What is church growth?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word discipleship? I am sure that there are many different images that pop into the minds of those considering this thought. Perhaps there are some who envisage a Buddhist monk with his disciples in the mountains alone. Or, there may be some that think of a cult, where the leader is surrounded by her faithful devotees. Whatever picture comes to your mind, it is important that we consider this question in light of the church.

God has called, equipped, and empowered His children to carry out the Great Commission. This mission entails the church going and making disciples. That is, after all, the last command of Jesus before His ascension. “Go therefore,” he said, “and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:18, ESV)
As we consider the health of the church, discipleship and growth are part of the purpose of the church. Mark Dever gives us the importance of this to the health of the church when he writes, “A healthy church is characterized by a serious concern for spiritual growth on the part of its members. In a healthy church, people want to get better at following Jesus Christ.”[1]

Unfortunately, many churches have forsaken this key aspect of their existence in favor of programs, or shows, and many other issues. If we are to be a healthy church, we need to focus on discipleship. That means people coming and growing. Dever writes, “In the New Testament we find the idea of a growth that involves not just more people but people who are growing up, maturing, and deepening in the faith.”[2] He cites Ephesians 4:15-16, where Paul writes, “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.” (ESV)
As all want our churches to grow, but as we seek numerical growth we must work and pray for spiritual growth. This does not happen because of one pastor (the Scriptures actually teach that each church should be led by multiple pastors, or, elders, but that will come at another time), it happens because the church works toward that purpose. Notice Paul’s words, “we are to grow up in every way….by every joint….when each part is working properly…” These are not statements referring to one individual. They are collective terms. This brings up several questions we should all consider:


· Am I helping others grow?

· Am I consistently attending and pouring into others’ lives?

· Am I open to correction and rebuke when necessary?

· What gifts has the Lord blessed me with to build His church?

There are many more questions we could ask, but spend time thinking and praying through them. It will help the church, fulfill the commandments of Jesus, and help us all grow.


Dever also provides what he terms “A biblical practice of growth.”[3] His list includes the following: expositional preaching, biblical theology, a biblical understanding of the gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of church membership, a biblical understanding of church discipline, and a biblical understanding of church leadership.[4] Since we have already discussed many of these before, I will not reiterate them.


However, I hope that you can see how each one is like a piece of the puzzle. They are all necessary for the church to be healthy, and they are all interconnected and mutually dependent. How can we hope to work on all of these simultaneously?


I would venture to work as a physician. They do not tell a patient with multiple areas of concern to start everything at once. They begin with one thing and then move on from there. That is good advice for us in the church context. While all of these are important and necessary, it is too overwhelming for us to do all of them at once. I suggest that you pick one that you would like to focus on personally, and then the Lord will work as He sees fit.


Let us grow, and seek to grow, for the rest of our lives, all for the glory of God!


[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 198. [2] Dever, 202. [3] Ibid., 205. [4] Ibid., 205-211.

Helpful Resources for Longevity in Ministry

I have only been in ministry for a few years, but I am extremely blessed to have been connected with some helpful resources. Maybe you have been in ministry for many years, but you are experiencing difficult times. Or, like me, you have been in for 5-10 years. You may even be heading toward the ministry. Either way, we can all use these encouraging resources. Like piling wood for the cold months, stock pile these resources to keep your souls hot and your churches on fire.

9 Marks


9 Marks is a wonderful ministry with a variety of resources. Mark Dever has been working to help reform the church for over twenty years. His work, along with many other faithful men and women, has provided an abundance of resources (many of them free) dealing with a plethora of ministry issues.

One message, in particular, is Pray for Slow Growth, by Aaron Menikoff. In it he deals with reasons pastors and church leaders should actually pray for slow growth. If you are more of a reader, here is the article.

Desiring God


Much like 9 Marks, Desiring God, began by John Piper, is filled with many sermons, lectures, e-books, and articles. Each sermon contains a full-transcript, which allows easier consumption of more difficult concepts.

Banner of Truth


The Banner of Truth Trust is a wonderful provider of biblical books. I have yet to purchase a book from the Trust that is not worth its weight in gold (and I do mean this literally). In addition to providing excellent resources, they also host an annual conference (in the US) for the west and east coasts, respectively. I have been to two of them, and I always leave spiritually refreshed, challenged, and with an arm full of books!

 

There are numerous other resources that are available, and many of them are free. I am thankful that God provides such wisdom through gift men and women. May they be a blessing and encouragement to you.

Gospel Centrality: A Vital Kingdom Mindset

In Ray Anderson’s book, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches, he writes,

In so many places right polity takes precedence over the gospel. Violation of polity may be our modern form of heresy.
[Ray S. Anderson, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches (Downers Grove, IVP Books: 2006), 78.]

In my off day reading, I enjoy reading different theological works, biographies, practical ministry helps, and a variety of other material. But I am always drawn to theology, and in particular, theology in practice.

