Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

When the Church is the Church

words words wordsRecently, I experienced a season of being fainthearted.  I was discouraged, and I wasn’t certain that there was hope.  Webster’s defines fainthearted as “lacking courage or resolution”.  In other words, being fainthearted means feeling a strong sense of discouragement, even being tempted with despair.

That was me.  I was experiencing spiritual warfare whereby I was being tempted to quit trusting that God is sovereign, in control, and that Romans 8:28 was holding true not only for me, but for His church.  Romans 8:28 says, “and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV).  I was tempted to doubt that.

Yes (wait, was there a question?).  Yes.  Even pastors are tempted to despair and can become fainthearted.  And I succumbed.  I was fainthearted in the midst of looking at students in the face and preaching to them of the importance of trusting and believing Romans 8:28.  And there were a few close brothers and sisters in Christ who knew.  Instead of chastisement, instead of calling into question whether or not I should be pastoring, instead of condemning, these brothers and sisters (knowingly or not, but I like to think knowingly) encouraged me.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 says this, “and we urge you, brothers, encourage the fainthearted, be patient with them…” (ESV).  My dear brothers and sisters in Christ encouraged me.  They encouraged me by telling me that they were proud of me, that they appreciated me, and so forth.  But most of all, and most importantly, they encouraged me with Jesus.

It’s these conversations within the body of Christ that are meant to be, from God, a grace to those who hear.  The full verse of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “and we urge you, brothers, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (ESV).  This verse is a verse of grace for the church.

Often, we hear people say that “it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people”.  Which, yes, is true.  But what they mean is this, “therefore, I ought to not say a word to them and just sit back and do nothing”.  In that same vein, in order to be consistent, these same people would have to say that “it is the Holy Spirit’s job to encourage people, so I ought to not say a word to them and just sit back and do nothing”.

Man.  I am so glad these brothers and sisters understand that the means that the Holy Spirit uses to convict and to encourage are the words of truth that we speak to each other.  Along those lines, I want to give three ways that our words of truth are meant to be a grace of God to the church.

1. Admonish the unruly

What other types of words ought we to say to the unruly person living in sin?  Ought we to encourage the liar, “keep on, buddy, you’re doing great!”?  No!  That would absurd.  The appropriate words of truth that believers are to speak to these are words of admonishment.

Yes, words of admonishment ought to be done with graciousness, love, humility, and gentleness.  But, none the less, they need to be said to the unruly.

2. Encourage the fainthearted

These are types of words of truth that were spoken to me recently.  Generally, these types of words are shown at times of grief and celebration, but rarely are we so spiritually connected with one another that we recognize that sometimes people are simply fainthearted.

What other words would we speak to the fainthearted?  Words of admonishment?  Could you imagine?  “You are in despair, but shame on you!”  Again, how absurd!  The appropriate words of truth believers are to speak to these are words of encouragement

3. Help the weak

This category begins with words of truth, and I call these words of action.  Of course, they mean nothing if not put into practice.  So, for instance, if a sister in Christ is weak and is in need of a ramp built on the front of her house to get down off of her porch, the words of action become a physical help to her.  “I will build you a ramp to help you.”

But notice I said words of action.  That means we don’t just tell people we will help them, but we actually help them.  These people do not only need words of encouragement, and they certainly do not need words of admonishment.  These people need help.

Conclusion

The rest of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says “be patient with them all” (ESV).  When we experience unruly people, or fainthearted people, or weak people, we are exhorted to be patient with them.  We are the church, and we are called to faithfulness to the Lord and faithfulness to one another.  When the church is the church, the Lord honors and blesses the people.  I have been blessed by the church being the church.

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Filed under Church, Encouragement, Scripture, Spiritual Growth, Spiriual Disciplines, True Christianity

Not Neglecting to Meet Together

ChurchIn our communities, there are no lack of good things to participate in.  Churches experience this tension in their communities.  Often, Church is viewed as one activity among many activities.  There is a tendency to view participation in community activities by church members as missional living – the opportunity to evangelize and minister to the community.  I believe this is a good way of looking at community participation.

Even though there is a need to participate in our communities, and more specifically to evangelistically participate in our communities, we ought to not excuse our community participation for our absence from church participation.  I believe the best testimony for believers in the community is the priority of gathering as a local body to display the “manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10).  In attempts to be evangelistic, church members have missed one of the major purposes of the gathering of the church community – the declaration of the greatness and glory of God which transcends every other gathering and community.

Therefore, in this post, I will provide a concise explanation of what Jesus requires from His people (the church) and why church attendance is important.

