… in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together … Eph 2:21-22
We hear a lot these days about church growth – its remains ‘big business,’ even in today’s trying economic times. Usually when churches think about their growth or lack thereof, it is linked to an increase, stagnation or decline in numbers, the stability of their financial condition, or issues relating to building size and property. It is the quite common at Pastors’ conferences to be asked the question, “how many people attend your church?” as if the numbers were a gauge of importance or influence. But it is interesting how little the New Testament talks about this kind of church growth, and how often it speaks of the increase of the ‘word.’ A concordance search of “the word” reveals nearly 30 occurrences in the book of Acts where “the word” is linked to the growth of the early church (see Acts 4:4, 6:7, 8:4, 12:24, 13:49, 17:13, 19:20, 20:32 as examples). As the Word increased, as far as we can tell, the size of individual New Testament congregations usually remained small, unimpressive gatherings, meeting in homes. The New Testament emphasizes church growth as ‘gospel growth,’ as the gospel is preached and taught under the power of the Spirit; and the only growth that has any significance in God’s plans is the personal growth of individual believers, and their unity and common fellowship together. For examples of this, read about the growth of the Colossian church in Col. 1:5-10, 2:6-7, the growth among the church at Thessalonica in 1 Thes 3:12-4:12, and in Ephesus in Eph. 4:11-16.
Recently, grand poohbah of the church-growth movement, Bill Hybels found out what many knew all along – that you cannot successfully repackage the church. The church only grows in the manner that the Bible reveals. It has been reported that Hybel’s Willow Creek church has admitted that the “seeker sensitive” approach to having church, has failed to satisfy stronger Christian disciples; so they were seeking to implement changes in their services that will minister more to disciples (Willow Creek’s ‘Huge Shift’ Christianity Today May 15, 2008). I find much of the same ideology of the seeker-sensitive movement alive and well within the “missional” and “emergent” churches of today, which I will discuss more in the sermon.
Our text in Ephesians reveals some essential principles of church growth. First we must understand that the church’s stability and direction lay upon its chief cornerstone, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the supporting superstructure, upon whom, along with the Scripture (the words of the apostles and prophets), the church is built. But while the foundation is unchanging, there is nothing static about the edifice itself – the church must grow, or else it will remain a barren foundation. Growth upon its foundation is dependent then upon a vital union between the building and its foundation (Christ and His disciples). The church is being fitted together in Christ. But then also it consists of what are, in the words of Peter (1 Pet 2:5), living stones – believers. Each living stone makes its contribution to the growth and beauty of the building, as they are harmoniously fitted together. So the church gradually and continually rises upon its foundation in the closest possible associations, through active fellowship. This building project of the church will continue until the day of the consummation of all things.
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