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!

Striving to Be a Healthy Church (Part 2)

In my last post I presented the main concern I believe every church leader should have for the local church. I suggested that it should not be primarily focused on breaking attendance records, as exciting as that can be. Nor is it about implementing the right method of programming, as helpful as this can be. These areas are important but they are not the main focus. The most important concern for every church leader can be summed up by this question: what makes a healthy church? As I sifted through the New Testament one passage in particular impressed upon me in a great way. In it I see summarized beautifully a definite point in the right direction. Allow me to quote the passage in its entirety:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,(Colossians 1:24-2:1).”

As I reflected on this passage I saw three areas every Church leader should concentrate on in seeking to develop a healthy church. 

Hard Work

Notice first of all Paul’s emphasis on struggling hard for the sake of the church. Three times he mentions his toil and struggle to see the church mature. 

  • Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col. 1:24)
  • For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (Col 1:29)
  • For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face (Col 2:1)

In order to pursue health in the church it begins with godly leaders digging deep and working hard for those within the local church community. For Paul it included prayer (see 1:9ff) and teaching the word of God (see 1:28). Interestingly, this is the same pattern that was established in the early church (see Acts 6:4). This is not everything that church leaders are called to do as they work diligently for the health of the church but at least these two areas must be pursued. For a church to become healthy and mature there must be godly leaders striving daily to accomplish this goal. 

Serving the Word of God

Secondly, a healthy church is going to be one that places a priority on the word of God preached. Notice what Paul says in verses 25 and 28:

of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. . Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.(Col 1:25,28)

Paul says he became a minister. The word is where we get our English word “deacon.” It simply means “to serve.” A Healthy church is one whose leaders are servant leaders. The apostle Peter wrote concerning elders: “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 (1 Peter 5:2-3).” 

But what are the leaders of a church to serve? According to Paul it is the word of God. Paul said I became a minister to “make the word of God fully known.” He said I “proclaim Christ warning everyone and teaching everyone…” This is the number one task of the Pastor/Elder. They are to be men who preach the word. As Paul told Timothy “preach the word in season and out of season… (2 Tim. 4:2).” 

Present Everyone Mature

Finally, the third concentration is to present everyone mature. This is the goal of every church. Church leaders do not struggle for the sake of the church to preach and teach as an end in itself. Rather, the hard work and dedication of every church leader should be for the purpose of moving each member to be more like Christ—this is the essence of spiritual maturity! If a church has many people filling its seats and yet there is not a drive to present each member mature there is a lack of health. If a church has amazing programs and yet there is no intentionality to present each member mature in Christ there is a lack of health. The goal of every church, I submit, is to intentionally present each member mature in Christ. 

This goal implies then that every member, no matter their maturity level, is to be intentionally cared for. Paul told the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20 to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Acts 20:28).” This is a huge responsibility. One that will take a lot of struggle,  and diligent service of the word of God. But in the end our goal in doing so is to present everyone mature in Christ. 

Striving to be a Healthy Church (Part 1)

As a local church pastor I am immersed in the Christian subculture on a daily basis. All of my podcasts are church and Bible related; my colleagues are mostly pastors or Christian workers; my reading is almost exclusively Christian based—so questions pertaining to the local church and her purpose are always at the forefront of my mind. The question: “what is the role of the local Church,” is paramount for me. 

If you were to peruse the literature, go to church growth conferences, talk with certain church leaders, you may discover that for many (including myself!) there is a very strong temptation to view success in the church with regard to how many attend on a weekly basis. Success equals numbers. A church is successful when the church grows exponentially. Besides, you never hear advertised at church conferences—“come here Joe Smith, the pastor over first church—the church that has sustained steadily 100 members for the past 10 years!”

This emphasis on numbers equaling success however, has evoked a philosophical change in how many view church ministry. Words like “seeker sensitivity,” “attractional,” and “entertainment driven” are used to describe many church’ view of how to go about organizing their ministerial programming. 

As a result,  the attender becomes the consumer. A family visits the church and their decision to stay or leave is based on a checklist of approved preferences. How was the music? The children’s program? How were the church aesthetics? did the preacher keep my attention? etc… But, is this what Jesus meant when he said “I will build my church?” 

Before I go on allow me to make two qualifications: First, In a society like ours here in the U.S. it is somewhat inevitable that the local church will look much like it does today, with various denominations and styles of ministry. I heard Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, say convincingly: “Religious freedom plus theological conviction equals denominations.” In other words, motivation for our country’s desire for religious freedom has produced an inescapable outcome of denominations. Hence, there will be a natural tendency to find the local church that suits our various pragmatic and theological preferences. 

Secondly, numbers are not bad in and of themselves. Obviously each number represents a person who has come to know christ. And as one Pastor I heard put it: “If God doesn’t care about numbers why did he name a whole book with that title?” The problem is not numbers itself but the temptation to view numbers as an end in and of itself . Numbers are simply a by-product, and both healthy and unhealthy churches can have a lot of people attending them. 

So, what’s the problem? I submit that what Pastors should be concerned with is not so much questions regarding attendance, or programs, but asking this simple question—what makes a healthy church? What are we seeking to do that transforms a church that is, as Paul put it, “straining toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14)?” I suggest that the answer is not found in programs, or in maintaining large attendance numbers, but something deeper, more long-lasting, and ultimately biblically driven. In the next post we will consider three concentrations each church leader should focus on in order to develop a healthy church. 

Are people generally good? A foundational question for young evangelicals.

I ran across a very interesting debate (conversation?) that sheds much light on the contemporary landscape among young liberals and their political views. As a young individual with more conservative leanings I am concerned as to the future of our nation, and her approach to biblical virtues and morals. You can decide as to where you stand on the issues discussed in the video yourself; it is definitely an intriguing dialogue.

But as you listen to the conversation take note during the conclusion of the discussion. Dennis Prager submits what he sees as the essential dividing line between both groups–Are humans essentially good? How would you respond to such a query? Prager answers in the negative while the young college students answer in the positive. I think Prager has put his finger on an important issue that influences how one shapes his or her worldview.

One slightly familiar with the biblical narrative will realize before he reaches Genesis 4 that human nature has been seriously affected by sin. A biblical worldview argues that we as humans are not generally good but generally evil. Paul makes this clear in the opening chapters of Romans, claiming that “none does good not even one (Romans 3:12),” and “that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” In Ephesians Paul makes it clear that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).”

So, yes this is a crucial question in trying to determine why society is the way it is. The young college students propose that “badness” is the result of social conditioning; change the circumstances, change the people. But go back as far as you want, and you will discover that every generation struggles with being “good.” The Bible however offers the only true remedy to the problem of badness–It is in the regeneration of the Spirit of God graciously bestowed to us by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. A transformation must occur for lives to be changed. No amount of social conditioning, behavioral correcting, psychological diagnosing, or any other treatment will suffice. No, if the Bible is true then we have to conclude that true formation of our attitude and behavior can only come through the supernatural work of God! Thus, Paul can go on to say in Ephesians 2 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4). “