1. Jesus Calls His People to a Higher Calling – What does Jesus Require from His People?

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He is calling people into community with Himself and His people.  He uses word pictures like “the kingdom of God” and the “sheep fold of God”.  He refers to the establishment of the Church, which is the word ekklesia in Greek, and has the idea of a public gathering or community which gathers to worship God.  Jesus makes it clear that there is a distinct community and people of God.

Jesus teaches some important principles that ought to be applied to churches and church attendance.  I will share two:

  • 1. Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one  and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”

Admittedly, this verse specifically has to do with the pursuit of money and the impossibility of serving both the god of money and the God of the Bible.  But the application is larger than just that.  It is impossible to serve both any other false god and the God of the Bible.  Sometimes, we want to be so involved in everything going on in the community that we fail to heed the warning in Hebrews 10:24-25:  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV).”  When we put Matthew 6:24 and Hebrews 10:24-25 together, it seems as though there is indeed a way to neglect gathering with the church because we are serving other activities in the community.  When we place other activities, even good ones, on or above the level of the gathering of the Church, I think we are coming dangerously close to trying to “serve two masters”.

  • 2. Luke 16:10 – “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

We seek so much to get new people in our doors, even using methods that are borrowed from secular, unChristian ideologies, that we fail to properly disciple and develop the saints who dawn the doors every single Sunday.  Churches can be so focused on outward mission that they fail to produce disciples on the inside.  Instead, churches ought to exhibit Ephesians 4:11-16:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The “work of the ministry” is clearly intended as a focus of inward growth, or the discipleship and maturity of the saints already there.  Paul also says earlier in Ephesians 3:10 about the role of the church in relation to the secular culture around it: “…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities…(ESV)”

What does that mean?  It means churches ought to ensure faithfulness in the little before she can expect to be given more to be faithful with.  However, I do not mean to say that faithfulness in little is separate from faithfulness to fulfill the Great Commission.  Full faithfulness includes both faithfulness inwardly and faithfulness outwardly.  Diminishing either is unfaithfulness.

2. We need Jesus and His Body, not Just Jesus – Why Church Attendance is Important

As stated above, Hebrews 10:24-25 says,  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV).”  These verses provide insight into the importance of not only believing in Jesus, but also attending Church regularly.  The last phrase “the Day drawing near” provides the insight on the high level of importance of meeting together.  What are the things we ought to do according to these verses?

  • Consider – Consideration means thinking, and gospel-centered thinking requires that we transform our minds in order to not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2).  We ought to think highly and reasonably when we gather together.  This will give us clarity and direction in how to engage in a lost and ungodly world.
  • Stir one another up to love – The love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 is the picture of corporate, public love to be displayed in and by the church.  When we think highly about the doctrines of God, that knowledge ought to stir us up to the highest standard of love.
  • Stir one another up to good works – The book of James is clear – faith without works is dead.  Does James differ from Paul?  No.  It is the other side of the same coin.  As we stir each other up to the highest standard of love, that then propels us to good works for each other (inward discipleship) and for our communities (outward mission).
  • Dedicating ourselves to our meeting – Consistency is the point here.  We ought to not define what is meant as in pure numbers, but a good rule is 10%.  I have seen people who consistently miss, and there is always a legitimate excuse.  Even though it is legitimate, however, it does not mean it is acceptable or encouraged.  What happens when we dedicate ourselves to each other?
  • Encouragement – What is the point of encouragement?  To build up the body of Christ so that the body of Christ (the Church) can make known the “manifold wisdom of God” to secular culture.

Not only that, but the book of Acts is the story of the people of God expanding by the church of God through discipleship and sending missionaries.  In Acts 2:42, we see the gathering being devoted to one another and the teaching, prayer, fellowship, and eating together.  What happens as a result?  In Acts 2:47, the “Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Conclusion

What’s my point?  The first step to becoming a Great Commission church is to become a devoted to one another church.  The greatest evangelistic tool, if evangelism is simply understood as pointing people to who God is, is the gathered body of believers known as the church, and to make this gathering the priority which trumps other priorities.

 

 

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The Clarity of Scripture: Is the Bible Meant to be Understood?

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The Bible is more accessible in our day and to our culture than at any other time and to any other people of all time.  Most families in Western Civilization have at least one copy of the Bible in their households.  I am amongst the ranks that has several.  I have all types of Bibles:  I have different translations of the Bible, I have different study Bible’s (a study Bible is a Bible which has helpful notes at the bottom of the page which help to explain what that part of the Bible means.  Mind you, the study notes are not inspired Scripture), I have reference Bible’s, “preacher’s” Bibles (Skinny Bibles which make it easy for the preacher to use while preaching), and so on.  I could fill a small bookshelf with just the Bibles I own.

