Keep on Swimming. . .

everyday life inside the fishbowl

Monday Meditations: Here is the Church, Here is the Steeple, Open the Doors. . . Where’s All the People?

on September 16, 2013

ImageThis past weekend, our church had what my husband called an “Emphasis on Evangelism.” We invited Pastor Ken Brown of Community Bible Church in Trenton, MI. What a blessing, encouragement, and challenge he was to our church!

Small churches make up a majority of American Protestant churches. According to 2003 Barna research, “the average church attract[s] less than 90 adults on a typical weekend.”

“Phew,” we say, “That makes us feel better. Our little church is average. We don’t have to feel bad that we’re so small. . . that we’ve been small for a while. . that we’re staying small.”

I think that we are so afraid of growing our churches unbiblically (becoming “missional,” marketing the church, compromising core beliefs, etc), that we are paralyzed by that fear. So, we teach doctrine (good), we maintain a conservative flavor to our worship style (good), we proclaim the dangers of unbiblical methods of church growth (good). And then we pray that the really good Christians in the other churches would thirst for what we have and come to our church. We pray that good families would move to the area. We pray that people would be saved. . . but we don’t do much about it.

Hmmm. Is that how the early church grew?

Pastor Brown brought a number of suggestions with him in our workshops on Saturday. During our Sunday morning worship service, he pointed us to Acts 6. Both Matthew and Luke end their Gospels with the Great Commission: Make Disciples by going, by teaching repentance & forgiveness of sins, by baptizing, and by resting in the Sovereign God. Luke, the author of Acts as well, chronicles how the church obeyed that great commission.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 6:1 states that the disciples were increasing in number. There was both quantitative growth (“increasing in number”) and qualitative growth (the “disciples” were growing in number, not attendees, not church-goers, not VBS participants. Disciples.).

Verse 1 then details a problem, unique to their situation, that arose because numbers were increasing: Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) complained that their widows were not being provided for by the church like the Hebrew-speaking Jews’ widows were.

Verses 2-6 go on to describe the solution to the problem: The apostles recognized the validity of the complaint, yet in no way did they want to compromise the primary thing: the preaching of the word of God. They knew that their primary task was to devote themselves to prayer and the Word of God.

But they still took care of the valid problem:  They chose seven godly men with Greek names (Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus) to minister to the Greek-speaking Jewish widows. While ever-prioritizing the Word of God, they wisely chose Greek men to minister to the Greek-speaking widows, effectively using their resources.

The result? “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (v.7, italics added).

God grows his church through both the faithful proclamation of his Word and the wise application/use of our resources to reach the people around us.

Are increasing numbers a sure sign of a healthy church then? Well, that depends.

  • If the large number consists of disciples who are now seeking to evangelize and disciple others, then probably yes.
  • If the large number consists of people who just loved all the gimmicks to get them to  “attend” and be entertained or to pacify their consciences, neither being discipled or seeking to disciple others, then no.
  • If the large number consists of people who know all the correct theology and have all the “right” music and standards and whose growth consists primarily of church membership transfers, then no.

Clearly, there needs to be emphasis on doctrine, theology, the Word of God and prayer. But this example in Acts 6 evidences the necessity to be willing to make functional changes (e.g., appointing Greek deacons  to serve the Greek widows)  in order to be sensitive to the reality of the world around us without  compromising either the Truth of the Gospel and its applications in our churches.

So, your church is small.  Why? Are you actively, intentionally fulfilling the mandate that the church is called to fulfill: make disciples? A healthy church seeks to make disciples. If our churches look like the churches in Acts, our churches will likely grow.

**I could probably make hundreds of clarifications. Those of you who know me will (hopefully) graciously assume all the clarifications I could make. 🙂 One I will make is, as Pastor Brown reminded us, only believers can worship. So, the worship service of a church, while being accepting of the attendance of unbelievers, is not to cater to the needs, wishes, and desires of unbelievers (this is church marketing). We can make an unbelieving guest feel welcome without changing our biblical values to do so. To save myself the time of making all the other clarifications I could make, I highly encourage and recommend you to listen to Pastor Brown’s workshops, lessons, and sermon that will be available to listen to (at some point this week) here.

{On Mondays, I share some thoughts from my pastor’s (husband’s 🙂 ) sermon on Sunday. This will be good for me, as it will help cement God’s truths in my head and heart. I hope these truths will encourage and challenge you! If you’re interested in hearing a particular sermon, you can head here to listen.}

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