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How do we grow the church?

September 27, 2015

The following is the  full transcript of a sermon I preached at Manistique Bible Church on September 27, 2015. I do not usually post online the full text of my sermons due to the length of the material and the time required to edit a spoken sermon for online readability. Consequently, this post is much longer than my usual articles and will read differently. I post this particular sermon because it contains come key elements of my philosophy of church growth and outreach. These principles are basic to the church’s understanding of what it means for a local church to evangelize the world. Due to a mishap with the audio recording, I am using this means to make the information available to the members. For those who are not members of Manistique Bible Church, I trust the following will still prove to be of much benefit to you in your own local church.

For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10

How do we grow Manistique Bible Church? This is a question I am asked quite often. Most people who ask it are wanting to know what can be done to get more bodies in the pews. Leaving aside the limitations and weaknesses of that perspective, let me answer the question.

The answer is simple and directly related to the purpose and function of the church. The purpose of the church is to glorify God. God has defined two primary functions by which the church brings Him glory. In the church we edify one another. Believers gather together each week to build up one another to be more like Jesus. In the community we evangelize the unsaved. Christians go out into the world to preach the gospel. We use all holy means to edify and evangelize so that God will be glorified.

The Biblical functions given to the church are also the Biblical means given to increase the church. God has designed the church to add to its numbers through the edification of it’s members. Edification involves the training and equipping of believers to preach the gospel. The church gathering is not intended to be the place where ministry primarily occurs. The church gathering is the place where believers are prepared to go into the world and minister. The equipped believers then go into the community with the gospel. The local church will grow as you give the gospel to your friends and neighbors.

This model of ministry growth is not the modern model of church growth. Some have come from a church background in which the church sought to grow through the effectiveness of programs. Whether it was through a bus ministry, VBS program, calling program or series of special meetings, the increase of the church was centered around church based programs. Not that the individual programs are wrong in themselves. The problem comes in when the program becomes the primary means of evangelism. More modern churches use marketing techniques to appeal to a target audience. Many churches attempt to make the church service as user friendly to the unsaved as possible. Church growth in the modern era is centered around bringing the unsaved into the building so the pastor or church leaders can preach the gospel to them. This church growth model overlooks a key reality. The unsaved have no desire for the gathering of believers, the singing together in praise and admonition, the prayers of the saints, the teaching of the Word or the proclamation of the gospel. The only to make a church service genuinely appealing to the lost is to replace core Biblical components with events calculated to appeal to the unsaved heart or to provide superficial inducements for church attendance.

The Biblical model does not focus on attracting the lost into the church gathering, but on taking the gospel to the lost. One danger of the attractional model of evangelism is it implies preaching the gospel is best left to those who have special training. The pattern shown in the New Testament is that of all believers giving the gospel, not just a select few. How do we grow Manistique Bible Church? We grow this church by each member proclaiming the gospel to the individuals you meet in this community. This idea is not complicated, revolutionary or likely to sell books, but it is the Biblical model. If you want to see Manistique Bible Church grow, give the gospel.

The giving of the gospel begins with the reception of the gospel. As was mentioned last week, The Thessalonians believed the gospel. “ For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:” The gospel worked with such power in them that they received it even though they were surrounded with intense afflictions. They believed the gospel, and joined Jesus and Paul in suffering. The Thessalonians were not alone in their suffering. Jesus suffered far more than any man. Paul and Silas bore the initial brunt of persecution in Thessalonika. The Thessalonians became imitators of Jesus and Paul by entering like them into suffering for the gospel’s sake. This suffering was not a cause for discouragement. Jesus declares that when the Christian is persecuted, reviled and suffering for Christ’s sake he is to “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad.” Suffering is not a cause for the believer to despair, but is an evidence that the preached was genuine and that the faith of the believers was real.

The Thessalonians suffered. They suffered loss of friends, rejection by family members, loss of employment and the physical deprivation that comes with it. Some of them were very probably suffered physical violence against them. The Thessalonians did not just endure suffering. Many men have been able to endure suffering for a good cause. Many have stoically born up under great physical distress. The Thessalonians “received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. Joy in suffering does not minimize the severity and anguish of suffering. Joy in suffering does not minimize the guilt of the ones who inflict suffering. Joy in suffering is not some sort of self help technique that teaches you how endure the pain. Joy is not a discipline of the mind that helps you keep the right positive mental attitude during life’s difficulties. Joy is a spiritual reality that rejoices in the Lord in the midst of searing pain. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit. Joy is the supernatural gladness of heart and soul that delights in God at all times. Joy looks to the Father and rejoices in His good purposes and His perfecting work through the difficulties of life. Joy remembers the character and work of God while in seasons of great sorrow.