I have conversations with people that end with some type of reason as to why they don’t read the Bible often on their own.  The number one reason I hear is I just don’t understand it.  The number two reason I hear is I just don’t like to read.  Most often, these are people who struggle with finding joy and satisfaction in God. They likely are struggling in their faith and they want to be able to become spiritually mature, but lack the hope that they ever could be spiritually mature.  Many times, they have been a Christian for several years, even decades.

The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture simply means that the Bible is able to be understand in a simple form by all believer’s.  In fact, part of this doctrine even holds the belief that even unbelievers can understand it (on an external level).  For a long-form explanation of this doctrine, go to this site.

One reason I believe that Christians, especially Western Christians, have trouble with the Bible is that they are willing to put very little effort into it.  They approach the Bible as something that must be “fed” to them rather than something that they are to “feast” on themselves.  The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that the Bible is not deep and complicated.  The Bible isn’t easy.  But it is clear.  God has ordained several means by which Christians ought to get to know the Bible in terms of knowledge.  As we learn more about the Bible, the Holy Spirit then enlightens our minds and our souls to having an understanding of what the Bible really is and what it really means.  Some of those means God has ordained are preaching (corporate worship), teaching (small group worship), self-study, meditation, memorization, and repetition of reading.  I like the term pouring over the Scriptures in relation to all of these other means combined.

I think the reason, or the cause of the symptom of not liking to read and not understanding the Bible is that Christians aren’t willing to work hard at understanding it.  Yes, the Bible is clear and able to be understood by all Christians, but again, it is not easy.  Maturity and depth of knowledge in the Bible come over time and with hard, careful, diligent work.  How did David come to the point to trust that his way would be kept pure by hiding God’s Word in his heart?  By pouring over the Scriptures over time and with great devotion and effort.  The Bible is life giving.  But it is only life giving if we are willing to give up ourselves to get into it.  If I consistently find myself having better things to do, I am not giving up anything in order to have the life that the Word gives to the life of the believer.

Often, the motivation for Christians to come to church is to be “fed” and to be “filled”.  What is sad is that they don’t have to come to church looking for food and satisfaction.  Christians can come to church already satisfied with God, ready to worship Him with anticipation of meeting with God and having God meet with His people.  Church isn’t as much about getting some more of God’s Word as much as it is an expression of believer’s knowing God’s Word.  I get frustrated often with Christians who are more passionate about reading things and submitting to things written by “experts” instead of reading and submitting to God’s Word – the means by which God has given us to know Him by!  We wonder why we aren’t truly satisfied by our modern notion of worship.  The reason is because we are not prepared to truly worship!  Worship occurs when we know God, and when know who God is, we want to know Him more, and when we know Him more, we are driven into deeper worship.  There is a Spirit and Truth tension here, much of what Jesus says will happen when He confronts the woman at the well in John 4.  The Holy Spirit causes my soul to worship God when I know God, and the more I know God, the more I want to worship Him.  Sadly, many Christians miss out on the blessing of personal worship driving the corporate worship because their personal worship simply is non-existent.

So, take some time and work and devote yourself to reading God’s Word.  A good study Bible can help make it easier, but don’t have a study Bible simply to make it easier.  As the study Bible helps you read the Word, and the more you are accustom to reading the Word and understanding it without the study notes, release yourself from reading the study notes and read the only the Word.  Do you have a desire to be fed and filled with more of God?  Then work at reading the Bible.  Your level of devotion to God’s Word reveals just how hungry and desperate you are for Him.

Resources:

  • ESV Study Bible, Crossway Press
  • Read the Bible for Life, George Guthrie
  • Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem (A good systematic theology will help you read the Bible in terms of themes and systems, though the Bible is not primarily a systematic theology.)

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Church Growth – Outward or Inward?

Often in church life, I have experienced different people and groups of people who have a major concern for church growth.  Church growth gurus and books are everywhere.  In our age, the church has taken on a secular business model – measuring metrics such as growing numerically, giving increases, and explosions of ministries.  I want to be clear – I am not against church growth.  I pray every day for the Lord to bless the church I serve in with numerical growth.  I pray every day for the Lord to give me grace to trust Him and become a more generous giver, and that He would allow the other church members to have the same burden of increased generosity.  I pray every day to the Lord for our ministries at our church to be thriving, flourishing, and God glorifying.  So, I am not saying these are bad, in fact, I affirm that they are good!

Where I am concerned is that the only thing we are focusing on is outward growth.  I have had recent conversations with some close brothers about the reasons, the why, behind our different teaching ministries we have as a church.  In one discussion, it became known that some of the other church leaders want our small group ministry, which is traditional Sunday School, to be only evangelistic.  That philosophy is one that says the small group must function in such a way that it becomes the method of evangelism for our church – in essence, the Sunday School is an outreach ministry.  Again, don’t read something I am not saying.  I do not mean that this is wrong as one goal for the small group ministry.  I only mean to say that it ought not be our only, or even primary goal for the small group ministry.

