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God's Plan for Church Growth (2 Cor 3:5-8)
Growing God's Church
God’s Plan for Church Growth
1 Corinthians 3:5-8
 
Must has been presented and practiced over the last 50 years or so in what is referred to as "the church growth movement". It all began back in 1970, when a little known former missionary to India named Donald McGavran, who had become dean of the newly formed school of world missions at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, published a book that rocked the evangelical church world.
 
The book was called Understanding Church Growth. It was written from his observations of growing churches in India and what they did to grow and was offered as a manual for replicating growth in North American churches.
 
His premise was two-fold: church growth must be seen “primarily as faithfulness to God”; and theologically, God requires churches to grow. Now what they meant and I think what he intended it to say was that churches must grow and if they don't they are unfaithful to God. And what that essentially boils down to is the responsibility for growth falls squarely on the church.
 
A few years later, a man named C. Peter Wagner wrote Your Church Can Grow in which he amplified many of McGavran’s ideas and added a few of his own. Then, in 1981, independent Baptist educators and authors Elmer Towns and John Vaughn got involved and co-authored a book called The Complete Book of Church Growth.
 
At the same time, churches like Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathdral and Jack Hayford's Church on the Way as well as John MacArthur's Grace Community Church were rising in popularity and became models for effective church growth. So the movement spanned the realm of Christian churches from the most fundament to the most charismatic. And as history has shown, many of those models were built on personality more than scriptural principles, but nonetheless they grew.
 
Numbers in churches soared as leaders put these newly discovered church growth principles into practice. And the assumption was if you just followed certain procedures or did what the big boys in California were doing, you could grow a church.
 
However, one glaring Scriptural truth was left out of most of that movement and that is the church is not responsible for its growth—God is. I offer one solitary verse as evidence. It is found in
 
Matthew 16:18
 
Beginning today, I want to introduce you to a series of studies we'll do over the next few weeks regarding church growth and I want that verse to be in the foreground as we consider this subject.
 
You and I both know what it is to be belittled and shamed for not doing our part to grow the church. I've attended evangelism conferences where, if you didn't baptize the entire town and half the county where you pastor, you come away feeling like you could sit on the edge of a piece of paper and dangle your legs off!
 
But one of the greatest realizations I ever came to as a pastor is that it is not my responsibility to grow the church. So right up front, I want you to know, I'm not going to shame anybody or embarrass anybody or belittle anybody for what they're doing or not doing. I just want us to learn together what it means and what is our responsibility when it comes to church growth.
 
On the flip side, I also know what it is to face resistance to church growth. The things that are essential for a church and Sunday School to grow are never welcomed. The decisions that have to be made are always met with resistance.
 
This year our nominating committee sought to address some of our needs with a slight restructure of our Sunday School, and already the resistance has begun. It's never easy or simple to adjust for growth.
 
However, if you agree that God wants churches to reach people, but you are resistant to change, I would just suggest that you honestly access what we're currently doing and consider how that's working. I just finished crunching the numbers on the church year just coming to an end. And at first glance, it looks pretty decent.
 
Between September 1 of last year and August 31 of this year, we baptized 19 people and had another 10 join by letter or statement. But of those 19, 7 of those baptized were already church members who were re-baptized. And while I am eternally thankful they've got things settled, my point is, they were already here and attending and involved.
 
In addition to that, we had 8 who passed away and another 7 that lettered out to other churches. That leaves a net increase of 6.
 
In the last 52 weeks, we met over 150 times for preaching and Bible study, spent a half-million dollars, made the names of hundreds of prospects available for outreach, conducted camps and Bible school, and the net increase was 6.
 
And you're going to resist making changes to try and change that reality?
 
I'm afraid we've come to a place wehre we've convinced ourselves we're doing okay. Things are fine the way they are, and as a result, most churches, perhaps this one included, are content to just with the status quo, blaming our current plateau or decline on such things as the times in which we live or the indifference to religion.
 
Surely, this is not what Christ had in mind when He said, "I will build My church!" So what did He have in mind? Well, let's explore that by thinking about Growing God's Church God's Way for God's Glory. And we'll begin today with God's Plan for Church Growth.
 
Now, as we've already seen, Jesus told Peter and the disciples after Peter offered the confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, “I say unto you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it”.
 
So point #1 is
 
1. Only God Can Grow the Church
 
And, by the way, God takes the responsibility for the growth of the church. That means it is not dependent upon personalities or programs or exciting new principles. It's not dependent on the latest push from the Baptist Building or Lifeway. Church growth is God's department.
 
