Fourteen years ago Bob Russell, former pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, wrote a book titled, When God Builds a Church. The reason I bring his book up is because this morning, as I was praying, this thought kept coming to my mind, “when God builds a church.” As a pastor, it can seem that many look to me to build the church. To be fair, many wouldn’t articulate it quite like that; nevertheless churches do have the tendency to put a heavy load on pastors to build the church.
Why is this? If I had to speculate, I would say that this is mainly attributed to what we have witnessed within the North American church over the past thirty years. While the church attendance has slowly declined, the rise of the mega-church and large church has steadily risen. In fact, I read an article this past week that said 90% of all church attendees will attend a church running over 400. We are living in the days of the large church while the smaller churches slowly disappear.
When it comes to larger churches, they have become the voice and example for the evangelical world. Their voices speak both in the culture and to the church. Other churches and leaders in the evangelical world has seen and heard from many of the pastors and leaders from the larger churches about what it takes to lead the church to grow. The resources (books, articles, and conferences), narratives (stories of the growth of the church), principles, and guides have tended to become the “how to” guide for building a church. As a result many of the smaller churches see the larger churches and want implement what they are doing in an effort to grow too.
In all honesty, I think many of these resources are very beneficial for pastors and churches when it comes to them thinking through their mission, vision, structure, and strategy. There is much to glean from many of these voices.
While I have gleaned and still glean from the wisdom of many of the past and current voices, today I was reminded that I must guard against doing what others have done in an attempt to manufacture growth. Rather, I must trust, serve, and yield myself to our great God and King as a tool for him to use to build the church. Therefore, as I sat down today in my office, I jotted down at least ten elements that I see in the New Testament (and throughout Scripture) that are present as God uses his people to build his church and advance his mission throughout the world.
1) Focus. When it comes to focusing, think mission. Within the pages of Scripture God has always desired that his people enact a focus (a mission) that is both vertical and horizontal. He wants his people to live for the glory of his great name, to spread the glory of his great name, and to live for the good (the blessing) of others.
2) Faithfulness. In addition to the focus, God wants his people to be faithful in their focus. Our focus should not be a one-time deal, or something that we focus on for a season, but rather our focus of living for the glory of God and the good of others should be a constant. God desires that we be faithful to him, to his people (the church), and to loving the world.
3) Faith. God desires for his people to give him everything that they have. Thus, his people have great faith, which leads to great sacrifice and great risks for his glory and mission. Faith propels us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Faith leads us to believe that we will see greater things than what we have already seen if we continue to yield ourselves to Jesus.
4) Fruit. Given the fact that God has awakened through Jesus (the gospel), as well as through his Spirit, we are a new creation. Through the Spirit of God he has given us new breath that has led to new life. We are fully alive in Jesus. Therefore, those things that are alive are reproducing. When it comes to God’s people producing fruit, they do so in a process called discipleship. This process includes both sanctification and multiplication. Sanctification is the process of being conformed into the image of Jesus, which will produce fruit (life) in areas of life that are conformed by him. Multiplication is the result of both personal and corporate evangelism. As God’s people are shaped into the image of Jesus, present in the life of unbelievers, and committed to planting churches in cities and communities throughout the world, fruit will continually be produced.
5) Fervor. Those that God uses to build his church are the ones that possess great zeal, passion, love, excitement, enthusiasm, and intensity for his glory, his mission, his people, and his work. This fervor is contagious!
6) Fellowship. God works through individuals who are connected to his body, his church. A church that exhibits unity and togetherness will be a church that God continues to use to build and grow his church. A church that exhibits division, malice, slander, and disunity will be a church that eventually disintegrates.
7) Friction. Any time God builds a church there will be friction. Friction will be present both inside the body and outside the body. If no friction exists then movement—more than likely—is not taking place. Friction that happens in the body is dealt with quickly and in love. The church celebrates outside friction with perspective—understanding that the world hated Jesus, and thus, will hate his followers.
8) Favor. Although there may be some outside friction, there will also be some favor that the church experiences. As the church glorifies God and embodies his presence and love in the city and community where they live, they will experience some favor from inhabitants (locals) of the city. If a church does not experience any favor from any place in the community or city, chances are they are not present or visible.
9) Formation. I am using formation to describe a loose structure and strategy for engaging the community and city. Paul seemed to, at the very least, possess a loose strategy in engaging a city. Whether it was to observe culture (Acts 17), attend synagogues, work in the marketplace, teach in public spaces, or visit a local gathering spot, Paul seemed to have some intentionality in reaching a city.
10) Foresight. Paul seemed to have a list of what he wanted to do. He was always thinking ahead. Throughout his letters, Paul notes his intention to visit various churches for encouragement and/or instruction. In addition, Paul told the church in Rome of his intention to go where the gospel had not been preached, as well as his intention to use them as a launching pad to go to Spain. Paul not only had plans for the present, but also for the future.
God desires to build his church. If we desire for God to build the church we currently lead or are part of, it may be helpful to ask whether or not these elements are in existence.
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