PREPARING A CHURCH FOR GROWTH
by JACK DeHART
While visiting in the sunny climate of Ecuador, a missionary noted the huge plants that were foreign to his native country. When he mentioned that he wanted to take some of the plant life back with him, his host replied, “You will have to take the soil as well as the Ecuadorian climate with you.” The soil and climate are vital for this tropical growth.
As the proper amount of sun, rain, and soil is so important to natural growth, there is a proper mix that must go into church-growth situations. As life does not germinate and flourish in a deep freeze, so is it with growing churches. Warmth, atmosphere, and climate are of utmost importance.
One thing is certain: no church will sustain genuine growth until it cultivates a church-growth climate. A church must be prepared for growth, just as a farmer prepares his fields to receive the seeds. Regardless of the pedigree of the seed-its heartiness and versatility-the preparation of the ground to receive the seed is imperative.
Take a trip to visit Church A and Church B. Church A, for the past ten years, has shown a slight increase. Its liturgy is predictable, and its preaching is best described as sterile. The faces of the parishioners are set and unexpressive. The service concludes with the pastor greeting each “worshiper” as he leaves.
Missing from the service was any spontaneity in the worship. There was no challenge from the pulpit, nor was there any responsiveness from the pew.
No one made his way to the front for prayer. There were no misty eyes, no warmth, no signs of life.
Church B was quite different. The liturgy was punctuated with vigor and joy. The people participated to the fullest. The pastor spoke directly to the needs of the hearer and communicated to the heart. The service concluded with commitment made to Christ, and lost people found God real to their soul.
This was the normal procedure for this church that had quadrupled over the past decade.
What was the difference in the two? One thing-atmosphere, In Church B , there was such an expectation! Such warmth! There was a feeling of heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul. There was fellowship, life, and vigor.
Church B could have actually been Church A before it was prepared for growth!
This discussion on attitude is not meant to oversimplify, for many times this is done when we seek answers. However, it is equally needless to complicate. To communicate growth to a church that has never experienced it,
one must begin with attitude.
Attitude is determined by the one who leads. If the man of God is positive, then in due time he will produce life and vibrancy among his followers. Should the pulpit be occupied by a “gloom-doom” prophet, then a heavy pall will pervade the atmosphere. No church on organization can rise above the attitude of its leader.
The story is told of the platoon leader in Vietnam. His troop had been surrounded by the enemy. The situation looked very bleak as the Viet Cong tightened the ever narrowing circle. If help did not come, they were doomed.
The leader called his men together and said, “Men, you know, as well as I do, the situation we are in. So now we are presented an opportunity to attack the enemy on all four sides!” And attack they did, breaking out of the tightened noose. How fortunate for those rag-tag soldiers that this platoon leader saw the dismal situation as an opportunity to attack on all fronts.
This type of positive attitude must pervade the inner sanctum of the preacher’s heart. We are surrounded by the enemy! The destructive influence of secular humanism, the materialistic grappling of status-seeking people, the growth of Eastern religions, and church members with no commitment slip an ever-tightening noose around the neck of the man of God. What can we do? We, as the platoon leader, can see this as an opportunity to attack!
Almost every failure situation in church life can be traced back to negative leadership, to men who cannot see the “forest for the trees,” to men who have never learned that their proverbial “lemon” experiences can be turned into cooling, thirst-staking lemonade.
The victory attitude will be projected largely in preaching. It matters not how learned a man of God is; if he possesses a positive approach to the pulpit, he can infuse and inflame a congregation. People who hear him will leave with a lighter heart and a lift to their step.
How fortunate that congregation is who has a God called, heaven-anointed, positive preacher! He does not have to have the flamboyance of a TV evangelist, or a well-worn rhetoric of a backslapping politician. He may be very plain, but if he knows and possesses “faith talk” that seeps out of his conversation and personal life, his congregation is fortunate. They do not have to listen to excuse making, whining apologies, and teary-eyed exhortation to “tie a knot in the end of the rope and hold on.”
Many God-called preachers, like Ezekiel, have been set down in situations that are “a valley which was full of bones”-very dry, very dead,and very hopeless-that is, until the man of God, like Ezekiel, begins to prophesy. If a preacher will preach from the heart, regardless of the condition, with faith in his heart and a burden in his soul, there will be “a noise, and behold a shaking, and bones will come together, bone to his bone.”
Dead churches can be resurrected; negative congregations can be infused with “we-can-ism.” Dormant church members can discover their gifts and calling in God and can become fruit-producing Christians! This will never happen, however, until the man of God begins to boldly declare that it can and will happen. We must say to those mountains, “Mountain, be thou removed and cast into the sea,” Jesus said it would move! It would happen! Positive preaching will make it happen!