When I came across this thought I was struck at both its truth and the inherent danger of which us are at risk. First, the statement is true. I personally have experienced it in churches. The way a church functions, the way things have always been done, seem to be an unbreachable barrier to growth and change. We are creatures of habit, to be sure. But we must not allow the comforts of our habits to prevent us from changing and growing. And certainly we should not change simply for change’s sake. Our changes must be one of calculated research, drawing from Scripture and tradition to make positive changes in the lives of our churches.

Secondly, we must always be careful to watch our own lives for this danger. In working with other churches and denominations (which is Scripturally good and commanded) we run the risk of avoiding certain people, groups, or even whole denominations simply for the fact that they do church a little differently than us.

In our efforts to see the Kingdom of God continue to grow in our lives and communities, let us not let polity (or whatever else may come in the way) take precedence over the gospel.

Discernment: A Vital Gift

A tree is one of the most beautiful aspects of creation. There is one stem, one trunk, and then there are so many branches and leaves. Each leaf is unique, a incredible work of art. The tree can teach us much. The lesson I want to learn today, however, is that of unity.

Donald Bloesch, a scholar and theologian, writes, “….Christians sorely need the gift of discernment to make the proper evaluations.” [Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts, 145.] He is dealing with different variations within Christendom that view the Spirit in diverse ways. 
His comment is so vital for today. There are so many variations, so many denominations, so many view points. Which one is correct? Which one is wrong? The spirit of discernment, mentioned in 1 Corinthins 12.10, needs to be exercised today. We need to discern, to judge in order to determine which view is correct and which view is not.

Another point Bloesch makes is to differentiate between heterodoxy and heresy. He defines the two, “Heterodoxy signifies the elevation of what is peripheral over what is essential in the faith, while heresy leads to a denial of what is essential.” [Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts, 145.] It is imperative that, in Christendom, we learn to do this. Is it difficult? Yes. Will it be messy? Of course. But if we are to follow Christ, then we are to seek unity. Harmony, oneness, and “a complex or systematic whole” are words and phrases that describe what we should be seeking.

Too often we make peripheral issues the main focus and lay aside essentials.

I end with these words from the Messiah, and pray that believers may be one, אחד, a God-glorifying harmony.

John 17.20-23

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Evaluating Malphurs…

*The below article was a post on evaluating Aubrey Malphurs’ book Advanced Strategic Planning. It has been left in its unaltered state, but covers Malphurs’ contribution to a specific aspect of strategic planning, that of researching the church and the community. I hope it may be helpful to my fellow ministers and seminarians.

 

The most influential aspect of the reading requirements for the class for the author of this post was the questions to ask about the church congregation as well as the community. The first step Malphurs suggest accomplishing is that of understanding the church’s boundaries. He recommends understanding how many members live within twenty minutes as this will indicate 40% of your membership. (Malphurs, 2013: 179-180)

The next beneficial aspect of this that the author found most helpful is that of the specific questions. Malphurs breaks it down into community questions (Malphurs, 2013:181-184) and congregation questions. (Malphurs, 2013: 184-186) This information is incredibly beneficial as it provides a better understanding of the community to be reached as well as the members who will do the reaching. Gary McIntosh, a church growth guru, writes, “Often well-intentioned churches make mistakes that keep them from experiencing biblical church growth, and one of the major mistakes is to fail to do adequate research to understand the people they are seeking to reach with the Gospel.” (McIntosh, 2003: 136-137) McIntosh really aptly describes the problems of most churches’ evangelistic efforts. The research aspect is a necessary aspect of planning for outreach, and Malphurs provides the church with a good head start for questions. Of course other information could be added or subtracted, depending on the specific outreach plans of the church. However, the questions offered by Malphurs also produces excellent results for a focused effort of evangelism.

Besides reaching the community the church’s function is to teach and make disciples. This involves the members of one’s church and their own spiritual growth and development. Unfortunately many churches fail to adequately train and raise up volunteers and so the few that do contribute often experience burn out. (Marshall and Payne, 2009:13-14) Understanding who makes up the congregation will enable the leadership to focus on training specific people with regards to their own unique and diverse backgrounds and cultural influences. In order to be more effective in the outreach of the community it is necessary to build up the people within the church. Marshall and Payne describe this, writing, “If we want our strategy to be people-focused, we should concentrated on training, which increases the number and effectiveness of gospel communicators (i.e. people who can speak the good news both in personal conversations and in public settings).” (Marshall and Payne, 2009: 19) Thus, understanding who is in one’s church will enable the church leadership team to more effectively train the individual members.  Marshall and Payne offer a chart that enables leadership to plug members into sections to determine the spiritual maturity of each one. (Marshall and Payne, 2009: 110) With the understanding that this list is a general idea rather than specific information, the leadership team can take the information garnished through the research and then handpick one another for more specific development.

The combination of understanding the community and the congregation will enable the church to make disciples and thus fulfill the Great Commission. Malphurs’ contributions to this area of church theology and practice will prove, in the estimation of this author, to be of unrivaled benefit for generations to come.

Gary L. McIntosh, Biblical Church Growth: How You Can Work with God to Build a Faithful Church (Grand Rapids, Bakerbooks: 2003)

Aubrey Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st Century Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (Grand Rapids, Bakerbooks: 2013)

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything (Kingsford, Matthias Media: 2009)