There is Church Growth and There Is Church Growth

by Wayne Barber

There is a lot being said in these days about "church growth." Many churches have become not much more than corporations with a group of executives sitting in a "think tank" coming up with ideas of how to increase the crowd, the budget, and the image the church has in the community. Some say that if you properly "direct" the church with a specific purpose then it will surely succeed and grow; others say that if you "organize" the church then that will have a profound impact on it's growth; and still others say that if you "structure your services so that no one is offended" success will follow. The sad thing to me is that most of these methods work as far as man's judgment of "growth" is concerned. Any corporation would be proud of the end results

But, can a person, or group of individuals, truly grow anything? I asked a man, who was a farmer for years before God called him into the ministry, if a farmer could grow anything. His reply was definite: "no, absolutely not." All a farmer can do is work the field, plant the seed, and then water what has been planted. Only God can cause the growth. Isn't that what Paul said? "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth" (1 Cor. 3:6 NASB). The Greek verb translated "was causing the growth" is in the imperfect tense, signifying action that was continually going on in the past.

When Paul, and later Apollos, were pastoring the Corinthian church, there was "growth" taking place. The word for growth is auxno, which always refers to what God only can do. Paul says in verse five that he and Apollos were only vessels that God was using: "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one" (1 Cor. 3:5). In fact, Paul was not in the least enamored with "who he was and what he could do": "So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth" (v. 7).

Neither the vessel nor the method, then, are the important things when it comes to "growth." Instead, it is God working in and through the vessel that is the key. Now, this brings up something very important. If it is God who is causing the growth, then He and only He can measure the growth. You see, God's standard may not be the same standard that we use. Numbers, money, buildings, even good teaching and emotional experiences may not necessarily be the evidences that God is truly doing something among His people.

In the next several articles, I want to explore this subject from God's Word. (to be continued)

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