When one reads of the great revival under John Wesley, he is impressed by several things. He is impressed with his use of prayer groups to pave the way for his evangelistic thrusts. It is also seen how he mobilized and used the “layman” to evangelize effectively. Many so-called “lay preachers” sprang up and were mightily used of God in local revivals.
One great point was made. John Wesley refused to allow these “lay preachers” to preach on what he called “notions.” A notion is described as “a general impression or feeling.” Mr. Wesley had a list of notions that he strictly refused to allow these men to preach. He insisted that the men proclaim the gospel of the grace of God, that they stick to the Book!
This advice is needed today from leadership. Too many notions are expounded as doctrine and become accepted as “law and gospel.” It must be seen that notion-permeated, issue-oriented preaching does not produce church growth. It stymies, thwarts, and chokes growth. It does not encourage, uplift, and build the body. Notions divide, isolate, and destroy fellowship. They engender phariseeism, an “holier-than-thou” attitude. Notions cause saints to turn inward, spending so much time polishing their halos and congratulating one another on not being like the rest of the “church world” that they have no time to carry out the Great Commission.
It might be well for all of us to adopt the philosophy of the Early Church that was developed at its first council. The primitive fellowship had been rent with the main issue of circumcision and other tributary issues. They did not overreact on the issue of circumcision and other tributary issues. They did not overreact on the “notions” of some. They, after careful deliberation, prayerfully rendered, “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled,and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fareye well” (Acts 15:28-29). The church’s simple statement of Christian living should be a rule for us all , and could be summarized in the two points below:
(1) Don’t partake of things that could be construed by others to be wrong and sinful, thus causing a stumbling block.
(2) Keep your life morally clean.
The primitive church felt if one followed these two principles, he had
a full-time job. It would be sad to sit under the ministry of one who is
obsessed with issue-oriented, notion-dominated preaching. It wounds the soul
and breaks the spirit, giving no room for personal growth.
The time demands that we be set aflame to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. Genuine repentance and separation from sin should be strongly proclaimed. Biblical church ordinances should be expounded. A clear voice should be heard, rather than the constant sound of the harper, harping on nonessential notions.
Sam Jones was reported to have said, “Every preacher ought to be against something, even if it is bubble gum , buttermilk , or chocolate bars.” Surely there is enough for us to be against without adding our “notions.”
The Spiritual Climate
Spiritual climate is important in preparing a church for growth. Uplifting worship must be the rule rather than the exception. Prayer and praise are as vital to church growth as sun and rain are to the flower.
Those who are sticklers for “tradition” in worship will have some problems. The Holy Spirit in the Scriptures has been likened to “rivers of living waters.” Those who must have predictable, set liturgy are in trouble.
Pentecostals emphasize the fact that we are not like denominationalism-rigid and set in its liturgy.
It is well noted that worship services can be in a rut without a printed program or hymns listed on a hymn board at the front. They can become three songs, five testimonies, one special, and an hour sermon, week in and week out. If so, we have done the same thing we condemned. Where is the uplifting, exhilarating, rather unpredictable worship that gives leeway to that “rushing river” of the Holy Ghost?
A good season of worship in a spiritual atmosphere blesses, refreshes, and challenges. Many of our “problems” also can be alleviated by this “mighty river” of worship. It dispels fear and washes away hate. It brings together people who have been alienated. It clears the fog, renounces doubts, and restores clear thinking.
When one examines growing churches, there may be certain variables.
Styles of leadership, for example, may vary. Two diametrically opposite leadership styles can produce the same results. A classic example of this can be seen in the two coaching philosophies of two Cotton Bowl teams. One of the coaches from the Southwest Conference was a classic disciplinarian. His bark through the bullhorn could be heard all across the practice field, along with the clank of helmets, the rattle of shoulder pads, and the grunts and groans of strength against strength. This demanding coach drove his recruits, requiring bed checks at night and other disciplines.
The other coach, representing a mighty, independent power that was always in the top ten, approached the game differently. He stood on the sideline or in his tower, watching his assistants work various phases of the game. There were no bed checks and a minimum of rules. He would say, “Men, you are just that-men. You know you cannot stay up all night and play championship ball. I’m depending on you to use your good judgment and get to bed so you can be effective.”
What a difference in coaching philosophies. They had one thing in common: they were both winners!
There is another element that will remain constant, however: The growing church is always a praying church.
Long ago, Jehovah God spoke to His people. It was a glorious time of revival and blessing. Solomon’s great temple to Jehovah had been built and dedicated. The presence of God was there in such a degree that “fire came down from heaven” and consumed the burnt offerings and sacrifices “and the glory of the LORD filled the house.” The Scripture further relates that the priests could not enter into the Temple because of the Shekinah. It was then that God made Israel a promise through Solomon, saying:
If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; if my people, which are called by name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (II Chronicles 7:13-14)
The 90s can be a tremendous decade of “Soul Harvest”!