WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A STRONG CONGREGATION OF THE LORD?
After Moses died, when Jehovah spoke to Joshua to encourage him in his role as Israel’s new leader, at least three times God told him to “be strong” (Joshua 1:6,7,9). The Lord gives the same instruction to His church. For instance, the saints in Ephesus were told to “. . . be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).
While some 1st-century congregations struggled, other “churches were strengthened in the faith . . .” (Acts 16:5). That statement both excites and challenges us. How great that God’s people were growing stronger. It shows us that it can be done. It did not happen by accident then, and it will not take place by accident in our generation, either.
Being a strong local church begins with having the proper mindset. In the verses quoted above, we have seen that those who are truly strong are described as (1) strong “in the Lord” and (2) strong “in the faith.” That is talking about spiritual strength, brethren. Such strength is not based on a congregation’s material facilities, attendance, contribution, or the number of activities available to the members. Yes, it is true that strong children of God will be faithful in attendance, give sacrificially, and be active in the work of the church. However, we must always recognize the truth that a church might have multitudes attend its services and give lots of money, yet still be a weak congregation in God’s sight. Please, please, spare me and do not sing the praises of big groups that do not respect the authority of the Bible! King Jeroboam brought in big crowds with his golden calf worship (1 Kings 12), but his actions did not please the Lord. Let us not miss this truth: numbers for attendance, giving, and activities do not guarantee spiritual strength.
The strength of a local church comes from individual members. As individual members of the body grow, the body grows. Strong churches give emphasis to individuals growing through Bible study and prayer (1 Peter 2:2; Philippians 4:6,7).
Strong local churches give emphasis to making diligent effort. Being satisfied with mediocrity is not an option in our service to the Master. Only those that really want to be strong will be strong, and only those that sincerely desire to grow will do so. 2 Peter 1:5-11 records the Lord’s plan for individual spiritual growth and strength. It begins and ends with “diligence” (1:5,10). The Christians in Laodicea were not strong and were not growing because they did not really care (Revelation 3:16,17).
Strong churches keep the Bible in the forefront. Strong congregations are Bible-emphasizing, Bible-studying, Bible-teaching, Bible-respecting, and Bible-defending. In short, strong local churches are people of the Book. They preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). They do so in a kind fashion, but they make no apologies for God’s truth. Their “Bible classes” are times of intense Bible study and not endless ramblings about self-helps or personal experiences that are of no benefit to the soul.
Every strong congregation emphasizes holy living. Keeping ourselves “unspotted from the world” is a key component of faithful living (James 1:27). Strong churches understand that, so they steadfastly teach on purity, moral issues, and not being worldly-minded (James 4:4; Romans 12:1,2).
Strong churches have the trait of keeping their focus on the mission of the church. Our Lord came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). His spiritual body, the church, needs to have as its major objective the saving of souls: reaching out with the gospel to the lost (Mark 16:15,16) and then building up those that are in the Christ to get them ready to go to heaven. Strong churches do not lose sight of the purpose of their existence: God is to be glorified in His church (Ephesians 3:21). Brethren, I can do without instruction about how to feel good about myself; show me how to overcome temptation and deal with sin! I do not need special sessions on how to paint; teach me how to live like Jesus! Don’t arrange classes to show me how to play a game; train me to communicate the gospel to lost people!
Strong churches have strong leadership. In the Old Testament, we see the general principle that, as went the leaders, so went God’s people. The same is true in the church. The apostle Paul exhorted elders from Ephesus to be watchful and diligent in carrying out their duty to shepherd the flock of God (Acts 20:28-32). No congregation can reach its potential unless it has righteous men out in front, leading the way by their faith and commitment to doing things the way that the Lord wants them done.
Let us all trust in God with our whole hearts (Proverbs 3:5) and strive to strengthen the local church of which we are members.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.