It’s only in the last few years that we have felt the Lord lead us to adopt a theme for the year. The year before last our them for the year was redemption. Last year, before many of us went into lockdown in our homes, we had felt the Lord put on our hearts the theme, welcome home. This year, we have felt the Lord lead us to focus on the theme, grow. The word ‘grow’ conjures up different emotions in me. There was a time, quite early in my pastoral ministry at Legana, when it was recommended to me that I engage a ministry coach. It was my desire to do all I could to see our small church grow. The ministry coach agreed that numerical growth should be my focus and share how he had helped other churches our size experience dramatic growth. It just so happened that at this time I was in the throes of my doctoral studies which were challenging and stretching me personally. Despite the coach’s insistence that I focus on the numerical growth of our church, we had not grown to the extent that the ministry coach had intimated that we should have. After a year or so of this professional ministry coaching which had involved some rather cold, analytical, surveys including developing a strategic plan and being subject to a dubious thing called a DISC analysis, the ministry coach said that there was nothing more he could offer me.
This reinforced in me that for some church leaders ‘growth’ only comes in one form – numerical. and often overlooks that the kind of growth that God calls us to comes in more than one variety. In fact, according to the passage that we are basing our understanding of growth theme on, there seems to be at least five varieties of growth encouraged in the Scriptures, and only one of them is achieved by evangelism.
And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ Ephesians 4:11-12
HOW PASTORS ARE TO GROW BELIEVERS
God has given certain ones to be shepherds (or, ‘pastors’) of God’s people, ‘the body of Christ’, the local church. These called ones are to do the things that Jesus described of a true shepherd in John 10 — to care, protect, feed, lead, train and encourage.
But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:2-5
Pastors (shepherds) are called to grow those God charges them to shepherd. This Christian growth is described as the same kind of growth that a newborn child experiences as they are nourished and nurtured.
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. First Peter 2:2-3
The first kind of growth described in Ephesians 4:13 presupposes physical growth, but also links this growth to maturing which involves growing in the second way — emotionally.
Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:13
To grow emotionally involves being able to empathise (understand what someone else is going through), and sympathise (identify with and relate to how someone else is feeling in the midst of their circumstances).
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15
Being healthy emotionally involves the ability to laugh when things are humorous, cry when things are sad, get angry when something is unjust, forgive when others hurt you, appreciate and admire beauty, wonder at the marvels in creation, gladly serve another without the prospect of receiving anything in return, and applaud the achievements of those given the limelight of honour. Pastors are called to model emotional health and help those they shepherd to grow emotionally. But there are also other forms of growth that pastors are called to lead others into.
So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ. Ephesians 4:14-15
Thirdly, every believer is expected to grow spiritually. Pastors are responsible to help followers of Jesus to grow in their knowledge of Christ (theology) through a deeper understanding and application of God’s Word. A mature believer grows in the knowledge and application of God’s Word partly by being grounded in sound doctrine so that they can detect the falsehood of every wind of doctrine. This involves knowing what Scripture actually says and how to interpret it within context. Perhaps the primary job of a pastor is to teach, explain, apply, and model the Scriptures. It is by studying the Scriptures that the believer comes to behold Christ and in beholding Christ they are transformed into His likeness. This is the essence of spiritual growth.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Second Corinthians 3:18
There remains two further forms of growth described in Ephesians 4.
from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:16
Fourthly, there are certain aspects to being part of a local church which require growth that can only come from training. Pastors are responsible to both model and implement ongoing skill growth. This is referred to as equipping in Ephesians 4:16. This is why pastors and church leaders are responsible to train believers to better serve others and use their gifts more effectively.
and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Second Timothy 2:2
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace First Peter 4:10
for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. First Timothy 4:8
HOW WE ARE TO GROW TOGETHER
Discipleship (“growth”) involves growing in the four ways mentioned above. As each believer grows as a result of the shepherding of their local church leadership, that church grows stronger and healthier. This is the essence of body building and it equally applies to the body of Christ. Each believer is then growing through the nurturing that occurs within the gathering of the whole church each Sunday where the whole church family gathers together to worship, to celebrate holy communion, to be reminded that the body of Christ in which the Lord has placed them involves others, and to receive the preached Word of God.
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47
And each believer grows when they gather in their small group because the church also gathers in small groups through the week whereby connections with others are made stronger, prayers are more personal, the Scriptures are studied and questioned leading to practical application. Both gatherings are important for the believer’s growth for these different reasons. As we read through the Apostle Paul’s exhortation for churches in Romans 12, we notice that the first half applies to the larger corporate (all together) gathering of a church, and the last half has greater application within the small group gatherings of a church.
But there is a another growth that also happens as each member grows and serves each other with the gifts, talents, and energy that God has given them and it is referred to in both our key passage of Ephesians 4, and the Acts 2 passage cited above — numerical growth.
Numerical growth happens in three ways:
(i) those believers whom God calls to be a part of our church (this is called transfer growth);
(ii) those who born to parents who are part of our church (this is called biological growth); and,
(iii) those who are won to Christ and discipled as part of our church (this is called evangelism/new convert growth).
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
I have just spent the past five Sundays introduce the doctrine and role of the Holy Spirit. I think that we have good reasons to believe that the Holy Spirit is cares about all five varieties of growth. In fact, as we yield to Christ through the Holy Spirit we too begin to share in the heart of Christ through the Holy Spirit to see and experience growth.
¶ Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. First Thessalonians 3:11-13
If the Lord delights to grant us all three types of numerical growth, it will come with some very predictable challenges. I know this, because I am the father of four children. With the arrival of each of our children, there was upheaval, insecurities experienced by the older child/ren, intentional reassurance required from the parents, extra attention given to the new-born, physical adjustments to the home to make room for the new arrival, and new responsibilities for each family member to contribute to the running of the family. The same challenges face a church that also experiences numerical growth. It is my hope that as we walk together with the Holy Spirit in our surrender to Christ, that we will grow and that each of us will be involved in Christ’s body building.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.