Journal Articles

Below is a list of journal articles written by the JMissions authors. The opinions expressed in these entries do not represent the position of any organization, but only reflect the position of the author.

Webmaster:"Author Avatars"
(view post)

Aziz: "Church Growth and God’s Plan"
(view article)

Brit: "There is a Little Bit of Jonah in All of Us"
(view article)

Brit: "Churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem: Clinical Assessment and Needs"
(view article)

Aziz: "The Myth of Ethics/Morality in War"
(view article)

Marie: "Is War a Christian Value? (Sept.11th Commentary)"
(view article)

Friday, December 1, 2006

Church Growth and God's Plan


Find rest, O my soul, in God alone! My hope comes from him. He alone in my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge; Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your hearts to Him, For He is our refuge! (Psalm 62:5-8)

Often when the church is struggling, or when the church is having a time of unprecedented growth, we can get caught up in church numbers without focusing our hearts on God. I have repeatedly heard frustrated Christians ask, "Why isn't God growing the church?" Most of the time, we look to ourselves to find the reason: maybe we don't share our faith enough, or maybe we lack faith, or maybe we don't have enough full time workers, or maybe there is a sin in the church and God is punishing us.

Some of those reasons may be correct, but regardless of who or what is to blame, in these times we must stretch our thinking to a new level. Could it be something completely different?

In the gospels, we see that Jesus' ministry was not always "doing great" all of the time in the sense of producing outstanding growth. Many people followed Jesus because of the benefits and the miracles. We see this in John 6:26-40, when Jesus tells the crowds, "I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs." (NLT)

Jesus' ministry also failed to grow when times became hard, or when Jesus taught a particularly difficult teaching. In John 6:66-67, it tells us that "At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, 'Are you also going to leave?'" (NLT). This is an important question to ask ourselves. When we make the decision to follow Jesus, sometimes we are asked what we would do if everyone left the church. However, when people do leave or the church fails to have baptisms, we are quick to say that something is amiss. Jesus would probably disagree. Many people "fell away" from his church, and many people refused to follow him at all. Eventually he was killed for trying to save them. When we are tempted to conclude that the church is "falling apart," I would challenge you to imagine Peter telling this to Jesus after the crowds left him!

There are other reasons why God may choose to not produce baptisms in a church. For example, God sometimes prepares us for the work of making disciples before sending us into the fields to reap a harvest. It took Peter three years before he started baptizing. Even the great evangelist Paul did not start his missionary journeys until 14 years after his baptism. When he did begin his missions work, Paul was rejected, stoned and flogged. He was rejected by whole churches! (See 2 Timothy 1:15) If Paul had based his faith on results, he would have been unable to fulfill God's plan for the churches. God tells us that he will make things happen in His own timing. He also promises He will not give us more than we can bear. I believe this also applies to the salvation of people's souls. If the church is not baptizing disciples, we should focus on God and use the time to learn how we can be responsible shepherds.

Another reason we might not always see baptisms is that increasing numbers are not the only "fruits" of discipleship. In John 15:5, God promises us that we will not fail to produce fruit if we remain in Him. As disciples, we can forget that Godly fruit can be used to mean fruits of the Spirit as well. It is important to produce fruit as a disciple, but in times of slow or stagnant church growth, we should look for things such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If these things are not being "produced" in the church, then there is cause for concern. But a lack of baptisms alone may only be God's way of teaching us to produce other fruits, such as patience. Romans 8:25 says that "if we look forward to something we don't yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently" (NLT).

We need to remember that the body of Christ, the Church, is being carefully built by God. If the earthly church we attend is not growing, it does not necessarily mean that God is punishing us or that He is unhappy with us. And when a church decreases in number, it does not mean that God has abandoned us. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says that even when the tree is fruitless, even if there are no sheep in the pen or cattle in the stalls, "I will rejoice in God!" This is a challenge for us, who often let our hearts fall into depression or frustration in times of low church growth.

These difficult times are excellent opportunities for us to examine our hearts as disciples. We should ask ourselves: 1) What fruits is God producing in us besides baptisms? 2) How can we best use the time God has given us to grow spiritually? 3) Are we relying on God to build His church, or on ourselves? 4) Are we trusting and rejoicing in God's plan and His timing for the church, or have we fallen into depression because of disciples who have left the church? By asking these questions, we can come to better understand God and His will for our lives.

No comments: