Do you want your church to be a growing church? I do! In fact, I believe in church growth but my desire for this growth is for the sake of God’s glory and mission. That is to say, I don’t believe churches should pursue growth just to become a bigger church and everything that comes with becoming that bigger church. Church growth must serve the mission of God rather than being an end in itself. The great thing about church growth is that, as we should expect, the lost are being saved, the church is making disciples of Jesus, and many great ministries in the name of Jesus are undertaken . . . including the planting of new churches.
That is exciting! And don’t tell me it doesn’t excite you. Most Christians want their church to grow and are excited about the prospect of that as they should be. In fact, the mission of God should excite every follower of Jesus. But with growth comes growing pains and that is the most difficult part of becoming a growing church.
The Pains of Growth
Growing pains can come in a multiplicity of ways and they’re never easy. I have no doubt that some churches would just rather avoid whatever the cause of pain is even at the expense of growth. The same can be said for ministers, myself included. The vision and excitement of growing fades rapidly as soon as the wilderness standing between where the church is and what it dreams of becoming is contemplated.
When the New Testament book of Acts is opened, it’s read with a sense of admiration and excitement because of the rapid growth the church experiences. Yet upon closer look, it’s easy to see that this growth did not come easy. For example:
- In Acts 8:1-4 we learn that the witness of the church meeting in Jerusalem begins advancing beyond their own city because of persecution which scattered the church.
- After being nearly stoned to death, Paul says in Acts 8:22 that “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
- Then in Acts 16:6-7 we learn that the Holy Spirit prevented Paul and his companions from preaching in the province of Asia, even keeping them from entering the region of Bithynia (16:6-7).
To the last point, whatever it looked like, I can’t imagine it was an enjoyable experience. In fact, I don’t understand why God, through his Spirit, would prevent this but he did and the result was more evangelistic ministry in the city of Philippi. The bigger point is that church growth does not come without challenges and these challenges often are painful.
The question we must ask then is how great is our pain tolerance?
So What Are The Options?
As I see it, there are at least two options. Although I could change my mind on that but for now we’ll go with two options. The first is just avoiding anything that may produce some pain. However, there are consequences for choosing this avenue and sometimes the consequences are severe. There are plenty of churches that once were but are no more! But for further consideration, just think of the consequences when an orthopedic patient opts out of physical therapy or even worse, when a cancer patient forgoes chemo-therapy, radiation, and surgery.
The other other option is pain management. Yet unlike physical pain which is managed with physical remedies, the church’s means of pain management is prayer: We, the church, come together praying to God that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us with endurance while giving us the power to speak the word of God (cf. Acts 4:23-31). We pray for this because our enemy, as powerful as he is, cannot overcome the power of God. In fact, our enemy is waging a battle that God has already won through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So what option we we choose?
I pray we can encourage each other towards a greater pain tolerance!