Pastor and Leader, I am constantly asked, “How do we help our church grow?”
I was having a conversation with a fellow Pastor recently, and we were
talking this through, and, for me, in the crazy way that I think, it fleshed
out in five words that I will address in the coming weeks in his blog.
The five words, all starting with the letter “c”, are what I feel,
biblically, that we have to engage, if we are praying for God to grow our
church. At the very onset, we have to agree that it is God who brings the
harvest, God who brings the fruit, as we remain in Him and He remains in us.
I realize I am probably preaching to the choir, but that has to be the
foundation stone everything else is set upon. Our own efforts will fail,
and unless the Lord builds our house, we labor in vain.
The first “c” is Context. From a cross-cultural point of
perspective, even though we may speak they same language and have many things
in common, there are always distinctive cultural differences in every community
and every church. As we seek to do kingdom work wherever God has planted
us, we need to not only study the language and traditions, but also the
context. There are many facets to context, not the least of which is
demographics. Where do your people come from, and that is more than just
country or place of origin. It has less to do with race or gender or
nationality than it has to do with where your people see themselves in regards
to God. We see places that are very “churched”, but yet we see little
fruit, despite the number of churches in a town or city. Sometimes, the
church can be a barrier to engaging people with the Gospel, because there is a
sense that they have already “arrived”, and I know all I need to know about
God. In some of the overseas contexts in which we have served, there was
a sense of nationalism in their religious affiliation, such as, “I am from this
country, so I am already a Christian.” When we worked in Russia, those
who we shared the Gospel with that were Orthodox in belief felt like if they
accepted Christ, they would be ripping out a part of their Russian soul.
I even had one Russian man become very confused, because he thought that
Jesus was American!
Context begins with seeing the condition of the harvest fields. Much like
a farmer will access the growth of his crop, or lack thereof, and make his
plans based on what he sees and knows, we need to be consistently, honestly
checking our context for growth or an over abundance of weeds. There may
even be, for various reasons, ground that is so hard that a seed does not have
a chance to take root. A fellow missionary and good friend once said to
me that, as he was working in an area with a lot of hard ground, that, “prayer
is the tiller of hard ground.” Our assessment of our context needs to be
done with purposeful prayers for wisdom and guidance to not only see the
condition of our context, but then to know how to act to engage our context.
Once we see the condition of our context, then everything we do
must be done with reaching our context in mind.
Now some may say that this is evident; of course we want to reach our context
for Christ, but, many times, what we do and how we plan and even what we preach
and teach does not follow this strategy. Sometimes how we plan and preach is
the reason we are not reaching our context, and we need a change in our
methods, not in our message. If our church has not seen growth in the
last 5-10 years, then we have got to do something different! If our
context includes a lot of people in our town or city who have never heard a
clear presentation of the Gospel, then we had better start doing that! If
no one is seeing to the practical, physical needs of hurting people in your
context, those needs need to be met! If couples are separating and
divorcing, or couples are having children outside of marriage, it is our responsibility
to be teaching a biblical perspective and answer to what the world sees as
“normal”. If they don’t hear it from us, from the pulpit, in our small
groups, in our everyday conversations, then our silence speaks volumes, and the
people around us will not see Jesus as a viable answer to the questions and
circumstances of their everyday lives.
I would encourage you to go out into your community and, maybe for the first
time, ask God to take off the blinders and let you see the people around you the
way that He does. Ask questions, talk to people and let them tell you
what stirs their heart or confuses them or hurts them. Let the Gospel
engage their lives and let them know that whatever their situation or
circumstances, Jesus loves them and is the answer that they are looking for.
We cannot grow if we do not know how to plant and nurture and harvest
what God has placed right in front of us.
Until next time,