This series of 26 lessons was developed for classroom presentation from the book by David Miller that should be required reading for every preacher, elder, and Bible school teacher in the Lord’s church: “Piloting The Strait”.  This book is available from a variety of bookstores, Sain Publications at www.sainpublicans.com as well as from David Miller at www.apologeticspress.org.

 

CHANGES IN THE CHURCH

FUEL FOR CHANGE - CHURCH GROWTH

 

Matthew 23:15 “WOE UNTO YOU, SCRIBES AND PHARISEES, HYPOCRITES! FOR YE COMPASS SEA AND LAND TO MAKE ONE PROSELYTE, AND WHEN HE IS MADE, YE MAKE HIM TWOFOLD MORE THE CHILD OF HELL THAN YOURSELVES.”

 

            During the past two lessons we have looked at rebellion and emotion as two of the key fuels for change in the church.  The third key to change in the congregations over the past few years is the unfortunate and misplaced emphasis on numerical growth in the Lord’s church.  Men look at the denominations around them, especially the community church movement and the Willow Creek Community Church, LaGrange, IL with its 17,000 in attendance on Sunday morning and think that the methods they use to bring in people must be the right things to do.  They’re “successful” in man’s view.

            It seems that there is absolutely no end to what folks will do to try to make their local church grow in numbers.  Many of our brethren are in fact running from first one large denomination to another frantically grasping for ways to make the church’s numbers swell to ever greater heights like theirs.  That’s were we got the bus programs back in the 1970’s and their companion children’s church.  A bus program can be great if done properly.  But what was done reminds me of the Israelites in:

 

I Samuel 8:19-20  “NEVERTHELESS THE PEOPLE REFUSED TO OBEY THE VOICE OF SAMUEL; AND THEY SAID, NAY, BUT WE WILL HAVE A KING OVER US; THAT WE ALSO MAY BE LIKE ALL THE NATIONS, AND THAT OUR KING MAY JUDGE US, AND GO OUT BEFORE US, AND FIGHT OUR BATTLES.”

 

            Israel had a king, his name was God, but they wanted to like all the others around them.  It is incredible to think that supposedly faithful brethren can’t learn the lessons of the “schoolmaster” but continue to seek help outside of the Word of God to increase their numbers.  They don’t necessarily convert anybody to anything meaningful because they preach a watered down social gospel to maintain their increased attendance.  This amounts to the same disloyalty to God that the psalmist warns about:

 

Psalms 146:3  PUT NOT YOUR TRUST IN PRINCES, nor IN THE SON OF MAN, IN WHOM there is NO HELP.”

 

            Of course criticism of this foolishness will get me labeled as against what some folks call “progress”, I’ll be called “narrow-minded” and opposed to “growth”.  Just as my refusal to support so-called “christian” colleges and schools when they’ve abandoned their Christian heritage has gotten me labeled as anti Christian education.  Just as my refusal to fellowship with everyone in town who has “Church of Christ” on their sign regardless of what they teach and practice got me labeled an isolationist.  We’re to grow, scripture leaves no doubt about that, but we’re to grow by converting people to Christ, bringing people to the position where God adds them (Acts 2:47) to His church.

 

Consider with me if you will:

 

1.     Does is really seem possible to you that God would require numerical growth but then fail to tell us how to accomplish that growth?  Has God left us in such a condition that we need to hire, at some exorbitant fee, a so-called “church growth expert” to teach us the latest “techniques” for growing a church.  Techniques that have come from the minds of  men who are schooled, not in scripture, but in “Madison Avenue” marketing techniques, sociology, psychology and denominational practices.  We even have such an organization in existence, it’s called the “Center for Church Growth.”

 

2.     Does is make sense to you that God would be pleased with us permitting men, human wisdom, and the latest trends in social psychology to determine what and how we are to preach and teach?  This is what we’re doing when we spend vast sums of money and air time to address modern man’s “felt needs” such as loneliness, alcoholism, stress, marriage enrichment, divorce counseling, etc.  Oh, there are people who need help with all of these things but it needs to be done in the context of working to convert these people to God’s ways.  It needs to be done by teaching and encouraging them to remove their sin from their lives.

