March 30, 2011

5 Marks of a Revived Church: Growth

Over the past few weeks we have looked at the marks of a Revived Church as found in Acts 2:42-47. It says...
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Out of these we have drawn our 5 Marks:

  • Truth
  • Worship
  • Community
  • Growth
  • Mission

The 5 Marks are the principles that will guide us as we start this new church here in Huber Heights. So we have been studying each Mark, and then looking at what they mean for the vision of Crossroads Vineyard.

This morning we are looking at the Mark of Growth.

Talking to a church about the need to grow has always been tough for me...not so much the need to grow spiritually, but the need to grow numerically. In a way it is like tithing...it can sound self-serving...like I’m trying to build my own Kingdom.

I believe wholeheartedly that churches should grow by reaching its community with the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s love for them...but I have always hated that it has started with the idea of growing a church.

When I was part of the Church of the Nazarene, almost every district meeting I attended spent time encouraging pastors to grow their church and talking strategies of how to do that. Add in the pastor’s conferences, books, and magazine articles about “How to Grow Your Church”...and pretty soon you start looking at the numbers and believing your worth and value as a pastor and person are determined by the size of you church.

I believe, however, that while we must talk about growing as a church...it doesn’t have to start or end with a numerical discussion. Because we are not talking about building my Kingdom or even Crossroads Vineyard Church...we are talking about extending the influence of God’s Kingdom.

As I was thinking and praying about this message, I realized that when we talk about growth...we are talking about something much deeper. We don’t grow by thinking about growing and focusing on the growth itself. We grow by focusing on building a healthy church that seeks after God and loves people.

I’m a horrible gardener. I can almost kill a plant just by looking at it...it is my superpower! But I do know that plants grow as a result of being healthy...having the right soil, the right amount of sun, the right nutrients...water. Their growth is in two key areas: a strong root system and also by reaching out farther and higher.

Building a healthy church should be our starting point. Growth is a natural result of a healthy organism, and healthy churches grow. We need to grow stronger internally and we need to grow stronger by reaching out farther and farther with God’s love and forgiveness.

Growth happens when we focus on being a healthy church and doing what God commands not on the growth itself.

This world and this community needs healthy churches that take seriously the call to expand the Kingdom of God. People need to hear about Jesus, accept His loving forgiveness, find healing for their hurts, and know that God loves them. We, need to grow up, to mature in our faith so that we can be all that God has called us to, and so we can fulfill our part of His mission to rescue this world.

For us, growth will show up in two key areas: Evangelism (Kingdom growth) and Discipleship (maturity growth). We grow out AND we grow up.

Before we look at Evangelism and Discipleship...we have to look at one key component.

Growth starts with our leaders.

Organizations live or die because of its leadership. Movements get started, and soon fall apart for lack of leadership.

I was part of a small group that used to meet twice-a-month. For the first few months, things went very well. We had a book we studied. The leader was prepared. We were focused. But then the leader stopped leading, and no one stepped up. We continued meeting for a while...having dinner together...but because no one would take leadership we weren’t focused and had no direction. We eventually stopped meeting and lost contact.

Leadership is important, and it is especially important to church health. Churches are healthy or toxic because of the leadership. So leaders must be growing spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and in their leadership ability. Crossroads Vineyard will not grow much beyond the level at which we can lead. So, if the leaders are not growing...we can not grow.

This message series grew out of a period of growth for me. I realized the need to have a more cohesive vision of the future for Crossroads. I had a lot of thoughts and ideas, but nothing concrete. I hadn’t really laid out a vision for where we were going over the next couple of years, and what I believe God wanted us to work toward. So I started praying, and God challenged me to step up and articulate some of things He had laid upon my heart. They have become part of this message series shaped by Acts 2:42-47.

The health of this church depends upon me and its leaders passionately pursuing God and stretching themselves to grow in our ability to lead.

And being committed to building a healthy church that grows means...

We are committed to Evangelism

Rebecca Pippert in her book Out of the Salt Shaker & Into the World writes, "Christians and non-Christians have something in common. We're all uptight about evangelism."

We don’t like to do evangelism and non-Christians don’t like to be evangelized...and it’s because evangelism has been turned turned into a technique or method that is more sales oriented than love based. It has been reduced to a decision instead of helping a person realize God loves them. And it has created false guilt for many of us because we know we are called to evangelized, but don’t want to do that kind of evangelism!

We have this vision of what someone who evangelizes is like. I want to introduce you to someone who breaks that mold.

God has called everyone of His followers to be an evangelist...but that term has become so bogged down with bad connotations and false ideas of what it means that we shy away from it. But evangelism doesn’t have to be a confrontation and it certainly shouldn’t take place with an impersonal tract left on a restaurant table.

