The Pattern for Church Growth (5)
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Colossians 1.28
…we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…Ephesians 4.14, 15
All our increase should tend to exalt more highly the glory of Christ. This is now proved by the best possible reason. It is he who supplies all our wants, and without whose protection we cannot be safe. As the root conveys sap to the whole tree, so all the vigor which we possess must flow to us from Christ.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 4.16
The measure of growth
In this series we have been considering an alternative to numbers, programs, facilities, staff, and budgets in determining what constitutes a healthy, growing church. None of these things, so common and so doggedly pursued in churches today, seems to have been of much interest to the apostles. Their concern and focus for the churches they served lay in a different direction.
We’ve seen that, from a Biblical perspective, God’s priority for His churches is not so much that they should grow numerically, but that they should concentrate on growing spirituallyand visibly within the framework of His truth, drawing on and sharing His grace, and rejoicing in and proclaiming His peace. Truth, grace, and peace: These are the priorities that come up throughout the apostolic literature. Churches are growing when they are grounded in truth, flourishing in grace, and bearing fruit in peace.
Not every church can grow numerically. And not all churches that are growing numerically are healthy in terms of truth, grace, and peace. If we take as our highest priority anything other than what the apostles sought and God endorses, we may end up with a large and active congregation, but whether we will have a truechurch may not necessarily be the case. Churches grow as they become pervaded by the truth of God, as it gives direction to all aspects of the life and work of the church, as well as to its members; and as the grace of God flows in and through churches in good works of love, bringing the peace of Jesus all around.
We must not be deceived. God is not looking at our churches to count noses, budgets, and programs – the things we tend to focus on as indicators of church health. God wants His churches to be bastions and fountains of truth, grace, and peace. This kind of growth is within the reach of every church, and ought to be the focus of church leaders in all churches.
To what end?
But to what end? That is, can we identify a single indicator that will tell us at a glance that our church is following the priorities God has chosen and is thus growing as He intends?
Paul insists that we can. Individual believers are growing as they increase in Jesus Christ, becoming more like Jesus in heart, mind, conscience, words, and deeds (2 Cor. 3.12-18). Similarly, churches, which are the body of Christ, are growing as they mature into Christlikeness and become a focal point and epicenter for truth, grace, and peace in their communities. Pastors and church leaders are working for healthy church members when they shepherd them along in their journeys to become more like Jesus (1 Jn. 3.1-3; 2 Pet. 3.14-18). And they are working for healthy, growing churches when their goal is to see their congregation incarnating the Lord Jesus, both as they assemble in worship and as they are disseminated individually and corporately in mission throughout the community.
We have written elsewhere about what it means for individual believers to grow in truth, grace, and peace so that Jesus increases in them and they decrease; so that they lay aside the old person and put on the new person who is being recreated in Christ; and as they walk the path of Jesus, being daily and increasingly transformed into His image.In the remaining installments in this series I want to focus on what a local church looks like that is growing in Christlikeness, and what church leaders must do to work toward that end as embodying the priorities of God for His churches.
The pattern for church growth
How do we get our churches to become more Christ-like? To grow in His truth, know and share His grace, and enjoy and proclaim His peace? Jesus is the truth (Jn. 14.6). He isthe Bringer of graceto the world – wave upon wave of grace (Jn. 1.14). And He is the peace of Godfor His Church and for the world (Lk. 2.14). Embrace the truth of God, dwell within His grace, and you will know His abundant and all-transforming peace.
Growing in these, we will be more like Jesus day by day.
Paul points to and defines the objective of church growth, and outlines the process for achieving it in Ephesians 4.11-16: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
This passage hinges on the word till in verse 13 (Greek, μέχρι). Summarized, Paul says (vv. 11, 12) that pastors and teachers must do something, so that church members can do something, which, as they do, “we all” (v.13) enter the process of growth together which contributes toward our becoming more like “Him who is the head – Christ.”
In the remaining studies in this series we’ll unpack this pattern to see what we must do to embrace God’s priorities for His churches and to nurture our churches spiritually and visibly into greater Christlikeness of truth, grace, and peace.
Pastoral Hope Initiative
Prayer for Revival: A Jonathan Edwards Reader
“He says that the church’s order has been so formed as to join the human race together in the profession of unity, so that all may be in Christ, having Christ as their single head, that is, as the source of life.”
- Ambrosiaster, Epistle to the Ephesians 4.12.6
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).
Complete in Christ
- T.M. Moore
- June 15, 2018
What is the true measure of a church?
The Pattern for Church Growth (5)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.