 

3.     Too many times our “progress” amounts to nothing more than the abandonment of truth in exchange for “something new” (as the Athenians in Acts 17:21) or the latest popular fad derived from the “latest studies”, or the last brainstorm of some self-appointed expert.  Under the guise of “growth” and “progress” we stray from biblical doctrine and gradually drift away from the spiritual moorings - we lose our anchor which should be the pure, unaltered and full strength Word of God.

 

            This mindset is completely opposed and foreign to the biblical prescription for achieving our God-ordained purpose.  If we want the church to grow and be insulated against the apostasy that is raging through our brotherhood, we have got to go back to the Bible and see that only on the basis of truth taught with an uncompromising fervor can divinely-approved growth be accomplished.

 

God’s word alone has the power “UNTO SALVATION” Romans 1:16  “FOR I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST FOR IT IS THE POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION TO EVERY ONE THAT BELIEVETH, TO THE JEW FIRST, AND ALSO TO THE GREEK.”

 

Only God’s word has the “energy” to stimulate people to obey  Hebrews 4:12  “FOR THE WORD OF GOD is QUICK, AND POWERFUL, AND SHARPER THAN ANY TWO-EDGED SWORD, PIERCING EVEN TO THE DIVIDING ASUNDER OF SOUL AND SPIRIT, AND OF THE JOINTS AND MARROW, AND is A DISCERNER OF THE THOUGHTS AND INTENTS OF THE HEART.”

 

Only God’s truth can set man free:  John 8:32  AND YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.”  and Jesus also tells us what that truth is John 17:17  “SANCTIFY THEM THROUGH THY TRUTH: THY WORD IS TRUTH.”

 

What was God’s answer under the Old Testament times when the Israelite society was deteriorating and coming apart at the seams?  He sent plain-spoken, to the point prophets, with a plain, to-the-point message to wake his people up and bring them into a realization of how far they had strayed away from him.  Jesus himself sets the examples in Matthew 15:7-9  ye HYPOCRITES, WELL DID ESAIAS PROPHESY OF YOU, SAYING, THIS PEOPLE DRAWETH NIGH UNTO ME WITH THEIR MOUTH, AND HONOURETH ME WITH their LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME.  BUT IN VAIN THEY DO WORSHIP ME, TEACHING for DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.”

 

            That is precisely why it is not our burden and responsibility to produce numbers.  It is our charge and charter to teach God’s Word (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Hebrews 5:12).

 

I Corinthians 3:6-7 “I HAVE PLANTED, APOLLOS WATERED; BUT GOD GAVE THE INCREASE.  SO THEN NEITHER IS HE THAT PLANTETH ANY THING, NEITHER HE THAT WATERETH; BUT GOD THAT GIVETH THE INCREASE.”

            Only the implanted or engrafted word will save people James 1:21  WHEREFORE LAY APART ALL FILTHINESS AND SUPERFLUITY OF NAUGHTINESS, AND RECEIVE WITH MEEKNESS THE ENGRAFTED WORD, WHICH IS ABLE TO SAVE YOUR SOULS.”

 

I Peter 2:1-2 “WHEREFORE LAYING ASIDE ALL MALICE, AND ALL GUILE, AND HYPOCRISIES, AND ENVIES, AND ALL EVIL SPEAKING, AS NEWBORN BABES, DESIRE THE SINCERE MILK OF THE WORD, THAT YE MAY GROW THEREBY:”

 

            No! God didn’t leave us with the demanding task of generating numerical growth in the called-out or church.  God gave us the task of presenting the truth of his word and then warning us that:

 

Matthew 20:16SO THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST, AND THE FIRST LAST: FOR MANY BE CALLED, BUT FEW CHOSEN.”

 

Luke 13:23-24  THEN SAID ONE UNTO HIM, LORD, ARE THERE FEW THAT BE SAVED?  AND HE SAID UNTO THEM, STRIVE TO ENTER IN AT THE STRAIT GATE: FOR MANY, I SAY UNTO YOU, WILL SEEK TO ENTER IN, AND SHALL NOT BE ABLE.”