The Thessalonians joy was not in themselves. It was not in their church. It was not in their family. Their joy was of the Holy Ghost. True joy is supernaturally produced. As long as you try to make yourself joyful, you will not be. When you turn your gaze to the Lord, immerse yourself in His Word and strive to glorify Him in all things, He will produce the fruit of joy in you. Joy is not a fake smile that tells everyone the problems aren’t that big a deal. Joy weeps. Joy grieves. Joy hurts. Joy rejoices in God when the body is bowed with agony and care. Joy does not just put on a happy face, joy is a reality of the heart that is content in the Father, that trusts His good purposes, that is produced by the Holy Spirit and that continues to rejoice in God no matter the suffering.

Because the gospel had worked so powerfully in the Thessalonians, they preached it powerfully in their city and wherever they went. Their joy in persecution became a model for other believers to follow. “So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” The Thessalonians were imitators of Jesus who became examples for others to imitate. They were followers of Christ who led others to follow Him. The testimony of these believers was so powerful that it filled the whole of Greece! The gospel trumpeted from Thessalonica to the hearing of the whole region. “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.” The sounding out of the word was more than just a declaration, it was a trumpet blast of truth. Their testimony and teaching blasted forth far and wide the message of salvation. The gospel reverberated from Thessalonika to fill the region with the noise of their conversion and the power of the gospel.

Their witness was so clear and so powerful that Paul and his companions did not even need to preach. People had already heard the word and believed. They were working Paul out of a job! The testimony of the Thessalonikans was not just the rumor of their joy or their repentance. Their testimony was the preaching of the truths of the gospel. Paul did not need to preach because those going out from the city of Thessalonika were preaching the message for him! This is how Christians are to be acting! The job of preaching the gospel is not just for the pastors, missionaries and evangelists. The job of preaching the gospel is for every Christian. If your expectation is for the church leadership to give the gospel while you enjoy the comforts of a warm pew, you are deeply mistaken. The natural response of the Christian is to give the gospel. The newly saved Christian naturally tells others what has happened to him and invites others to follow Jesus. You don’t grow out of this witness. You may wilt and wither out of it, but you will never grow out of it. Those who believe the gospel are to be amplifiers who receive the message of salvation and then send it out farther into the world.

As Paul preached throughout Greece, it was not long before the testimony of the Thessalonikans passed him and reached into cities before he arrived. As Paul saw the effect of the gospel in these other communities, he knew the fruit of the Thessalonians faith. He heard from other believers and saw by the spread of the gospel the kind of impact the Word of God had on the Thessalonians. “They themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you.” The Thessalonians conversion was reflection of the apostle and his gospel. Converts reflect the character of the messenger and the message preached. One test of the legitimacy of a gospel is the effect the message has on those who believe it. A true gospel preached by a faithful messenger will produce other gospel messengers who live lives that glorify God.

This is why it is so important we give careful attention to our message and to the methods we use to distribute that message. The methodology of communication is itself a form of communication. The way we say something says volumes about the message. A church that is a halfway house between the world and religion will always be moving with the tides of the world, drifting further and further from the Christ, to continue to appeal to the desires of the irreligious masses. All converts to such a middling gospel will bear in their lives the marks of truth marketed, compromised, trivialized and stultified. The impact of such a church on her community will be one which minimizes the power of the gospel, the evilness of sin, the severity of God’s wrath, the need of salvation and the glory of Jesus. If you doubt this, consider the state of America and her churches today.

The true gospel will not appeal to the masses, but those who believe it will be transformed. When the gospel is preached in clarity and truth it will show itself to be far more effective than a negotiated gospel calculated to appeal to the maximum number of people possible.

“For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols “ Those who believe the gospel will turn to God from idols. The true gospel will be shown in repentance. The gospel does not allow you to keep your idols. Do not think America is not idolatrous. We have a pantheon of gods that rivals any of the ancient systems. An idol is anything that becomes more important than God or anything which you rely on as a source of ultimate blessing. An idol replaces god as the ultimate end or is relied upon to rely that which only God can provide. Common idols in America are work, money, sports, recreation, prestige, skill, position, influence, health, marriage, family, success and entertainment. When one is saved he turns from his idols to God. Though many of the idols of America are not evil in themselves, they become gods when they are treated as the ultimate source of good. The idol becomes the end instead of a means to an end. When one turns to God from idols they are recognized to be mere tools and resources which are to be used for the worship of God. One who desires both God and his sin, the blessings of eternal life and the satisfaction of earthly desires has not understood the gospel. Turning to God is always a turning from idols.