So does that mean that the church is to just be neutral toward growth? Are we just a flower pot sitting on a shelf? Obviously not, for the same Christ Who declared He would build His church is the same Christ that told the church to go into the world and develop disciples.
 
So to say only God can grow the church does not mean that we, as the body of Christ just sit idly by and do nothing. There are a lot of things we can do to be a part of that process, as we'll see today. But I will remind you there is a vast difference between what we grow through man-centered methods and strategies and what God grows so that He alone gets the glory.
 
That’s what we see in
 
1 Corinthians 3:5-8
 
Now, to understand the text we read, it is helpful to know what Paul has been talking about leading up to this passage. In chapter 1, we learn he is addressing a problem the Corinthian church was having with division and disunity in the church.
 
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
 
In other words, these petty divisions and factions are detracting away from the central responsibility of preaching the message and gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
There we discover that the primary purpose of the church in the world is to preach Christ crucified and depend upon the power of the Spirit to transform lives. If you read the rest of chapters 1 and 2, you will find him contrasting the foolishness of preaching with the wisdom of the world.
 
Apparently, then, like today, they believed they could win people to Christ and grow the church if they were just slick enough and shrewd enough. And Paul knew that people could be manipulated by human wisdom, but if that's why they came to Christ, their faith would have been misplaced. They would be the product of the wisdom of men and not the power of God evident in the preaching of the cross of Christ.
 
So, in essence, Paul is correcting their misunderstanding of how the church grows.
And in a word, he sums it up by saying, chapter 3, verse 7, God gives the increase. Only God can grow the church.
 
So how does God grow the church? What is the plan or design He follows and honors? This passage gives us some help with that. Amazingly,
 
1. God uses people to grow the church
 
verse 6
 
 
Notice, Paul was planting and Apollos was watering. those are not unimportant tasks. They are a vital part of church growth. But the problem was the Corinthians had focused on personalities. They were bragging about being disciples of Paul and Apollos and Peter.
 
And Paul is simply reminding them that instead of giving God the glory for their salvation, they're out on the streets of Corinth boasting about being followers of Paul and these other guys.
 
Notice his question in
 
1 Corinthians 3:4
 
Carnal simply means it's not spiritual. It's not the behavior of a child of God to be so devoted to a fellow human. His question, then, sets the stage for his application. What he wants them to realize is
while God uses people, the church’s devotedness must never be to personalities but rather to Christ.
 
verse 5
 
Apollos and Paul were both uniquely gifted personalities with specific spiritual gifts that made them powerful tools in Kingdom work, but the church was not to lose sight of the fact that they were nothing more than God's tools.
 
And unfortunately, we tend to gravitate toward a personality, to rely upon that person instead of hearing and relying upon the message of truth that they have spoken.
 
I've watched for years as people have refused to leave a Sunday School class and promote up to the next age group simply because they like their Sunday School teacher.
 
There's nothing wrong with liking your Sunday School teacher. I think you should. But if we aren't careful we can become more devoted to the person than the message they are sharing. Sometimes we can be more concerned about staying with a teacher than we are hearing from God.
 
It just might be God wants to use a different tool to teach us or use us in a new and different way to minister to other people, but we dig our heels in and declare we will never move. Why? Because I'm of Paul or Apollos!
 
And by the way, sometimes teachers can kind of get to liking their popularity! For those of us who have the responsibility of teaching and influencing lives, there can grow a need to be appreciated and valued and if we aren't careful, we'll get to thinking more of ourselves than we ought to. And when that happens, we need to be reminded of what we read in
 
verse 7
 
Before you get to big for your britches, you need to realize, "You ain't nothing!" Those whom God is pleased to use to proclaim the gospel to a church have one standing: Nothing! Just give us a few years and we'll all be gone, replaced by a younger and more talented model.
 
Now before you get to feeling insulted by that, just think about the massive influence had by Paul and Apollos in the early church.
 
Paul is not insulting the servant or even evaluating the contribution. He is simply making the statement that when it comes to growing believers and developing a church, we're nothing because God is the only One who causes the growth of the church.
 
And I just have an idea our pulpits and Sunday school classes would be a whole lot better off if we as pastors and teachers were reminded of this verse every time we preach or teach.
 
The nasty tendency of pride in those who stand before God’s people to teach or preach is to elevate themselves in their own estimation. Sometimes, those heaping undue praise upon them helps to increase this spirit of pride.
 
Does this mean that it is inappropriate to express appreciation or extend honor to those who teach us? No, in fact, we are told to show honor to whom it is due.
 
But there is a great difference between appropriate honor and unhealthy allegiance. Remember, if the best that the early church had to offer in Paul and Apollos, and they were nothing, so too are those who teach and preach today.
 
