A message to my tribe…
Church growth used to be all the rage in Christian circles a few years back. All the focus was on how to make your church bigger and bigger. If you really wanted to be successful, you aspired to have a mega church one day!
Now it’s church planting. Church planters are the rock stars of the ministry world. Sure, anyone can maintain a church, some can even get a church to grow, but if you really want to get recognised, then you plant a new one.
Ministers used to get together and compare the size of their churches. We’d come away feeling smug or depressed, depending how we ranked against others. Now the accolades come from planting churches. How many churches has your church planted? Oh, you haven’t? When do you plan to? What, seriously, you’ve really planted 10 churches? Wow!
We used to get stroppy because the church down the street grew massive while we struggled. They’re all going there because of the music, the teaching, the youth program, the coffee machine. Now we get annoyed at anyone who wants to plant a new church in our backyard. Why do we need a new church here? Why don’t they go somewhere they’re really needed?
The truth is, I love church. And not half as much as God does. But all this stuff about church planting, or church growth, can be a massive worry. It can show up how pride-filled and pathetic we are. So much of it has to do with me… my ministry, my reputation, my church, my denomination, my ambitions.
What about what God is doing? Where does God fit in? What does God value? What does God expect from us? I wonder what God thinks of our petty politics, our jealousy, our pride? Truth is, I do know, and I’m embarrassed to say that it doesn’t always paint me or others in a good light.
Easter is a good time to focus again on what matters most. As the Apostle Paul wrote:
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers… (1 Corinthians 15:1-6, my emphasis.)
It’s not about what we do. It’s about what God has done in Jesus Christ. A death on a cross. Resurrection appearances and an empty tomb. Forgiveness of sins. Salvation by grace alone. Hope for eternity.
It’s possible to plant churches, it’s possible to grow churches, without anything eternally significant happening. Sometimes, it’s simply people moving locations, joining new clubs, shuffling the deck, making our lives more convenient, starting your own adventure.
Worrying about a new church being planted nearby can be a strong indicator that we’ve lost the plot. We’re more concerned with our show than we are with people getting to know Jesus. Surely, we must rejoice at every person who hears the good news and responds! What matters is their rescue, not who’s in our ship.
Don’t we long for people to hear and respond to the message of the first Easter? Discovering real life through Jesus? And when that happens we have God to thank. How fantastic when that happens in our own backyard! How awesome when it happens in neighbouring suburbs or far off places! And how exciting when these people are gathered into churches – whether they’re new church plants, growing mega churches, or something else altogether!
Remember, it’s not my church, your church, our church, or their church. It’s God’s church. It’s the church of Jesus Christ.
To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
(F.J. Crosby 1875)