Church growth

Principle 1: Unity.

If we have a biblical definition of what unity really is, then this principle is a solid benchmark for the advance of the church. Being homothumadon was a characteristic of the early church so much so that they made a strong impression on the Jewish society.

But if our sense of unity springs from the weak philosophy of modern ecumenism then the church, though it may grow numerically, would not necessarily be the God-honouring church in the New Testament sense. Ecumenism must be with God's people, not with God's enemies who pervert or even deny his gospel of grace.

Extreme care must be taken lest families from a poorer background be neglected in the fellowship. The genius of the gospel is such that, working on its implications, all church members should feel at home with each other.

Principle 2: Sound Doctrine.

This is undoubtedly the foundation factor for proper church growth. The church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth; it exists because of God's self-revelation and it thrives as it continues in the truth. A church that is slack in doctrine, or that prefers to stay on the ABC of truth will not be energetic to conquer new ground and expand.

We must be careful, though, lest we make an idol out of this principle; it is easy to miss the distinction between the gold bar (that must be protected at all costs) and the gold-dust (which is also important, but because we recognize that the church is a growing organism, we are willing to welcome others, receiving them but not for doubtful disputation). Will a church grow if we are turned to policemen over each other, or heresy-hunters as an end in itself?

The regular preaching and teaching of the Word is taken seriously. Nothing is allowed to subvert its ongoing ministry. I take time to study and gain a better understanding of the Word, and encourage Sunday School teachers to prove themselves to be workmen who need not to be ashamed.

Principle 3: The saints in partnership.

Christians are held together by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Fellowship (koinonia) denotes having things in common. As covenant-people, under the headship of Christ, we enjoy many blessings in common: our forgiveness, our eternal life, our Father in heaven, our destiny, and so on. Since we have one source of life, and one common Saviour, and one Faith delivered to us, the church will be exceedingly blessed as it expresses this marvelous truth.

This principle, if we are not careful, might degenerate into something that is quite different from what the Scripture intends to convey by the term fellowship. Many Christians mistakenly speak of coffee-mornings or barbecues organized by the church as fellowship.

The brethren need to be grounded in this sublime fact, that what they have as Christians they have and enjoy together. This togetherness I attempt to underline both individually and corporately.

Principle 4: Mutual care.

As one family, with one Father and one Master, the church is a brotherhood. Brothers care for each other and are interested in the welfare of each other. Christians must be willing to give rather than receive, and recognize the truth that it's more blessed to be a donor rather than be a recipient. Large and established congregations in countries where the Christian faith has strong roots should lift up their eyes and see how they can help struggling churches in virgin territory.

We must beware lest this principle, so vital and important, be misused and cause the church to degenerate into a social club, where the chief priority of the church would be to cater to the pressing needs of other, which though urgent, would bypass the more important ones (the salvation and health of the soul).

Often the picture that Paul depicts, about the church being the body of Christ, many members and yet one body, I bring before the congregation. Some members can serve through action, some through the Word, some through both, but all have something to give and take.

Principle 5: Steadfastness in prayer.

This could possibly be described as the vital breath of life for any congregation. Our Lord set up a model for us in regard to prayer: his regular communion with the Father, rising up early in the morning, praying in the midst of a busy schedule. The epistles confirm the importance of prayer, intercessions, and requests with thanksgiving to be offered up before the throne of grace. We do not have because we do not ask.

Prayer, being such a pure and heavenly exercise, must be kept at the forefront. Paul, in describing the Christian armour, wraps it up by saying, "with all prayer and supplication...". The success of the church depends on God's blessings.

But in engaging in prayer, lifting its eyes to heaven, the church must be careful of not becoming to heavenly-minded so as to be of no earthly good. The effect should be the opposite rather. The tension between our heavenly citizenship and our mundane responsibilities must be kept; any imbalance here will deflect the church from its course.

Family and personal devotions are encouraged, with practical advice about setting aside time for daily prayer. As a church we have a good part of our service when we prayer together. Every service incorporates prayer, led both by the pastor and by other members in the congregation.

Principle 6: The church generated respect.

As a well-ordered, wisely-managed, properly-functioning body, the church presents itself as an attractive society. This was the experience of the apostolic church: "And fear came upon every soul." Christians then may have been persecuted and even put to death by the enemies of the gospel, but society at large, though not in agreement with the church, at least respected the church.

Being conversant with this principle may lead today's Christians to lower their standards and merely seek the approval of society. But the church's standing orders are to be taken from her Lord, not from our fellow-men. To become user-friendly is not a wise policy for the church.

The testimony that we give before an unbelieving and adulterous generation is always there, for better or for worse. The world is watching us. But ultimately we are living coram Deo, for His sake and not to impress the world.

Principle 7: A rightly-governed church.

"Let your conversation be as becometh the Gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27). Since the word for "conversation" is politueomai, we see the importance of the church being a citizenship. An Englishman naturally has respect for his own country; a Christian also knows that his citizenship is in heaven. He is a representative of his Lord and our his eternal country. The church will grow as she behaves in accordance to what she really is: a colony of heaven on earth.

Christ has gifted the church with pastors and teachers, and deacons, for the orderly administration of the Word and Ordinances, as well as for the management of her worldly goods in all integrity.

But in and by itself a church with an overseership in agreement with the biblical model does not necessarily mean that it will grow. All things must be done in love, submitting to the Lordship of Christ.

The headship of Christ is emphasized, He being the living Saviour and Prophet and King. The leaders in the church need to be careful not to seek prominence or publicity. Christ is to be the Pre-eminent One. The pastor needs to prove, by word and deed, that he is a servant for Jesus' sake.

