What are the evidences of a sound growing church?

Posted: July 15, 2011 in Evangelism, Leadership, Life, love, Me and God, Me and people, The Bible, The Church

Last Wednesday, as our men’s small group continues going in-depth through Graystone’s summer study plan on 2nd Timothy, we came across that passage where Paul warns Timothy –after charging him to “Preach the Word”, that there would come a time in which people would resist “sound doctrine” and, having “itching ears” –and seeking to hear according to their own desires, they would gather around them a great number of teachers. These teachers, Paul warns, would say what people want to hear turning away from the truth, and to “fables”.

Growth in quantity?

Through the last years, I have had several conversations with people who criticize churches that are growing in numbers and use this very Bible verse to justify it by saying “if they have so many people coming to them, it is because they are watering down the Gospel” –or something to that effect.

As we studied this passage, we discussed what this ‘people with itching ears’ and ‘teachers who turn away from the truth’ would look like. Who are they in today’s world? How do we make sure we don’t fall into those categories?

We threw some famous pastors names that some felt may be ‘that kind’. Interesting enough, at the mentioning of one them, somebody stated that he actually came to Christ through one of this pastor’s books. What do you say to that?! I have personally listened to tens of sermons from this preacher and, honestly, never once have I heard the words repentance or blood of holiness. If you ask me, based on my research, that guy does not preach the same Gospel than Paul, Peter and even Jesus preached –but there was there, one won soul by his work, right across the table from me.

Another famous name was mentioned. Another pastor about whom I have also heard a lot of criticism. His critics say that he is too “seeker friendly” and also waters down the gospel. I have also listened to tens of his sermons, and although I had doubts about him myself, I came to the conclusion that He does preach the whole counsel of God. He doesn’t deny -and often in his particular way, preaches sin and the need of repentance and salvation through Christ. Furthermore, I have learned that he follows a vision the God has given him for “having a different kind of church for people who otherwise would not come to church”. Is it working? You be the judge; for the last ten years, this ministry has attracted thousands of people, many of whom I have met personally and seem, by all evidences, to be born again and growing in their relationship with God.

Why am I writing about this? For the last few months, I’ve been thinking about “What are the evidences of a sound growing church?” We may agree that if I have a church in a fancy neighborhood –or have big pocket donors, chances are money won’t be an issue and although buying the best sound equipment, the largest most beautiful building, having the most professional band of musicians, giving to so many charities and having lots of social work going, may be possible, those alone may not be necessarily evidences of good spiritual growth.

Also, if we see at the church in the old testament, we can conclude that both good and not so good ‘ministries’ can potentially have long or short sermons, complex or simple messages, expository or topical studies, a lot of “Bible knowledge” or just a little bit, a lot of activities or almost none at all, reputable or questionable friends. Neither of those factors is conclusively a factor that determines anything.

So what do we have left? I have come to the conclusion that the only reason why Jesus hasn’t taken the church up and finished this whole thing is because He wants more people to come to the knowledge and experience of salvation. The only –or ultimate reason we are not in heaven yet is that we have work to do; the church’s ultimate goal is “go therefore and make disciples”. Based on that, it seems to me that the best indicator of how effective a church or ministry –though not conclusive either, is how many people are they bringing to the church’s doors. How many disciples are being made.

Growth in quality

On the other hand, as we saw in 2 Timothy, some ‘churches’ may have great crowds in an unhealthy way. Muslims are the fastest growing religion in the world, similar to Jehovah’s Witnesses, yet, we would be in a theological pit if we were to say they are ‘right’t because of their numerical growth. Another component is, how many of those who profess to believe, are actually believers -and how many have just made an emotional reactive decision that is not sincere and will be proven false within a short period of time? Only God knows  how many of those are being saved and how much are they growing. As I say, I’ve heard many who criticize this or that church because they use fog during worship and lights and fancy audiovisuals and ‘cool-looking’ stages, have multi-site churches (which is another topic in itself) or follow ‘church growth strategies’. If that’s what it takes to bring people to hear the message of The Gospel, why not? Nevertheless, the question might not be ‘how many have come and prayed the prayer’ but how many of those who have come, have actually stayed, are growing, obeying and making new disciples -bearing fruit.

May be there are two sides to this story. Maybe we are to both bring new people to Christ, and grow them to maturity. The Great commission has two components: ‘go and make disciples’ and ‘teaching them to obey’. Both are important, both are good, both are true.

 “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, …The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, … But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

Philippians 1:15-18

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