You know how sometimes when you sit by yourself in a restaurant you can’t help overhearing the conversation for an adjacent booth or table? You’re not trying to eavesdrop, but they’re just talking loudly enough you can’t avoid hearing them.
On such an occasion recently, as I sat awaiting the arrival of my breakfast companion, I heard a conversation between two pastors—at least, I assumed they were both pastors. Possibly one was a pastor and the other was a layman from another church. I don’t really know for sure.
Anyhow, they were talking about their respective churches and things they did or needed to do to make them successful. Everything they said involved measuring the success or lack of success in terms of church growth.
According to their discussion, a church with an expanding membership was a successful church, and one whose membership growth was stagnant or negative, was a failure. According to their logic, a huge megachurch must be a paragon of success, while a small church was inherently a failure.
We carnal human beings do tend to think in such terms. Growth is good, and lack of growth is bad. We humans also tend to rate our leaders according to how successful they are at stimulating growth.
But is a church supposed to be a carnal human institution? Should it be judged by the same standards as, say a stock we’re looking to invest in? I think not. I think we miss the mark and do a disservice to our church leaders when we judge them by such yardsticks.
Have you heard the expression, “I am saved; I am being saved, and I shall be saved?” My salvation was established by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and cannot be won or lost by my own works. I understand that. It is the bedrock of the Gospel. But if that moment of salvation is the only event of spiritual significance in my life, I have missed the point.
That moment of salvation is the BEGINNING POINT of my Christian walk. Once I am saved, God begins a work in me of conforming me to the image of His Son. This is His work and not mine, but it is of great importance and will continue as long as I walk on this earth. This work of conforming me to the image of His Son is what is meant by the second part of the statement above, “. . .I am being saved . . .”
The third part of the statement, “. . .I will be saved,” refers to my death—or the rapture, if it should occur during my lifetime—when I will be perfected to stand before God looking just like His Son.
My own works had nothing to do with part one, my salvation, and will have nothing to do with part three, my ultimate perfection. So how about part two, my being conformed to the image of His Son? Again, my works can’t accomplish that. I can’t conform myself to His image. I can’t make myself more Christlike.
I do, however, have a part in this enterprise. My part is to submit myself to God and stay out of the way of the work He is doing in me. I can’t grow myself, but I can hinder my own growth by getting in God’s way—by insisting on having my will instead of His. Of course, we all do a certain amount of that, but the less we do of it, the more He can accomplish in us.
Given this, shouldn’t a church’s emphasis be on helping its members grow rather than on growing the number of members? Is a building filled with thousands of people who attend because they hear messages that make them feel good—that tickle people’s ears—a better church than one which a much smaller number of people are attend because they hear the true Gospel preached, drawing people to salvation and helping them to experience real spiritual growth?
This doesn’t mean that a large church is necessarily bad just because of its size, or that a small church is inherently good just because it’s small. My point is that the number of members or attendees, the size of the offering, the beauty of the building, and other such factors our carnal humanity tends to consider important are irrelevant in evaluating the merits of a church. The measure which I believe God looks at is whether or not the members invest themselves in one another’s lives and whether or not those individuals are growing in their relationships with Him.
Let’s forget about the growth of a church’s membership and pay more attention to the growth of its members.
Is your church wrapped up in membership drives, raising more and more money, beautifying and expanding the building where it meets, or is it more interested in seeing that individual members grow and flourish in their relationships with God?
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.