 

Matthew 7:13-14  “ENTER YE IN AT THE STRAIT GATE: FOR WIDE is THE GATE, AND BROAD is THE WAY, THAT LEADETH TO DESTRUCTION, AND MANY THERE BE WHICH GO IN THEREAT: BECAUSE STRAIT is THE GATE, AND NARROW is THE WAY, WHICH LEADETH UNTO LIFE, AND FEW THERE BE THAT FIND IT.”

 

            For too long, preachers within the church of Christ have been perceived to be largely responsible for the numerical growth (or lack of it) in the local congregation.  It seems to be thought that if the preacher is doing his job, the church will grow in numbers.  If the church is not growing in numbers, the conclusion is then, that the preacher isn’t doing his job.  It is assumed that numerical growth in the church is tied to the preacher’s appearance, personality, preaching style and tone (rather than his message), and this plus the number of personal Bible studies he conducts are counted as responsible for his success or failure.

            What is the preacher’s role in church growth?  Is it not the same that Paul said that his was in I Corinthians 3:6-7?  To plant and water the seed of the kingdom so that God can give the increase?

 

II Timothy 4:1-2  I CHARGE thee THEREFORE BEFORE GOD, AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHO SHALL JUDGE THE QUICK AND THE DEAD AT HIS APPEARING AND HIS KINGDOM; PREACH THE WORD; BE INSTANT IN SEASON, OUT OF SEASON; REPROVE, REBUKE, EXHORT WITH ALL LONGSUFFERING AND DOCTRINE.”

 

Titus 2:15  THESE THINGS SPEAK AND EXHORT, AND REBUKE WITH ALL AUTHORITY.  LET NO MAN DESPISE THEE.”

 

            We assume that if the preacher is coming across properly in his preaching, people are going to be converted and if they aren’t the there’s something haywire with the preacher.  But what about Noah?  He preached for 120 years but only converted eight people.  Yet the Holy Spirit through Peter commends him to us:

 

II Peter 2:5  “AND SPARED NOT THE OLD WORLD, BUT SAVED NOAH THE EIGHTH person, A PREACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, BRINGING IN THE FLOOD UPON THE WORLD OF THE UNGODLY,”

 

            How does this compare with Jesus himself?  There was a period in Jesus personal ministry when may of his disciples went away and walked with him no more.  Was that because Jesus was a failure in his teaching and preaching?

 

John 6:66 “FROM THAT time MANY OF HIS DISCIPLES WENT BACK, AND WALKED NO MORE WITH HIM.”

 

            Numbers, everyone is looking for great numbers and swelling crowds in our church buildings.  We hope, wish and pray to God that such could be the case.  But we don’t make that determination, God does.  Our purpose is to plant and water and if we’re planting with bad seed and watering with poisoned water we won’t grow anything that resembles what God wants.

            In our day, when people are added to the gathering that calls itself the Lord’s church, though they have not and don’t intent to “BRING FORTH THEREFORE FRUITS MEET FOR REPENTANCE “(Matthew 3:8) we’re not being positive, loving, and definitely not faithful to the commission Jesus gave us.  When we avoid so-called delicate issues and refuse to teach that sin is sin and must be repented of; we become the evil doers that the apostle John warns against and tells us “FOR HE THAT BIDDETH HIM GOD SPEED IS PARTAKER OF HIS EVIL DEEDS.”  (II John 11).

If we stand proudly, puff out our chests and brag about our tolerance of those things God condemns; we have only become like the church in Thyatira

 

NOTWITHSTANDING I HAVE A FEW THINGS AGAINST THEE, BECAUSE THOU SUFFEREST THAT WOMAN JEZEBEL, WHICH CALLETH HERSELF A PROPHETESS, TO TEACH AND TO SEDUCE MY SERVANTS TO COMMIT FORNICATION, AND TO EAT THINGS SACRIFICED TO IDOLS.” (Revelation 2:20)

 

            Let’s reach out to people and do the work God gave us to do, the way that God would have us do it, so that the church will be spiritually strong, healthy and a glory to God.  But let’s ever realize that all efforts must be designed ultimately to provide Him with repentant, contrite souls who have crucified self, ceased doing evil and put to death their fleshly desires.  Let us understand that if we are planting and watering the true Seed of the Kingdom that we’re doing the will of God and God has not tasked us with providing the increase but has taken that responsibility for himself.