If we follow the biblical example, evangelism is personal and loving. It respects the person, and doesn’t force itself upon them. God’s grace gives people time to make a decision to follow Him, not based upon fear or guilt, but because He loves them and wants their love.

I don’t know about you, but I am compelled to reach out to others because I know what God’s love has done for of me. I know how His forgiveness has transformed my life, and I want others to experience that.

At Crossroads Vineyard we are not seeking more people just to say, “Look how big our church is.” We want to be able to say, “Look at what God has done...how many lives have been transformed by His presence.”

We are striving to be a healthy church that grows because we are reaching out to our community and people are becoming followers of Christ, being loved and cared for, and their hurts are being healed. We are not looking to be the best church in our community...we are looking to be the best church FOR our community.

Being committed to building a healthy church that grows also means...

We are committed to Discipleship

Evangelism is not the end of our responsibility as a church. We are not seeking to get a decision...we are trying to make disciples. In order to understand the difference between decision-getting and disciple-making we have to look at a common misconception in our modern church.

The Bible never speaks of “being saved” in the way many talk about it. We talk about saying a Sinner’s prayer to be saved, and it often has the idea of buying a ticket guaranteeing we won’t go to hell. Almost like a contract we sign with God...we signed on the line with our prayer and God guarantees we go to heaven.

The Bible, however, talks about following and being in relationship with Jesus; reminding us that this is an ongoing thing. It is not just a single-moment in time...it is a journey.

These are two very different understandings of “being saved;” one biblical and one not. In one we say the prayer, and we are good. As a result many “Christian’s” lives don’t reflect Christ at all because they are only seeking to escape hell or get into heaven, and they really don’t want anything to do with Jesus or His way of doing life.

In the other, the biblical approach, it is a relationship. It began, maybe with a sinner’s prayer, but the person began following Jesus. They don’t get things perfect, but they are seeking to do life in the way Jesus would.

One is a decision...the other is a disciple, and God wants disciples. Being a disciple means that our lives are being transformed to look more and more like Jesus. It means, as the Apostle Paul says, that we are being renewed by the transformation of our minds. It means Scripture, prayer, and ministry become foundational to how we define ourselves as Christians. It means our lives are more shaped by a desire to live out the mission of God than it is to live the American Dream.

Conclusion

Our mission as a church is to reach out to people with God’s love and forgiveness and help them grow in their faith. We will be a church that helps people take their next step closer to God. There are people who need God’s love and forgiveness, they need what we have, and we get to be the people who Go as His witnesses and make disciples of all nations.

Our evangelism will be personal and loving. We are an outward-focused church that goes into our community to make a difference. We will be compassionate and loving toward others; respecting their views, listening to them, and lovingly caring for them.

  • I believe we can be a church of 400 people by year 5.
  • This means making room for about 120 children and teenagers and 280 adults...who need Jesus.
  • Outward Focused Servant Evangelism to show God’s love in a practical way.
  • During the summer, I would love for teams of people to hold 10 Neighborhood Meet and Greets by the end of this year. Invite your neighbors over for a picnic or block party, and we will give each team $100 to help them hold a get to know your neighbor event.
  • Each year we will hold a couple of major “invite-worthy” events and Message series’ a year for you to invite people. (I will be on my best behavior, etc.)

Because growing the influence of the Kingdom of God is not limited to our congregation...I believe we can plant a new church in the next 5 years and even more in following years.

  • We will need church planters recruited, trained, and released to plant churches.
  • We will need teams of people to go with them consisting of trained worship leaders, children’s pastors, and evangelism coordinators.
  • We will need to be praying for the top areas where God wants us to put churches over the next few years.

We cannot be content with just getting decisions...we have to help people grow and learn to do life as Jesus’ followers.

  • to have 75% of our people engaged in regular spiritual deepening opportunities: Christian Life Classes, Yearly Bible Reading program, Small Groups, etc.
  • I believe a key component of growing in Christ is regular, private times spent with God. My goal is to provide resources to help you spend quality, private time with God, and help people do this 4 or more days a week. I want to do a spiritual disciplines class to help us discover new ways of spending time in God’s presence.
  • Over the next year we will offer Spiritual Growth and Deepening Classes to help people grow in their faith...eventually building a whole course of study. I believe that Bible and theology classes will help us grow our minds and better understand the Bible...leading to deeper discipleship.
  • We will regularly challenge people to step out of their comfort zone and stretch themselves in serving and ministry in order to grow. You will be challenged to serve because all the knowledge in the world is useless unless we are putting feet to it and serving. People grow when they are serving. If you want to be a leader...start serving.

Our goal is to extend the influence of God’s Kingdom and Mission into our world.

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