I’m leery of even writing about this. I worry there is no way to write about it without being misunderstood or misrepresented. Yet, if this doesn’t get talked about, there is no way folks will understand. This is a warning to Christians of all ages and all places. It is a call to make sure we keep the main thing the main thing. It is not a warning against something that is a sin all by itself. Rather it is a warning that our enemy is taking what can be a good thing when kept in its proper place and trying to supplant the best thing. I hope I can remotely do this topic justice.
I’ve often read this parable about the purpose for the local church. Thanks to Jason Hardin, I ran across this video that illustrates the teaching. I thought I’d share it with you as we learn God’s Way for our congregations.
I hope it is edifying and challenging.
(If you landed on this post without seeing the others in this series, let me explain what is going on here. Thursdays is my day to talk about God’s way for our congregations. Right now I’m in the middle of a series on the Jerusalem church and it’s success. This is the fifth post in the series. I encourage you to check out the introduction to this series to know more about what is going on and to find an index of the posts in this series as they are put up. Enjoy.)
Continual Growth not 10,000 Members
I like to talk about the Jerusalem church a lot. I see it as an exemplary church of growth and work. I know we claim to want to be what they were and do what they did, but how many congregations achieve what they achieved?
As I talk about this example, I’ll mention that according to Acts 2:41 they started with about 3000 members. By Acts 4:4, the number of men came to be about 5000. When you add in wives, widows, and children, this means the congregation could have been between 10,000 and 15,000. Yet, somehow many brethren tend to believe if a congregation gets over 150 they must be doing something wrong. Either they are doing something wrong to attract that many members or simply having that many members is wrong all by itself (after all, how can the elders know everyone in a 10,000 member congregation?). Yet, Jerusalem did it.
A sad byproduct of talking about this aspect of the Jerusalem church is missing the actual vision. Some people have a vision of getting a church to be so large. Maybe their vision is to get to 100. Maybe 500. Maybe 1000. Maybe 10,000. The problem is what happens when you accomplish that number? Will the church continue to reach out and save the lost? Usually not. We have a tendency to reach our goals and then take breaks.
When we look at Jerusalem, however, we don’t see a church with a goal of 10,000 members. We see a church with a goal of saving one more person. More than giving the life-changing gospel to one more person, they made sure they could handle adding one more person as part of the congregation. This is the real issue for us today. Most churches know well enough to claim they want one more convert. What we often miss is that how we run the congregation on a practical level, the kind of facilities we have, the kind of leadership we employ, the kind of relationships we develop all limit our ability to grow.
The Jerusalem church was not simply about baptizing one more person. They were about conducting their work, even changing their work, in such a way as to handle having that one more person be a viable part of the congregation.
If we are going to really grow congregations today, we must do more than simply work on baptizing people. There are many churches that baptize people ever year, but they never grow. We need to be like Jerusalem, expanding and adapting our leadership and work to allow for the growth many of us claim to want.
Keep coming back and we’ll discuss the keys of the Jerusalem church’s success in this growth and expansion.
I hope you are enjoying and learning from this look at the Jerusalem Church. Come back next week as we learn that the Jerusalem vision is not about hiring enough workhands, but about getting all hands working.
Some church is offering gas cards to get folks to visit. I have no doubt some folks will proclaim, “How innovative! How creative!” Some might say, “Wish I had thought of that.”
I say, what happened to Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (ESV).
I can already hear someone say, “Now Edwin, we believe the gospel is God’s power to save, but we’ve got to get people here to hear that gospel or they won’t be saved.” I say, what happened to Mark 16:15: “And he said to them, ‘Go…'” (ESV)? God didn’t ask us to figure out ways to get people to “come to church.” He asked us to go to them. It might be one thing if a congregation was giving free gas to its members so they could travel the highways and byways talking to folks about the gospel. But since when is our job to figure out how to get people to come to church?
But that’s not all. Do we really want to be the people who say God’s gospel is powerful enough to save, but only after a certain point? Do we really want to be the people who say the gospel is not powerful enough to save people from start to finish? Do we really think God needs us to get them so far and then He’ll take over? Or do we think the Gospel is powerful enough to get people interested in hearing it and then in obeying it?
Perhaps the problem is the average Christian is, well, average. Maybe if we could move beyond being unremarkably average and really let the Gospel change our lives, other people might get curious about what is going on in our churches.
I can also already hear someone else say, “Now Edwin, we are not ashamed of the Gospel.” Let’s get real. When our Vacation Bible Schools look more like county fairs with free crafts and bouncy rides, we certainly aren’t saying we think the Gospel can hold its own. When our assemblies look more like rock concerts or club hopping, we certainly aren’t happy with just the Gospel. When we are trying to get people to “come to church” by appealing to their fleshly desires with free gas or with parties for the teenagers, mixers for the young singles, babysitting for the parents and other such appeals, we are saying we just don’t think the Gospel alone will cut it. When someone asks us, “What do you have for my kids?” and we bow our heads, kick the dirt and say, “Just the Gospel,” we are showing embarrassment and shame. We should be able to hold our heads high and say, “We have the Gospel that saves. We have it for you, for your kids, for your grandkids and for everyone in your whole family.”
Let’s face it, a church giving away free gas will get more people in the pews. But free gas doesn’t put anyone in heaven. Only the gospel of Jesus can do that. God is not saying to us, “Help me. I’ve got the saving gospel but no one wants to listen to it. Do something, please.”
Why don’t we just live the gospel, teach the gospel and let the gospel govern our churches. Yes, I know not many people are into the gospel. Not many people are going to want to “come to church” if all they get out of it is the gospel message. But what good are we doing trying to manipulate people into hearing the gospel? What good are we doing saying God’s gospel is not enough to save people from start to finish?
I’ll say it again, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”