The Church Growth Conference Jesus Taught
by Tom Brown
Every minister wants to grow his ministry. He wants to reach more people for Christ. Pastors want their churches to grow. Evangelists want to hold larger and more frequent revivals. They attend Church Growth Conferences to help make this happen, yet all this time, Christ had given us the commandments for evangelism. The church at large has ignored Christ training in evangelism.
Jesus conducted His own church growth conference, yet we never saw it in this way. Only twelve men attended the conference. I don’t have to wonder if what He taught at His church growth conference is biblically sound. I can accept His teachings as gold. I have followed His instruction and can assure you that His Word works. The challenge is to take the teachings He gave more than two millennias ago and make it practical for today.
The disciples had just witness successive miracles. These signs brought many people to salvation. They were excited about the possibility of extending Christ Word to others. They wanted to win others to Christ. Jesus knew their zeal, but He wanted to make sure their youthful passion was matched with wisdom. This is the context of this conference. The meeting Jesus held and His instructions are found in Matthew chapter 10. He gives us the Ten Commandments for evangelism.
Know who you are called to reach.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 10:5-6).
This instruction is before the cross. Since the cross the gospel is for everyone. So we know that we should not limit our outreach to only the Jews. However, there is an important lesson found in these words: you can reach whoever you want to reach!
I hear pastors complain, “We need more young people in our church.” Well you can reach them if you want to. But you have to “become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). This means you have to become like young people to reach them. You must adapt your worship style to suit their tastes. You will have to change the style of music you are playing. It is at this point that many pastors balk: “Well, their music is not anointed. It’s sound worldly.” Then forget about reaching them. You will continue to complain that your church is getting older, but you are not willing to change to reach young people.
A pastor friend in Europe who is from Africa told me, “Pastor, as you can see my church is made up of people only from Africa. The only natural born Europeans that you see here are here because they knew you were coming. I want to reach them for Christ. How can I attract Europeans, whites, and other non-Africans to my church?”
I quizzed him, “Are you sure you want to reach them? Are you really called to reach them?” He assured me he really wanted to reach them.
I told him the hard truth, “Then you will have to radically change your worship style.” His church, though it was in Europe, sounded completely like it was from Africa. They even sang songs in their native language. I continued, “Europeans will feel like foreigners in your church. You do not make them feel like they are a part of you.”
Another example I gave him was this: that in Europe, including America, we start on time for everything. In Africa you have “African time”. He tells people the service is at 7 pm, but Africans know this means 8:30 pm. This must change if he wants to reach Europeans. Music has to change to reflect the European culture. I made the sincere pastor reflect on what it really takes to capture the people he wants to reach. In doing so, he may lose his African base. So he has to count the cost; he must be willing to pay the price to embrace a certain segment he has failed to reach.
Have a Supernatural ministry.
“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,drive out demons” (Matt 10:7-8).
The seeker sensitive movement1 got it partly right: they focused on people’s needs. Some however were skeptical of meeting those needs supernaturally through prayer. But this is what we are called to do.
Many have expressed concern for their charismatic church: “Pastor Tom, I belong to a full-gospel church yet we are not growing, yet the church across the city that does not pray for the sick is growing rapidly. I do not get it. What are we doing wrong?” The problem I have noticed is they have forgotten who they are trying to reach, the lost. They often speak Christianeze—a language an unbeliever doesn’t understand. The charismatic church gets so deep in theology; they get spooky, that sometimes, seekers or unbelievers get scared off. Yet the seeker sensitive church accomplished what the full-gospel churches were meant to do: they were meeting needs.
This is in essence what Christ is teaching. Heal the sick and drive out demons. In other words, people have needs now; go and meet their needs. Too often the charismatic church is focused on self. They are looking to get people to meet their needs, but if they would meet other people’s needs then their needs would be met. How often have we heard ministers pleading with their congregation to bring in the lost, yet if people’s needs were being met, the lost would come.
You have never seen Wal-mart send employees to your house begging you to come to Wal-mart. Why? Because Wal-mart meets people’s needs. They sell things at a low price. People know that, and so they shop there. McDonalds doesn’t send cooks to your house wondering why you stopped eating at McDonalds. They don’t need to go door to door to solicit customers. Why? They don’t need to, because they have plenty of customers that enjoy their food. Here is my point, why do we need to go door to door pleading with people to come to our church? It’s because people’s needs are not being met. If we would get back to meeting people’s needs, they would be filling our churches or attending our evangelistic meetings.
I am always thinking about people’s needs. Where are they hurting? What are their difficulties? How can Christ help them? So I preach on things that meet people’s needs, and they come by the hundreds filling my church or travel long distances to attend my meetings. Why, because their needs get met. This is what Christ was teaching us: heal the sick. Not just physical sickness but every kind of sickness—marital sickness, financial sickness, emotional sickness, spiritual sickness. When we do, they will come. Jesus did not beg people to follow Him. He had to press through crowds that were clamoring to get one touch from Him. Why? They did this because He met their needs.