Turning to God results in a life of service for God. “How ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. “Before their salvation the Thessalonians worshiped false gods made of dead stone and wood. The sacrifices they gave and the time spent on their idols was wasted service expended on lifeless lumps and mythological creatures. The God of the Bible is the true God, alive and powerful. Because God is the living God, service for Him is the only reasonable response to salvation. Those who are saved are saved to serve Him.

Turning to God from idols necessarily involves turning to Him to serve Him and turning to Him in expectation of His coming Kingdom. Paul obviously preached to the Thessalonians that Jesus is the coming king. One of the accusations brought against him by the unbelieving Jews was that he was preaching Jesus as king instead of Caesar. The Thessalonians believed Paul’s message and were anxiously awaiting the second coming of Jesus. “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus,” The return of Jesus is a key component of the gospel. He is not just the suffering servant who died on the cross for our sin. He is also the conquering king who is returning in wrath and judgment.

The child of God is waiting for the return of Jesus. Jesus promised that though He would depart He would return again for His own. After He ascended to Heaven, the angels told the wondering disciples He would return to the earth. Through the apostles, God repeated that promise over and over again to all Christians. The expectation of the believer, the hope of the believer, the joy of the believer and the longing of the believer is the return of Jesus. He is coming again! On that truth we hang all our hopes.

As the angels said it, “This same Jesus.” The Jesus who lived on this earth, who died, who rose again is the same Jesus who will descend from heaven. He will come the second time in conquest and judgment. His kingdom will be a righteous kingdom ruled by Him, the righteous King, and people by His children whom He has made righteous. He will overthrow and punish all those who have rebelled against Him. Jesus is returning to reign over all. He will come again. This is our hope and joy!

This same Jesus who is returning is the Jesus who has delivered believers from the wrath of God. “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” You that are the child of God are no longer under His wrath and condemnation. God promises, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned.” Because Jesus has come into the world to bring salvation to the world through His death for our sin, all who believe Him to salvation are delivered from the wrath of God which already rests on the lost. We wait for Jesus with joy because, though His coming will be one of great destruction and misery to the lost, it will bring deliverance and victory to the saved. Jesus has delivered you who believe from the wrath of God.

Let me conclude by calling your attention to the Christian’s faith, hope and joy. Christian your faith is a transforming faith. It changes everything about you. I know the tendency for all of us is to become stagnant in the faith. The pressures of daily living and the philosophies of the world seep in to the soul and stifle the work of the Holy Spirit. Be diligent, be careful, to attend to walking closely with God. Don’t be content with the promise of heaven to come without giving thought to how Jesus changes you right now. Do not misunderstand this transformation either. The work of the Holy Spirit in you is not defined by the length of your skirt, the quality of your friends, the movies you don’t watch and the places you avoid. The work of the Holy Spirit in you is defined by His joy in your life during troubles. The work of the Holy Spirit in you is defined by your clear and bold testifying of the gospel. The work of the Spirit in you is declared by your rejection of false saviors, false gods and false worship. The work of the Spirit in you is seen by the devotion of your life to serve the One True God. The work of the Spirit in you is a manifest readiness for the return of Jesus.

The readiness for Jesus’ return is not only the believer’s faith, it is his hope. The transformed Christian will be living for the returning Jesus. I don’t mean you will sell all your things, build a bunker in the backyard or spend every night watching the skies. That’s living for the apocalypse. Living for the returning Jesus is living of a life of holiness, a life in which you love the things of God far more than the things of this world. A life of readiness a life of prayer, of obedience, of hospitality to believers and of love towards all. If you are genuinely looking for His return, you will be living so that He will be pleased with you when He comes again..

As a result of this faith and hope, the believer has great joy no matter the events of life. The believers joy is not found in circumstances, success, security, people or possessions. The believer’s joy is found in God. When we turn to God from the idols of this age, we find joy beyond description. The Thessalonians joy flowed from the abundant supply of the Holy Spirit. Because they had the Spirit they had joy though it may have seemed that all the world was against them. So you too can have the joy of the Spirit as you live out your faith in this world.

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