On Church Growth Without Personal Holiness

Though there are some significant problems in the church growth movement, we should all be for church growth. In fact, it seems almost impossible for a church to be fulfilling the great commission without some kind of growth taking place. We are to go out and make disciples. When they come in, they too are to grow to the place where they go out and make more disciples.

Many times, though, it seems to come down to, “if we get this program going, more people will show up,” and sometimes this is true, but it really is amazing what we can accomplish in the power of the flesh. It is true that nothing happens outside the providence of God, and even kings have their authority because He establishes them, but this is not the same as God’s Spirit moving on the congregation in a sanctifying way.

The idea of common grace and saving grace applies not only to individuals but churches also. A church can grow in number and wealth if it has the right marketing plan, along with a number of other useful strategies, but this does not necessarily mean anything spiritual is happening there.

A church where the congregants live worldly lives for the entire week is not really growing, even if it is getting more numbers in on a regular basis. We cannot call it church growth when the majority of a local church is involved in much of the same worldly lifestyle as the rest of society. If we, as congregants, spend our week chasing after self-glory, personal peace, affluence, and we let the Word of God sit unread with no real prayer life, it doesn’t matter how big the church is.

In fact, this seems to be a problem in many small non-growing churches as well. The people come on Sunday and see low attendance and wonder why the pastor isn’t bringing in more people with his sermons.  Yet there is no real desire for personal holiness in their lives. After spending the entire week with no real thoughts on Godliness, they attend church and expect something to happen, but when we spend a good portion of our time doing things God hates, and not doing the things He loves, we shouldn’t expect much to happen at our church. We are the church, not just the pastor.

It seems that real church growth will not occur when there is no desire for personal holiness in the lives of its people. On the contrary, when there is a hunger for righteousness, and progress is being made in personal holiness, church growth has already begun. We don’t need more programs that will bring more people in to be just like everybody else in the world. We need individuals in the church to grow in Godliness, and as this happens, we will not need programs to bring in the people. The church will grow because the people will be bringing them in, and more programs will be developed to accompany the need for the people who are coming in desiring to know Christ and be more like Him.

So maybe this was a bit of a complaint, but it wasn’t really against the church growth movement. It was against the idea that personal holiness can be neglected, while church growth is to be expected, and this can happen in churches with big marketing plans, and some without them.

As we grow to be more like Christ
And by the world, we are less enticed,
In our hearts, God’s Spirit’s moving,
Then of our growth, He is approving.

D. Eaton

Tending our Pleasant Plants

Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips: In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow. – Isaiah 17:10-11

The world in which we live is full of distractions that pull us away from our Savior. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life can easily ensnare us causing us to place our focus somewhere other than our Lord. The problem lies in the fact that when we take our eyes off Christ and put them on the things of this world, we find that all or labor and work is in vain.

There are several interesting things pointed out to us in this passage. This first one is that when we forget the God of our salvation and are not mindful of the rock of our strength, what we begin to focus on will, in fact, be pleasant. As this passage indicates, we “plant pleasant plants,” Turning our attention away from our God will always seem pleasant at first. We find something that brings us joy and pleasure, or at least we hope it will bring us joy and pleasure, and we begin to put our time and effort in that direction. We must realize, however, that the slips we plant are strange. Slips in this context were plant cuttings that would be put into the ground to bring forth growth. When the passage calls them strange, it carries with it the idea that they are foreign. Foreign to what God would have us be growing in the soil of our lives.

The passage goes on to say that we shall “make” the plant grow, and the seed to flourish. This shows us that hard work and effort go into tending these plants. Crops that are planted in areas where the climate and soil are not fit for them, will not flourish without special care, and so we begin to place our efforts on growing this crop. As the passage seems to indicate, we may even see some success. Our diligence with these pleasant plants will spring forth a harvest, which may even bring us some temporary satisfaction, but the passage goes on to warn us that it will not last. In the day of grief and of desperate sorrow it will be a heap, offering us nothing of real value.

What is the aim of your life? Where are your hope and strength found? Do you spend all your time taking care of worldly concerns? Are you always focusing on worldly success and the pleasures it can bring, without remembering the God of your salvation?

If so, we have perverted our way, and we are living for earthly things which will end up being a heap that will be destroyed when trouble comes, and trouble will eventually come. Without doing all things for the glory of God, our pleasant plants will leave us empty, and we will cry out “vanity of vanities” when it is all said and done.

Let us serve the living God like those who are willing to suffer affliction with the people of God if necessary, and be done with the passing pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:25). When we do this, we exchange a mirage for a fountain flowing with living water, because in the rock of our strength, we will never be let down in the time of trouble. For nothing we do in Christ will be in vain.

D. Eaton

Fulfill the Ministry

See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord. – Colossians 4:7

“Fulfill the Ministry.”  Paul initially said this to Archippus, but was this a warning or encouragement? Since we do not know much about him, it is hard to tell. Some have suggested that Archippus was the first pastor to the Laodicean’s. He may have been negligent in his duties, to which Paul would have been admonishing him by saying, “Get to work and do what you are supposed to do.” He also may have been faithful to his call but in a difficult place. Paul may have been encouraging him by saying, “press on in your good work, the Lord sees and will reward.”

Regardless as to whether this was a warning or an encouragement, these words apply to every believer. God has called us all to bring Him glory with our lives. This command applies to whatever vocation He has called us, as we live as ambassadors for Him in this fallen world. We are to work heartily as unto the Lord. Never go back to working for riches, popularity, fame, or even personal peace. Fulfill what He has called you to do for the Kingdom of God. Bring Him glory in all of it.

Maybe the Lord is calling you to a particular ministry that you have been resisting. Fulfill the ministry. Perhaps you have been doing what you have been called to do, but the things of the world are starting to catch your eye. Fulfill the ministry. Perhaps the Lord called you to a specific ministry, and you have been diligent in doing it, but now you are growing weary in well doing. Fulfill the ministry.

There is so much more for us than we can see. Never forget that you have been raised with Christ, your life is hidden in Christ, and glory will be experienced at His return. Work heartily as unto the Lord. Remember, we do not live to please men. Christ is preeminent, not them. Live for His glory. Do it heartily, not grudgingly. Know why it is important and work hard to get it done. Whatever you do, redeem the time for the days are evil. Work should be work as unto the Lord, recreation should be recreation unto the Lord, and rest should be rest unto the Lord.

Wherever you may be today, may the Lord use this short devotion to encourage you to press on. May it remind you that this world is fleeting and our time is short. May it remind you to make sure this day is dedicated to your Savior, for tomorrow is promised to no one. Most importantly remember that He is with you and will give you the strength you need to fulfill the ministry.

D. Eaton