There are common struggles shared among people who have chosen to go into church leadership. Ministry in the context of the church, in today’s context, is interesting because people can become so busy, disinterested, and over stimulated by production that their worship experience suffers because of their expectations.
New churches are being started all over the world, and this is a great thing, but many pastors and church leaders struggle to keep going because there is the obligation to constantly be on the cutting edge of creativity and technology. In some ways, this is great, because the Church should be the leader in innovation. In other ways, this can stifle progress when we make worship into something we try to get people to come to instead of training people to treat corporate worship as a collective out-pouring of love, support, and gratitude in response to a God who is all-powerful and good.
Unfortunately, church for many has become an elite club that focuses on recruiting instead of the power of the kingdom. Marketing has replaced getting into the lives of people one by one, and technology has pushed a desperate reliance on God’s provision aside. Now, instead of agonizing seasons of prayer to grow a church, we can spend a few hundred dollars on a great marketing campaign and get people in the doors. No suffering needed. Sure, people hear the message, but we need people to see the message too.
Now, before you think I am against churches that are heavy into these things, let’s be clear. There are so many congregations that are growing because they are able to combine attraction with authentic discipleship…it is the ones who rely on the former that, I believe, grieve the heart of God.
So, what types of things make churches grow? I don’t know if it is possible, today, to give a definitive list that is universal in every case, but I think it is easier to list the elements of the early Christian faith that spurred rapid transformation. What can we learn from the first Christians? What did they experience that served as a catalyst for their population explosion (in a spiritual sense)?
I think there are 5 things (among others) that grew the early Church.
- Selfless Dedication – When researching the behavior of early believers, you will find many instances in which these pioneers of the Gospel behaved in a manner that did not immediately benefit them. “They dedicated themselves to…” was the theme of their life, and they found that serving God meant serving people selflessly. The book of Acts shows us that their work consisted of feeding, healing, assisting, and giving.
- Unified Mission – When Jesus ascended to Heaven, there was an agonizing period of waiting as the disciples prayed and sought God’s next instruction. Their first mission was prayer and waiting, and when the Holy Spirit invaded their hearts, a compulsion for service, worship, and growth was added to their goals. Sure, they had disagreements among them, but they did not check each other’s political affiliation before going into spiritual battle together.
- Urgency of the Call – When the Holy Spirit took control of their lives; obedience was not a hobby that they participated in when they had time. All of their time, talents, and treasures were surrendered to God and His purposes. In today’s context, churches attract many people, but often the worship community becomes part of a series of hobbies that people do when there is time in their schedules. What would happen if God asked you to change your schedule for Him instead of finding a place for Him to fit? What if church was not the first thing to go when you felt overloaded?
- Emphasis on Connection – When this movement was young, people became grafted into a larger family. This family was one that was not based on genetics, but based on common goals, the need for care, and a desire to share love. It was an extended family that shared each other’s belongings, disciplined each other’s children, and tended to each other’s crops. Imagine if we were truly welded together as a family, instead of being associated with a place that “has a great Children’s program”. Connection and care means that programs are added bonuses and not the central means of ministry.
- Common suffering – These people had to be tightly knit in the context of community because they were all victims (or victors if you think about it) of abuse and systematic punishment. The government that controlled most of the world looked at these early Christians as rebels whose faith threatened the Roman lifestyle. This was certainly not intentional, but for every person that dropped what they were doing to follow Jesus was one more person that did not contribute to the common political machinery that was the Roman Empire. To them, this threatened peace. So, the Roman response included execution, exile, and slavery. Faith, however was too important to abandon.
My prayer is that we will see growth in the church today that mirrors the vibrancy of the early church. Not growth that is exactly the same (because God is making all things new) but one that will wake us up from a sleep that has been going on far too long.
Love you all.