One other thing Paul addresses is found in
 
verse 8
 
Remember, he is writing to warn them about divisions and factions. And most of the time, divisions come though competitiveness. And Paul's assessment is all that could be eliminated if we just came to understand we are on the same team!
 
Those who serve together and teach together should do so in oneness. Paul reminds the Corinthians that Apollos and he were not competing with each other to see who could get the largest following. In other words, in Christian work there is never a place for competition against each other to gain more followers.
 
That is seen so much between churches that it's kind of sickening. We have to compare baptism and church attendance records and we delight if we have more in attendance or baptized more or got more money than the church down the road.
 
I want you to know it thrills me when I hear about other churches that are doing well and reaching people for Christ. The devil is alive and well and hard at work and I rejoice in what anyone is doing to advance the Kingdom of God.
 
Shame on us when we are jealous of another's blessing and faithfulness. Shame on us when we are possessive of our members as if no one else could teach as well as us or minister to them as we can.
 
We ought to praise God and be encouraged by the fact that we are not alone in the work instead of trying to compete with them. Our competition is with the world, the flesh, and the devil, not other churches and other member who preach Christ!
 
Instead, we ought to pray for those other churches and link our arms together in preaching Christ locally and around the world as God uses people to join Him in growing the church. We ought to encourage our fellow teachers and servants and do all we can to make sure they are blessed and used by God.
 
And notice how these people are used. God alone can grow the church, He uses people and just to build on what I just said, He uses them in a
 
3. Cooperative, Layered Growth Strategy
 
verses 6-8
 
Three times in these verses, Paul mentions planting and watering as the means that God uses to grow His church. Obviously, Paul is thinking in agrarian terms. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, in the next section he uses building terms and how each one builds on the foundation of Christ with various building materials.
 
But here, the picture is out on the farm and his
illustration is very simple, easy to understand and to the point. Someone plants, someone else waters, someone else weeds and cultivates, someone else fertilizes but ultimately, and God causes the growth.
 
When I was a kid, my parents and grandparents always planted a garden and I've watched Paul's illustration play out on a number of occasions as daddy would get the tiller out and turn the soil and lay out the rows and put the seeds and plants in the ground.
 
It was often my job to carry a little coffee can full of water and after mom or dad planted the seeds, I'd give them a little drink of water. Then after the planting was done, I'd take a garden hose and lay it at the end of the row and let the water makes its way down through the plants. And when it reached the end of the row, I'd move it over to the next row until everything had been watered
 
When I was a teenager, dad decided to plant a hay patch and where he wanted it to be, there was an old oilfield road bed that he discovered when he plowed. It became my job to go down there after school and pick up the chunks of oil and gravel and rock that he had overturned so they wouldn't interfere with the growth of the Sudan hay we were planting.
 
And I can tell you from personal experience, we put hours and hours into preparing the soil and planting the seed and applying the fertilizer and providing the water, but only God could make them grow.
 
Paul said that it is exactly how it is with church growth. That means our marching orders are found in planting and watering and fertilizing. Sometimes, we've got to get the rocks out of the way. Sometimes we've got to work the soil until it's ready to be planted.
 
Sometimes we've got to make sure there's plenty of water being applied. And we've got to work together with others and apply layer upon layer of work and care until ultimately the harvest comes in.
 
 
That means, as I said a moment ago, we are not a potted plant sitting on the porch waiting for God to do something but rather we are His strategic partners, using the means that He has given us to layer the ministry of the gospel among people until the Lord is pleased to cause that layering to produce gospel fruit.
 
We are to actively engage in preaching, teaching, witnessing, serving, praying, caring, befriending, and modeling, the gospel of Christ, as we labor in the work of the Lord.
 
I read a recent testimony from Nik Ripken, the missionary featured in "The Insanity of God" in which he said a study he did of a thousand former Muslims who had come to faith in Christ, showed that on average, they had thirty different layers of gospel influence before they believed the gospel.
 
It might have been someone giving them a tract or a Jesus video or Scripture or reading Scripture or praying for them or receiving answered prayer or having a dream about Jesus or hearing a Christian testimony or watching a Christian live out the uniqueness found in the gospel.
 
But layer upon layer, the faithful of God were used to bring them to faith in Jesus Christ. We could learn a lot from that testimony. If we go out at all, we go one time and if no one responds, we're discouraged. After all, nobody wants people coming to their door anymore! God doesn't use door to door visitation anymore. We've got all these excuses we like to through around.
 
But you never know where you are in the layering of those contacts. Talk to Kristen Anderson about that.
 