Principle 8: Spiritual steadfastness.

We are not to be tossed about with every wind of doctrine, or to lay aside the Mandate of the risen Christ, or be forgetful to teach all things that he has commanded us. The church is to walk a straight course, not looking to the left or to the right, for something that might supplant her interest in Christ. She is to behave as a chaste virgin, betrothed to Christ who redeemed her.

Steadfastness means being in earnest and having a desire to adhere to the Faith, sincerely and without wavering. Such a stance is conducive to growth.

This principle will be weakened when interpreted to mean that come what may, the church is to stick to her old beliefs. If such beliefs are biblical, most assuredly! But if they cannot be supported biblically, then it does not spell steadfastness when the church persists in them.

Our aim should be rather to hold fast to the Truth, the undeniable and established truth, and being united in a common cause, fighting our adversary, and not each other.

Commitment to the gospel and all its implications is the essence of Christian discipleship. This thread runs through many sermons, and when I speak individually with the saints, as they open their hearts to me because of their temptations. Fixing our eyes upon Jesus; no turning back. Perseverance is a mark of true discipleship.

Principle 9: Unity in gospel faith.

This is enunciated well enough in Philippians 1: "Striving together for the faith of the gospel" - thus indicating the importance of a co-operative spirit in the Lord's work. Augustine put it this way: "In necessariis unitas, in non necessariis libertas, in omnibus charitas."

Such a stand, I think, lies behind our High Priest's intercessory prayer: "That they may be one: as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."

The church is entrusted with the "message of this life." Nothing should hinder us from passing it on to the whole world.

This principle will prove harmful when turned against our own brethren in the Faith, denouncing them as troublers and subverters of the gospel because they don't see eye to eye with us in all things, even in the petty details.

This principle of Sola Scriptura, that brings true unity among believers, needs to be reiterated all the time. We are not pragmatists; we don't act on the impulse of the moment. I repeat this all the time; it seems one of those principles that Christians generally find difficult to put into practice.

Principle 10: Single-mindedness.

Not only seeing the essential duty of using our mind (intellect), but in being mentally informed (and formed) by the same source of truth. The church is to thrive on the objective propositional truth of the Bible (Sola Scriptura), and certainly not on emotionalism or weak sentiments or mere feelings. Feelings, though being a part of our humanity, are to be the outflow of our godly minds, renewed by the Holy Spirit and instructed out of the Word (Romans 12:2). The church is to understand truth, before being able to believe it and flesh it out. And this we are to do as a common objective, cultivating in a the Berean spirit.

This principle will lose it force upon us if we stop at a mere intellectualism, and become fossilized in the truth, with the truth having no moral effect upon us. Becoming light and no heat: there's nothing attractive in that situation.

The right use of the mind: to think logically, clearly and biblically; to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. To be devoted to him in all respects: to love him with our whole heart and soul and strength and mind. Again, this crucial lesson is passed on indirectly as the people knowing that our church services are not times of entertainment and amusement, but rather when we fix our attention on the Most High God, to listen to his Word, and seek understanding from him.

Principle 11: Courage.

The early church was noted for its parhessia, its open and declared stand for Jesus as the promised Messiah, his death and resurrection for our full salvation. "In nothing being terrified by your adversaries..." (Philippians 1:28). A strong and growing church does not give way, and does not yield to the pressures of the enemy. Christians prove to be more than conquerors.

But Spirit-motivated courage is not to be mixed with recklessness. Where He sends we will go, but we need to wait upon the Lord for guidance, being sensitive to his leading.

In our society, where a falsified form of Christianity has the upper hand, it's easy to shut up and be silent. Courage comes through prayer and simply submitting to Christ's command, whether we feel like it or not. It comes through counting the cost, seeing the value of the gospel (which is God's power to save), and seeking to be the light and salt of this world. Also by realizing that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of love, courage and a sound mind.

Principle 12: The Correct Cornerstone.

The church looks upon Jesus Christ as her all in all, as the One who is her Redeemer, her Provider, her Healer, her Teacher, her whole foundation. "Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." Thus the church is assured of her salvation and effectiveness in this world.

But the gifts that the Risen Lord gives are not to take precedence or somehow obscure the Giver himself. Pastors in the church are to teach wholesome doctrine and offer admonition, warning and exhorting. We need to remember, though, that pastors are merely undershepherds, not the Chief Shepherd.

We should resist the temptation of identifying ourselves with personality characters, saying, "I am of Paul...I am of Apollos..."

I discourage people from looking at me or at another other, for that matter. The weight of the whole is to rest on the Almighty Saviour, the horn of salvation that appeared in Israel. Though invisible, he is present in a very real way, and he is the director and leader and safety of his people.

Principle 13: A growing church is a living church.

This is enunciated in 1 Peter 2:5: "Ye also as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house." A regenerate membership is a sine qua non for a healthy and progressing church. Christians enjoy eternal life and are used by God to indicate to others where this life may be found (1 John 5:1-13). Being joined to Christ they grow in holiness and the knowledge of God.

A living church is not to be mistaken for a church bustling with activity for activity's sake. If a church is too busy to worship the Lord in fear and reverence, then she is too busy.

A living organism is not perfect, but should be aiming at perfection. In our church many weaknesses may be detected, but the good thing about it is that we are being changed from one glory into another. We do not lose hope. Christ is working on us. When the saints know and are convinced of this, they will be encouraged to press on.