and died at the early age of 30 wrote these convicting words regarding church leadership:

“My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness. How awful a weapon in the hand of God is a holy minister.” 

Members Honor their elders 

Because God has ordained that godly men lead the church spiritually, it is also assumed that the members of the congregation honor them for that task. Notice Paul’s clear words concerning this duty of the congregation:

  • We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
  • Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1Timothy 5:17-18)

Elders equip

Elders in the church are the equippers. Elders do not labor in the Word in order to spoon feed each member without any movement toward maturity. On the contrary, Elders preach and teach the Bible, in order to grow and equip the members to live out the truths of scripture. Look at Ephesians 4:11: 

  • And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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.(Ephesians 4:11-14)

Members seek guidance from the elders

Because elders equip it is natural then that the members of the church seek spiritual guidance from their elders. Consider Hebrews 13:7:

  • Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7)

One interesting passage is James 5:14 on this matter:

  • Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.(James 5:14-15)

Much can be said about this section of scripture but suffice it to say that a strong argument can be made that spiritual sickness is in the author’s mind here. If so, what we have is instructions for those in the congregation to take the initiative when they are spiritually down, to seek the elders for encouragement, and to be uplifted by prayer. 

Elders protect

A professor of mine in an introduction to Christian ministry class remarked that if we want to be successful in ministry we need to be as “gentle as doves; wise as serpents; and have the skin of rhinoceros!” Elders have to have tough skin in order to protect the flock of God. Thus, a third characteristic of the elder is that he protects the church. He does this in two primary ways; protection from incorrect doctrine and incorrect behavior. These may come from folks outside the church or inside the church. 

  • 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 20:28-30)

Russell writes: 

“A growing church is frequently the victim of vicious attacks from the adversary. Satan hates an alive church and does his best to destroy it. You can bet that just when things begin going well in your church, you will encounter serious spiritual opposition. . such problems simply cannot be dealt with adequately without strong, though sensitive, leaders who do not shy away from confrontation.” 

Members hold elders accountable

One of the fears folks may have in joining a church is that they are called to trust and follow the leadership of individuals that may have the potential of falling short in their calling. Are church members simply to obey elders who are living inconsistent with their ‘above reproach” position?  I get this fear. We hear on the news frequently about moral failures made by church leaders, and it concerns us that we may experience similar outcomes.

But this should not deter anyone from being obedient and serving in the local church, or from following the command to submit to one’s leaders. However, God in his wisdom has instructed us that if an elder fails to lead like he ought then the church is required to confront that elder. Look at 1 Timothy 5:19-21:

  • Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality (1 Timothy 5:19-21)

Therefore, while members in the congregation are called to submit to the elders in the church, it does not excuse elders from living inconsistently with the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. In such cases the congregation has an obligation to lovingly confront the elder and encourage him to repent of his habitual sin.

Elders Lead

The elders of the church are to lead the congregation. As a shepherd leads the sheep to fresh water so the elder leads the congregation to the truths of scripture and holy living. How does he lead? Peter tells us:

  • So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4)

According to this passage Elders lead by:

  • Oversight without compulsion
  • Eagerly without selfish motives
  • Exemplary without domineering

Members follow

If a church has healthy spiritual leaders it follows that the members of the congregation will joyfully follow their leadership.

  • 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)

Closing

If we desire to become a spiritually healthy congregation we have to understand the distinct roles of the elder and the member. If at any time the elders and congregation become disunited we will inevitably fall into deep sickness as a church. 

The loneliest I have ever felt in ministry was when I was barely 20 and the church I was serving split over congregation and leadership differences. The church that had once been fairly stable had been ripped apart, because the elders and the congregation fought tooth and nail for their different desired preferences to be met. The church is still in existence but is close to closing its doors. May we unite rather than divide and learn to love our elders, and love each other!