Why Churches and Christians Must Either Grow or Wither

If we never nourish our souls with the means of grace, if we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, can we really claim to be spiritually alive?

So what happens if a church neglects these things? A church may be very busy with programs and activities, but it won’t really be growing. The members of the church won’t be growing in maturity and the church won’t be growing closer to Christ. The community won’t be reached and the church won’t grow numerically. Sometimes the church, too, needs to prune those things which are hindering true and vital growth. 

 

Growth is painful. I know from personal experience. I am 6’7″ and I remember such intense growing pains in my middle school years that I thought I might die. I had growing pains in my chest that felt like a heart attack to my 12 and 13-year-old self.

Yet everything living must be growing in some way. Life is growth. Cells divide and thus multiply. Limbs lengthen. Healthy growth involves the removal of that which is dying, diseased or in some way hindering growth. This involves some kind of pruning and thus brings more growth through pain.

Spiritual life is like physical life in this way. If we are alive in the spirit through faith in Jesus Christ, we are in the process of growing- constantly and often painfully. If we’re not, then we have reason to question if we’re really alive.

Growth is sustained by nourishment and, so, to be alive is to be hungry. We may fast or extremely limit our diet from time-to-time, but when we do, our bodies feel it and we sometimes get grumpy or tired. In addition to food, our bodies also need water. Without it, we get dehydrated and eventually die.

Just as our bodies hunger and thirst, so do our souls. The Bible is full of milk, bread and meat for our spiritual nourishment and growth. What our souls really need is Jesus, and we feast on Him through the means of grace: He is the Bread of Life, the Living Manna for our souls. He gives us the Holy Spirit as a fountain of living water to quench our thirsty souls. Spiritual growth also requires the removal of those things which hinder growth, pruning which can be painful.

What do you call a person who never eats or drinks? A corpse. He either already is one or he will be soon. Spiritually, we can say the same for someone who never eats or drinks- that is, who never reads the Bible or prays or attends worship. If we never nourish our souls with the means of grace, if we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, can we really claim to be spiritually alive?

Now, be careful: I’m not talking about works-salvation or works-righteousness. I’m not telling you how to become spiritually alive or how to receive salvation. I’m simply making an observation about the nature of life. To be truly alive is to be growing; to be truly alive is to hunger and thirst for the nourishment and refreshment that make life and growth possible.

Could we say the same thing about churches that we can say about our individual physical and spiritual lives? I think so. . .

The church is called the body of Christ and a living temple of living stones being built up into a holy house for the Lord. We are a body in growth and a building in the process of being built. We are also likened to a tree that started off as a mustard seed – now that’s growth!

If the church is the body of Christ, called to growth, then we should ask two questions: How does the church grow and what if the church isn’t growing?

“How does the church grow?” is itself a two-part question: What does church growth look like and how does it happen? Contrary to the popular concept of church growth in our day, the Bible does not focus primarily on numerical growth. In Ephesians 4:11-16, the focus is on growing to maturity and growing more and more into Christ. Now, the Bible does also talk about numerical growth, but it’s not the primary, and definitely not the exclusive, focus.

The initial burst of numerical church growth on Pentecost came through the Spirit-empowered, Biblical, Christ-centered Gospel preaching of Peter. He did not launch a program to meet felt needs; he preached Christ from the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit added 3,000 to the number of the church. And then what?

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 4:42-47, ESV

This passage gives God’s plan for spiritual and numerical growth for the church. Ephesians 4:11-16 gives God’s plan for church growth in maturity in different language, but the two passages together outline these core priorities:

1. Teaching and preaching God’s word.
2. The active involvement of every member.
3. Fellowship- sharing in life and ministry together.
4. The sacraments: baptism (Acts 2:41) and “the breaking of bread” (communion).
5. Prayer, especially prayer together.  
6. Worship: Praising God.
7. Community outreach and evangelism (Acts 2:47).

So what happens if a church neglects these things? A church may be very busy with programs and activities, but it won’t really be growing. The members of the church won’t be growing in maturity and the church won’t be growing closer to Christ. The community won’t be reached and the church won’t grow numerically. Sometimes the church, too, needs to prune those things which are hindering true and vital growth. 

Ultimately, God alone can grow the church. As Paul said, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6) But if we neglect the means of grace and the Biblical pattern for growth for a long period of time, what will the church be? A corpse- maybe a large, pretty and busy corpse, but a corpse nonetheless.

Pray for your pastor and elders to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and committed to God’s plan for growth. Pray for your own growth and your commitment to being involved in the growth of your church. Jesus has promised, “I will build my church.” Are you an instrumental part of His growth plan?

Jason A. Van Bemmel is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor and is used with permission.



×

2017 Matching Funds Campaign: $2205 raised of $7000 goal. Donate now!