The problem I have seen is there is not a focus on authentic miracles, thus many skeptics are turned off by the tactics of evangelists. Paul tells the Corinthian church to be considerate toward unbelievers or inquirers that come to church.
“So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understandcomes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor 14:23-25).
Look carefully at what Paul says and what he does not say. He does not discourage the use of the gifts of the Spirit. On the contrary, he gives an example of the proper use of the gift of prophecy and shows that “unbelievers” or “someone who does not understand” will fall down to worship God because God spoke to him through prophecy. It is my firmly held belief that even unbelievers or seekers want a touch from God. They often need to be healed or delivered. They often need a word of wisdom. Paul is not down-playing the gifts of the Spirit, but simply giving wisdom to the congregation on its proper use. The only gift he warns about is speaking in tongues. It is because this is the only gift that does not meet other people’s needs, but only the person speaking in tongues. So he limits its use in the church so unbelievers do not get scared and run away from hearing the message.
This means we ought to be seeker sensitive when the gifts are in operation, but not to the extent that we “quench the Spirit.” We simply need to help seekers understand more fully the benefits of the gifts. For example, in my church people often get very excited about praising the Lord. Many will dance in jubilation. I am aware however there are many that are uncomfortable with expressive praise, so I will “coach” the seekers in practicing praise. I might talk to them about sports where people get excited when their team wins or about dancing and how people are willing to move their bodies to music, but why not get excited about the Lord or dance before God. What’s so wrong about that? By coaching seekers in this way, they let down their resistance and go along with the congregation. They discover a new way to worship God and they have fun doing it. At the very least, they are not quick to judge the joyful praise of the people.
I might coach in the same way when we pray for the sick. I will explain briefly what we are doing and why we lay hands on the sick. Just taking a little time to explain things to seekers will put seekers more at ease.
Our church also gives newcomers a packet, and in it we explain the various strange things they might see or hear—tongues, healing, lifting hands. The packet accomplishes what my coaching would do. It gives them scriptural proof and backing as to why we do what we do and it makes them more comfortable with the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. I am simply sensitive to seekers or unbelievers questions, but I am not willing to put the brakes on the gifts of the Spirit or to try to calm the joyful praise of my church members.
Don’t be materialistic but make sure your people are taught to give.
“Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep” (Matt 10:8-10).
The number one excuse non church goers give as to why they don’t go to church is “All the church cares about is my money.” We know this is usually not true, but people perceive this to be true. Our goal is to change this false perception. First of all, the church is one of the few places people can go for free. There is no charge. Yet you do not hear people say they stopped attending movies because all Hollywood cares about is money. Yet the truth is Hollywood cares only about your money. People don’t complain that all doctors want is their money, but doctors need their money. Restaurants, department stores, service people require payment. You must pay to get their service, yet people do not seem as bothered by the world’s desire to get their money. So what’s the problem with the church? It is perception.
Jesus says, “Freely you have receive, freely give.” He wants the world to understand that the minister does not care about their money. The minister cares about their soul, their lives. They do what they do as a free service. We must do everything we can do to change the perception of unbelievers. They must understand that we do not want their money, but their souls. Then Jesus counters, “The worker is worth his keep.” There are two juxtapositions: on one hand, give freely, or the other hand, those who have received must also share with the person who has given freely. There must be balance.
This means the minister has an obligation, for the sake of the people, to teach on the importance of giving. The people cannot come to church and expect free services without the obligation to fund those free services. The minister has failed its people when he is afraid to teach on stewardship. It is the teaching on stewardship that may turn off selfish people. They may accuse you of only wanting their money, but the risk must be taken, and careful thought must be given on how to raise money without needlessly offending generous people.
Good people like to hear about the obligation to help others. They want to know about the law of seed time and harvest. People with faith enjoy hearing about God’s promises to bless those who are generous. Stingy people may not like these messages, but you cannot succumb to fear because of greedy people. Teach on the obligations and blessings of giving.
I think if the minister lives a sacrificial life and avoids over consumption then people will find it hard to accuse the man of God of preaching for money. At the same time, a minister that can barely provide for his family including his children’s education cannot bode well for the congregation. A congregation has rarely succeeded when the minister lives below the level of the congregation. Paul gives wise advice to how much to pay the pastor: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’” (1 Tim 5:17-18).
“Double honor” is required. There is no way you can read this passage and think that the minister should live beneath his congregation. While it is not wise for the minister to look like a king, it is doubly foolish to make him look like a pauper. God desires to bless us even with material goods, and so the minister should be an example of God’s desire to bless the righteous.
1 The Seeker Sensitive Movement is a church whose main purpose is to make the church look more attractive to unbelievers. The positive things cannot be overstated: use of multimedia, savvy productions, coffee shops, more casual atmosphere, messages geared toward meeting felt needs, etc. However the negative things must also be highlighted: forbidding the practice of spiritual gifts in the church service, worship oriented toward entertainment, and ignoring messages on sin, judgment and hell.
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