I am convinced, according to the Holy Scriptures, that the primary reason to gather together and study God’s Word is to help and exhort the body of Christ towards godliness and holiness.  Some examples in the Bible of God’s people gathering for spiritual growth through teaching ministries (Bible study, preaching, Sunday School, etc.) are:

  • In Acts, when Barnabas and Paul first begin their missionary work – “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul (Paul), and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a great many people (Acts 11:25-26a, ESV, emphasis mine).”
  • To the Ephesians, Paul wrote “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13, ESV, emphasis mine).”
  • Peter, in his last words to the group of Churches in his correspondence – “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18a, ESV, emphasis mine).”
  • The first glimpse of the believer’s gathered together in the book of Acts – “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42, ESV, emphasis mine).”

These are but a few instances in the Bible where we see God’s people gathering together to teach one another in God’s Word, to train each other, and to build each other up in the faith.  In our Student Ministry at Colgate Baptist Church, we are studying through the book of Acts on Wednesday nights (our corporate youth gathering).  Recently, I preached (to youth, for over 30 minutes, and they ate it up!) on the first Christians in Antioch.  Acts 11:19-30 gives us a pattern of proper church life, and a three-fold emphasis for the mission of the church:

  1. Spiritual Birth – In Acts 11:19-21 (I will let you read this passage, it is too long to quote here), the church members were sharing the gospel with people.  See?  I am PRO evangelism!  I pray that the Lord will give us a fervency for sharing the gospel through relationship building, bold truth telling, and holy living!  As this happened in the book of Acts, the Lord adds to the church!  Over an over again, the theme in Acts is the Lord building His church – “And there were added that day about three thousand souls (2:41)”, “And the LORD added to their number day by day those who were being saved (2:47)”, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand (4:4)”, “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord (5:14)”, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied (6:7)”, and so on!  I want to be careful, because I want to make sure you know I see evangelism – or the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and calling people to repent and believe – as a good thing and a necessary thing for Christians to do.  My disagreement with the above philosophy is that the gathering of the church is not meant as the way to do evangelism.  I hope that will become more apparent in the last emphasis.
  2. Spiritual Growth – In Acts 11:22-26, the focus is on Barnabas and Paul and their teaching, exhorting, and training the people of God with the Word of God.  This shows us the reason for coming together – learning! As Christian’s learn the truth of who God is through faithful exhortation in teaching and in preaching, the Christian grows! How can we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ?  By corporately and collectively gathering together, engaging, listening, meditating, talking about, and thinking about the small group lesson or the pastor’s sermon.  I was involved in a church once that had small group ministries that met throughout the week in homes.  The studies were geared around the sermon from Sunday morning!  The point for God’s people to gather is to worship God – to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.  This is, I believe, what Paul meant in Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (ESV, emphasis mine).”  The more we know God (mind), the more we love God (heart, obedience)!
  3. Spiritual Overflow – In Acts 11:27-30, the Christians at Antioch learn of a famine “over all the world (v. 28)”.  They sent relief to believers in Judea by sending Barnabas and Saul, along with relief – materials, supplies.  What was this?  A mission trip! When Barnabas and Saul get to their next temporary residing place, they aren’t only giving their physical supplies, they begin the process over at #1!  In Acts 13:5a, it says “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews (ESV).”  The process began again, as a result of the overflow of the believers in Antioch.

These points of emphasis , I believe, are a holistic, Biblical pattern of Church life and growth.  As the gospel is proclaimed (on the outside, in our jobs, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our waiters, etc.), new spiritual life is formed (by God), and spiritual birth takes place.  People are born again!  As people are born again, the church takes on the role of growing and maturing those believers, as well as continuing to evangelize other areas.  As these new believers are discipled, they mature and grow, and as they mature and grow, they begin to overflow that which has happened in them.  They begin the process in other people.

Church growth is important, but it isn’t the only point of emphasis.  Maybe for a season, the body of Christ may need to focus on intensified discipleship efforts for its own members.  Maybe for a season, there will be a heavy emphasis on evangelism and missions.  But, I believe, there will always be a working organism with a three-fold mechanic – seeking spiritual birth, helping spiritual growth, and encouraging and participating in spiritual overflow (repeat).

Some good resources for these points are:

  • Listen Up! A Practical Guide to Listening to Sermons by Christopher Ash
  • Creature of the Word: the Jesus-Centered Church by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger
  • Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan

Have a comment/different philosophy?  We’d love to hear from you!

Post written by:  Aaron Hale

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Filed under Church Growth, Spiritual Growth, Spiriual Disciplines