When she was 17 and grounded by her parents, she snuck out one night to spend time with a friend. Rather than returning home to angry parents, she made the impulsive decision to lay down on some railroad tracks just before the train got there.
 
The conductor said to the engineer, "Did you see that yellow flash?", and that flash was Kristen. The police report says that 33 freight train cars went over her at 55 miles per hour. She said, "When it was going over me, I felt pain, but more than anything I felt a tremendous weight or wind pushing me down. When it stopped, I opened my eyes and I started to look around to figure out if I was dead or alive. I didn’t know what it was like to die. I’d only seen it in movies. I just didn’t know what to think."
 
"I looked behind on my right and about ten feet behind me on my right, I saw my legs. And I knew they were my legs because I had these new bright, white tennis shoes on them that I had just gotten for Christmas, and it just seemed unreal to me. It seemed like it was a horrible nightmare."
 
There was a serious of tragic events leading up t her suicide attempt. She lost four of her friends—one had a brain tumor, two died in a car accident, and one hanged himself in a cemetery. Later, her grandmother died and she decided to end it all.
 
Things didn't improve much after that. She was in the hospital for three months. Doctors tried to re-attach her legs, but they were unsuccessful.
After a number of surgeries, Kristen was told she’d probably be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She said, "I just started to cry out to God and for the first time, I asked Him why He would keep me here, why He would want me, even without my legs," she says.
 
Then, a woman came up to her who she didn’t know, who had heard about what happened to me and told me that I would have went to hell if I died," she recalls.
 
This sent Kristen searching for the truth. She’d grown up in the church, but God always seemed far-off. The concept of a “personal relationship with Jesus” and a loving God was totally foreign to her.
 
Then a friend of Kristen’s showed her God’s Word. And that explained everything."
 
"John 14:6 was the verse that stood out to me the most. And when Jesus says, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. There’s no way to the father, but through Me.' And so I knew that the Father was in Heaven. Heaven was where I wanted to know I would have went.
 
But I came to the understanding that I would have been sent to hell if I died. So I realized at that moment that God had given me a second chance to go to Heaven and spend eternity with Him. So, that night is when I became a Christian—I decided to give my life to the Lord. And I prayed. I just realized that my life wasn’t mine to take that night, and I asked Him to forgive me for that and everything else I’d done wrong in life."
 
Even with a second chance on life, the next three years were tough. There were more surgeries—more medicine, more depression, and still more thoughts of suicide.
 
"I didn’t realize how important it was to have Christian friends or be a part of a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church. And another thing I didn’t understand was how important it was for me to be in God’s Word every single day."
 
It all started to make sense when Kristen met a Christian woman in the parking lot at her local college.
 
"She just shined with the love and light of Christ like no one I’d met before that point, and I just had the greatest conversation with her. And when i went home, I was like, 'God, I want to know You the way that lady knew You.' And He basically just told me, 'Kristen, you have to let me be your best friend.' I was still going to all my friends and my family with my problems before I would go to Him."
 
"Overnight I was like, 'Okay, I’m going to let You [God] be my best friend here.' And I just really really learned what it meant to follow Him as my Lord and keep Him number one in my life," Kristen says.
 
Kristen started attending church on a regular basis – and helping with both the high school and young adult groups. She enrolled in Moody Bible School and then started Reaching You Ministries. That’s where she works today. Her goal is to keep people from the deep despair that can sometimes lead to suicide.
 
Isn't that amazing? A series of tragedies, leading to despair from which God saved her, then, one after the other, people began to plant and water in her life.
 
And I tell you that story simply to remind you to
just be faithful to take advantage of the opportunities God gives and let Him worry about growing the crop!
 
Those ladies who introduced Kristen to God and ministered to her as she grew in her faith remind me that God alone can grow the church, and he uses people through this layered, cooperative approach. But we need to be reminded
 
4. God's Plan Requires a Servant Mentality
 
verse 5
 
I think a better word to use to help us understand the verse is to substitute "servants" in the place of "ministers". There's nothing wrong with the word "ministers", it's just that most Christians don't think of themselves in that way.
 
All of us are ministers and all of us have a ministry. We just kind of keep that image at arm's length. So instead of the word "ministers" let's use "servants".
 
Now if you have a problem visualizing yourself as a servant of God, then you've really got a problem. And unfortunately, there are many today who consider themselves to good to do the menial tasks of the church. They've never come to see themselves as servants in the kingdom, therefore, they never serve.
But Jesus himself said, "I didn't come to be served, but to serve and give Myself a ransom for many." So if you're too good to serve, I guess you've classified yourself as being better, even than God Himself.
 
