God’s Plan for Church Growth

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When we see the empty pews, there is a sense of wrongness to it. Church growth seminars and conferences try to lay out cookie-cutter versions of sure-fire means to add more people to those pews, but we are always missing something, some drive, some gift, some fire that sees us into sustainable growth. In the early days of the church, growth was explosive and dynamic. When we read those passages, we marvel at how easy it was to add 3000 (Acts 2:41) or 5000 (Acts 4:4) in one day. Are we doing something wrong?

Some say we need more door-to-door canvassing, like the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. While that may be a helpful tool (as home visits are for church members), we never see that used in the New Testament (unless God directs you to visit, like the story of Peter with Cornelius). Paul’s method was going synagogue to synagogue, finding people who were already attracted to God’s Word. Of all the conversion stories in Acts, almost all of them were already believers in God, or followers of God in some way, like Jews or believing Gentiles. In Philippi the Jailer was converted after listening to Paul and Silas sing all night surviving a miraculous earthquake. In Athens, a couple of people were converted after listening to Paul preach to the Areopagus.

In all of the letters to the Churches we rarely read anything related to our idea of Church growth. You would think that there would be an occasion for some apostle to write to a church about how to make it grow, but in fact, no church is ever given evangelism ideas, programs, or gimmicks to get pews filled, membership rolls expanded, or churches bigger. You would think that this subject would be of vital importance to the early church, but the only instructions we get are contained in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) with the Church’s strategic plan in Acts 1:8. But the greatest plan the New Testament reveals is in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” For us, we are called to plant, and to water, but God gives the increase.

On balance most of the New Testament accounts speak of people who already believed in God, who then spread the Word through family and friends. God’s plan for growth follows what J. W. McGarvey observes as “The Rule of Success”, witnessing where you will have the best chance of success.

So the question for us is, “where will we have the best chance of success?” The best answer to that is actually people you know, or get to know. These are people you meet every day. But remember another lesson from the New Testament. The people who are telling others about Jesus are completely committed to Jesus, willing to give even their lives to serve Him. This love for Jesus and love for other people are the two best ways to evangelize.

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The Solution to Overcoming Radical Islam

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The news has been filled with stories and articles about ISIS (ISIL) and its treatment of Christians. I saw the video where Coptic Christians were beheaded on a beach in Libya, just because they were Christians. My friends, the fight against radical Islamists isn’t won through guns and bombs, because the war isn’t decided through soldiers, tanks and planes. This is a war for the soul of the Arabic peoples, who have been suckered into this religion Muhammed invented 1500 years ago.

But it’s not just people of Arabic descent, for now many Americans are starting to turn to Islam as a source of truth. Several Americans recently were arrested for trying to go overseas and join ISIS (Islamic State) and fight for Allah. As American Christians we may feel that this war is somewhere else, but I would imagine everyone in this church has encountered Muslim people, whether out shopping, standing in line at the Post Office, or receiving medical care.

Muslims are a large fraction of our medical providers in Morehead, and I know we are just a rural hospital. We are encountering Muslims more and more every year in our social fabric.

Now do all Muslims believe as ISIS does? Are all Muslims “radicalized” and want to hurt you in the name of Allah? We know they aren’t, just as most Christians are not rabidly Christian. But make no mistake, the war against ISIS will never be won simply by sending in troops. We need to send missionaries.

It’s a simplistic solution, I know. But Islam is a religion based on a false idea of God. God is not Allah, nor is Allah God. Do not believe the lie that Allah is just another name for God, nor fall under the presumption that Muslims worship the same deity. We need men and women who are willing to confront the claims of Islam head-on, even on the front lines, to combat the notion that Allah is God. Allah through the Koran denies that Jesus is the Son of God, even to vehemently denounce such an idea. Yet the Christian Bible makes this the central point.

My hope and prayer for you this month is to examine the claims of Christianity and Islam side by side and see for yourself why Islam falls short of true and authentic religion. I don’t intend to bash Muslims, for I believe they are lost souls who need the love of Jesus, but their truth claims need to come under close scrutiny. They need to be convinced to examine their faith, just as closely as we do. They need to examine the truth claims of Mohammed and the Koran. They need to see the evidence, with just as much scrutiny as our enemies demand of Jesus. This will not be an easy task, but remember that it is God’s will to save any many as possible, and He will send laborers into the field.

Please pray for a Muslim friend. Pray for hearts to be changed. It’s time for He that is in you to overcome he that is in the world.

Don’t Judge Me!

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Daily we are marginalized in this culture because we hold certain views on certain subjects, like life and death, right and wrong, good and evil. When we take a stand on certain issues, we are wrong, because now it is wrong to judge. Some folks take their cue from Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, lest ye be judged.” But as the Spaniard of the Princess Bride is fond of saying, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

What does it mean to judge? And is it as wrong as its implied? As human beings we practice judgment all the time, from picking a movie we want to see, a car we want to buy, to people we want to know. There are necessary relationships, like work and service relationships. You don’t really pick the person who works the cash register, but you develop a relationship with them, even if it only lasts until you walk out of the shop. These kinds of relationships we don’t have much say in. But then there are the people you would invite into your home. For these you might practice a bit more judgment, having spent more time with them. What about the person you are married to. You surely didn’t just pick them out of a lineup and agree to marriage. We all practice judgment in human relationships in order to achieve the best possible results, like a lifetime of happy marriage.

But the cry of “don’t judge me!” often comes from an assumption that you, not them, are going to pass a negative judgment on their behavior. And so they head off that judgment by implying you have no right to judge them.

If Jesus Christ will sit on the great white throne at the end of time and judge all humanity, and if the basis for that judgment will be their acceptance or rejection of Jesus’ freely offered forgiveness, and if we, as the body of Christ, are tasked with telling people about the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, do we not have a right to tell people about Jesus? And does that right extend to be watchmen to our culture, to tell them the Enemy is approaching? Or to warn our culture of sins and evils that must be avoided if they give themselves up to Jesus?

Do we have a right to evangelize? And are there better ways to do that that others, better times, and better places? I believe there are. And like the sons of Issachar, we ought to be aware of the right times and the right places, that we may spread the gospel in the best way possible.