by Steven Chan
Why is the church not growing? Brethren have often expressed concern with the lack of growth of the local church of which they are members.
- Sadly, many look to the church growth “gurus” to tell them how to grow the church. But few search the scriptures to see what God says about church growth. They would rather hear what the “experts” have to say. Many of these “experts” provide ideas that are from the world.
- Such ideas may be reflective of “giving people what they want to hear”. A similar thing happened in
Jer 5:30-31: “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?”
- The people love to have it so!! That’s what the people wanted. People will come to the church when we give them what they want to hear. Let’s not bore them with “bible study”. After a hard day’s work, when they come to Bible class, they are not looking forward to “search the scriptures” (Acts 17:11) or “study to show thyself approved to God as a workman” (2 Tim 2:25).
They want to hear soothing things. Encouraging things; things that will make them feel good. The people don’t want lessons that keep on emphasizing such dry and irrelevant subject as “truth”; they want “encouragement or positive strokes” that tell them that “all’s well with their souls”.
- There’s nothing new under the sun as declared in Eccl 1:8-10:
”9 That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us.”
- It happened in 1 Kings 22:13:
”Then the messenger who had gone to call Micaiah spoke to him, saying, “Now listen, the words of the prophets with one accord encourage the king. Please, let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak encouragement.”
Please note that the messenger from King Ahab expressly said to the prophet of God, Micaiah, that all the prophets have encouraged the king. Please do not speak differently from them; they form the majority of the prophets advising the king. Don’t be divisive. Don’t be a discourager. In the name of unity and love, please speak encouragement! All are in agreement that the king should go up and fight to take over Ramoth Gilead from the Syrians. All the king-honoured scholarly prophets/Bible professors at their “Scholar Conference” are of one mind that King Ahab should move forward. So, don’t be a detractor. Don’t be so presumptuous and haughty to assume that you alone have a “monopoly of the truth”!
- God said of His people in Isa 30:8-10:
”9 That this is a rebellious people; Lying children, Children who will not hear the law of the LORD; 10 Who say to the seers, “Do not see,” And to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us right things; Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits.”
- The apostle Paul gave a similar warning in 2 Tim 4:3-4:
”For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
- Truth? Does it matter? An approach that is increasingly common among bible believers today is as described herein below:
”Anyway, what is truth? So long as we don’t lie, we are speaking the truth. That’s the only truth that is relevant to our lives! Let’s not fight and argue about so-called “objective” truth. Spare me the “book, chapter and verse” approach. That’s a “scissor, cut and paste” approach to the Bible which is guilty of failing to consider the historical context of the bible passages, and are not applicable or relevant to our present day context. We should just get the “gist” or “drift” of the bible passages and “modify them” so as to be an “encouragement” to us today. After all, the Bible is not a book of law; it’s just a love story of God and man.”
The afore-described attitude towards “truth” and the necessity for Bible authority for all that we do and teach is leading many astray from the “once for all delivered” faith (Jude 3).
Tragically, the guidebook provided by God which is able to equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:15-17) is laid aside. “Thus saith the Lord” as was common in the Bible (Ex 4:22; Jer 6:16, and numerous passages) is no longer in vogue today.
- What does the Bible say about church growth?
There are many Bible passages that discuss church growth. Jesus did not just give us the Great Commission in Matt 28:18-20 and then provided no further comments about the progress and success of the disciples in carrying out the Great Commission. On the contrary, the acts of the Apostles have been written down so that we may learn how the church grew in the first century. We will do well to go back to the Bible for guidance on this subject as e ought to do in all matters.
- The Bible says in Acts 9:31:
“Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.”
- The Bible observed that the churches “were multiplied” as a direct result of the following four important factors:-
- Peace When Saul the persecutor was creating havoc for the church (Acts 8:3) dragging believers, both men and women, into prison, there was no peace. Yes, those who were scattered because of the persecution continued to preach everywhere (Acts 8:4). But the Bible tells us that after Saul had been converted, although the Jews were still persecuting Christians, there was “peace” among the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria.
Unfortunately some have erroneously concluded that we are not growing because we are not being persecuted – unlike the early Christians in Jerusalem. So, they think that we should have persecution today so that we can grow!! We are not growing because we are not being persecuted – so they alleged. The inspired Scriptures tell us otherwise: that when the churches had “peace”, they multiplied.
We need to pursue peace among the churches. Church growth is more likely to happen when churches are not continually embroiled in conflicts within and without.
Within the church, we need to “pursue the things which make for peace” among brethren (Rom 14:19) especially over matters of indifference (Rom 14:20-21) as we submit to one another in the fear of the Lord (Eph 5:21) and we “bear with one another in love, 3 endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”(Eph 4:2-3) and we are “kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave” us.( Eph 4:32)
When the church has peace, it is united as one. Then the power of the united body of Christ will propel the growth of the church as each and every member is edified and does its part to contribute to the growth of the body in love (Eph 4:11-16).
- Being Edified
”Being edified” means being built up or strengthened in the faith. The Bible says in Rom 14:19: ”Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another”
The early church in Jerusalem strengthened the church at Antioch when they sent a letter to them clarifying the truth about “circumcision” – that it was not a requirement for salvation. The letter was delivered by “chosen men”, “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26):
”So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. 32 Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words… Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.” (Acts 15:30-35).
We need to continually encourage, exhort and strengthen the brethren with the “word of the Lord”. Preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2) so that it may edify. Let all things (singing, praying, teaching, serving, etc) be done for the edification of the church (1 Cor 14:26; Eph 4:11-16).
- Walking in the fear of the Lord
Believers need to “fear the Lord” and so, keep His commandments (Ecc 12:13-14) According to Heb 12:28-29, we ought to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.” The Bible says in 2 Cor 5:10-11: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men;”
Today, more than ever, we need to teach believers to “fear the Lord”. We need to respect and submit to God because we will have to give an account of our lives to Him (Rom 14:12)
- Walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit
There lots of benefits in being a Christian. God has provided us His Word which is the instrument with which the Holy Spirit uses (Eph 6:17 – it is the sword of the Spirit and is very powerful – Heb 4:12-13) to “comfort” us so that we may not lose heart and lose our hope. The Bible says in 2 Cor 1:3-4:
”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Again in Rom 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
We need to walk in the comfort provided us by God through His Spirit as He provides us with grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:16) and we need not fear because God is our ever present help (Heb 13:5-6). This calls for a daily walk with God, trusting Him to provide for all that we need and being thankful to Him at all times for everything (Eph 5:18-21). When we have a rich experience of walking with God in our own lives, then we have a living faith that works (Gal 2:20; 5:13)
- As we have peace within and without, and are being edified, as we walk in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, we will want to preach the Word in season and out of season, and the church will grow. The growth will be one characterized by multiplication as those being saved are added to the church on a daily basis (Acts 2:47).
Let us all strive to be at peace with God and with one another and be united in our work for God. Let us continually seek to edify one another and strengthen our faith. Let us walk in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of His presence as our Helper and Comforter. Let us preach the Word in season and out of season. God will give the increase (1 Cor 3:5-8).