And remember, when we read verse 5, this is Paul talking about Apollos and himself. As far as the early church is concerned, these two are the headline preachers. They are the supreme communicators of God's Word.
 
And yet, despite their powerful influence for the gospel and their sound theological teaching, Paul says, "Let me tell you who we are. We are nothing more than servants used by God to share the gospel with you."
 
In fact, a literal translation would be “table servants”. They were nothing more than the “waiters” who bring the food. God is the giver and producer of the food.
 
And you know as well as I, everything about that runs counter to what our flesh likes. It was counter to the culture in Paul's day and it's counter to the culture in our day as well to consider ourselves to be servants.
 
We like being served and recognized and honored. Nobody wants to be the nobody. But Paul says, "Apollos and I are just servants and to be seen as anything else is to create disunity in the family of God." After all, only God can cause the growth. He uses servant-minded people through a layered, cooperative strategy and lastly,
 
5. God's Goal is Christ-likeness
 
Maybe the reason churches don't grow numerically as they should is because they don't develop spiritually as they should. After all, true church growth is not a larger congregation. God’s aim in this process of His servants’ planting and watering with the Word in dependence upon the power of the Spirit is to bring sinners into a genuine faith in Christ.
 
And unlike much of what has happened in the name of “church growth,” that just adds unconverted people to the rolls of the church, God has a different aim and that is to develop full-grown, fully formed and functioning disciples of Christ.
 
In virtually every epistle he wrote, Paul touched on that theme. In Romans 8:28–30, where Paul outlines the process of salvation that calls, justifies, sanctifies and ultimately glorifies a people for Himself, the goal, he says, is that we might “become conformed to the image of His Son.”
 
When Paul struggled with the Galatian churches over the threat of reverting back to dependence upon law instead of reliance upon faith in Christ alone, he expressed his aim with them: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19).
 
He told the Ephesian church that the ministry of those laboring among them in Word to equip them was “till we all come to unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
Listen: God goal is not a bunch of folks making decisions and joining churches. His objective is not to have a larger crowd on Sunday. He’s goal is not even just saving people from hell. It is to bring His children into conformity to the image of His Son as faithful disciples.
 
That means true church growth, genuine, legitimate church growth always leads to discipleship, holiness, love for the body of Christ, love for the Word of God, transformation of character, the fruit of the Spirit, sacrificial service, passionate worship, faithful witness, and conformity to Christ in all things.
 
Anything with lesser aim, that is satisfied to just add numbers, fails at being God-shaped growth for His church redeemed by the bloody death of His Son.
 
That is God's plan! Instead of placing the burden on the church to figure out how to get it done, God has undertaken responsibility for its growth. Paul and Apollos understood their roles as planters and waterers. They were not trying to do something for God, but rather, they saw their role as servants whom God might use to bring people to faith in Christ.
 
By the way, if Paul grew it or Apollos grew it, then God didn’t. Let that sink in. If growth takes place because of someone’s special abilities or strong personality or unique gifts, then the growth is faulty. It is rooted in something other than the power of God through the gospel.
 
That means, the best thing we can do if we want God's church to grow is simply be faithful to do what He has called us to do. We plant. We water. We cultivate. We fertilize, and we rely on God for the increase.
 
By the way, what if God is not the agent of growth? What if your faith rests on something other than the power of God? What happens when you face persecution, suffering, trials, difficulties, and temptations?
 
If your faith is resting on a personality or on the cleverness of a speaker or teacher, or on the deep insights of some writer or on having been manipulated to make a religious decision, instead of relying on the power of God through the gospel, then you will not hold up during the storm.
 
That’s why we must depend upon God to grow the church. Only He grow us strong enough to endure the winds and rains that come.
 
Why would you want to join the Paul fan club or the Apollos fan club when you already enjoy the highest relationship man could ever know? If it is God’s church, and God's field and we belong to God, then we must give care to how He has chosen to grow it, what He has purposed for it, and how He will be glorified in it.
 
I guess the main point I want to leave you with is understanding God's plan for church growth leads us to actively plant, water and cultivate to the best of our ability.
 
With that in mind, let us commit to 
 
- pray for God-shaped and God-initiated growth, not only here, but everywhere the Word is proclaimed.
 
-  be servants through whom others may believe in the Lord Jesus.
 
- never be so committed to a person that we sacrifice our commitment to the Lord and His work.
 
- nothing that will stand in the way of God growing the church as He sees fit.
 
And finally, let us commit to
 
- do everything we can to enable God-given growth to take place in us and in our church.
 
Let's pray.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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