Shrinking a Growing Church- Part II
In Part I of this blog post I walked through several of the “one another” passages in the New Testament and barraged my readers with a lot of questions regarding the practicality of applying these clear biblical instructions in the actual life of church members of a growing church. In this part, I plan to give some practical ways in which a Christian can actually begin to answer the questions posed in Part I. (If you have not yet read Part I, you should do so before continuing. Click Here.)
I like to think of applying the “one another” passages in the New Testament in concentric circles and I aim to show the biblical rationale for thinking and acting in this manner.
(I have also displayed in the time delay between Part I and Part II of this blog that when you prioritize things, items like a new blog will take longer to get around to. Theoretically, I was focusing on higher priority items while neglecting this one…)
My concentric circles go something like this (yours will be similar, but will vary based on your current circumstances):
Before we walk through these circles in my life, understand that this clean picture could be muddied very quickly. What about my neighbors? What about the people I work with? What about my parents, siblings, etc.? Again, I’m thinking specifically in my life in the span of an average week. Were I to expand the timeframe or to generalize it to a wider audience the circles would change. I recommend reading the explanations and biblical rationale for my circles and then drawing your own circles- a bit of a sanctifying arts and crafts project.
The paradigm I’m presenting offers a balance between two tendencies we will gravitate to if we are not careful. We will either be tempted to view the clear instructions in Scripture (highlighted in Part I) as good ideas that we plan to follow someday but will never actually obey. Or we will attempt to be everything to everyone and forget that Christ’s church has many members that are meant to function and work together growing and joining together in unity and maturity. (Eph 4:1-16, 1 Cor 12:12-26) This paradigm will allow us instead to focus on faithfulness today and leave the results to God.
I hope that I don’t have to convince you of the importance of seeking the Lord first above attempting to “one another” the body of Christ. But if you’re like me, you need constant reminding.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
Seek God first and only then can we attempt to love the brothers.
The first of the “brothers” I look to practice the “one another” passages with is my wife. When the apostle Paul talks about marriage, he says this powerful statement regarding the mystery of marriage: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) The marriage relationship is meant by God to be a picture of Christ’s love for His Church.
This means that if my marriage is doing well, people will be able to look at my marriage and see a picture of the love that Christ has for His Church and the love and respect that the Church has for Christ. And when things are not going well in my marriage, this picture is broken and lies about Christ and His Church. This relationship therefore, must be a high priority!
Further, this relationship touches everything else in my life. My ability to work well, my stress level, my finances, my energy, and a myriad of other things are all affected by my marriage relationship. Therefore it must be the highest human priority.
Psalm 127 is a really interesting Psalm. It begins with the big picture statement, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Basically if what I do is not working for the Lord, it is a worthless endeavor.
But then, in verse 4, the Psalm shifts. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
If I dare summarize the psalmist in two sentences, it looks like this: Only what God builds is worthwhile. Therefore, pour yourself into children because God sees parenting as a worthy endeavor.
I have worked many jobs; I have sought after building many things; but the most valuable thing I could labor towards is raising my children. There is no other group of people that I will have a deeper or more lasting effect on than the four children the Lord has currently entrusted to me. Therefore, I desire to practice the “one another” passages with them, and I attempt to teach them to do likewise.
This is not a biblical grouping like the others- it is a contextual one. These “one another” passages are specifically designed for the context of a local church. The context of the local church in 21st Century America is a rather large entity. Even my local church, which is relatively small, is too large for me to know everyone in my church family. Therefore, most American churches will have some type of Community Group/Small Group/Sunday School ministry that allows people to interact on a smaller level. The goal in our church is that Community Groups not grow beyond 10-12 adults per group. I can know 10-12 adults pretty well if I focus on them and not attempt to know a couple hundred people well.
The local church is to be a defined group of regenerate followers of Jesus Christ who are growing in their likeness to Him. This includes our practice of the “one another” passages. This practice is how the world will look at the church and know that we are the true people of God. Jesus said this, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Outside Looking In
I’m not sure how well I’m doing these things- you would have to ask someone else that question. Self-evaluation seems to be a futile endeavor as we are all prone toward self-delusion. But let’s imagine for a second I’m doing really well and that all the people that I’ve mentioned are doing equally well. What would someone see from the outside looking in?
First, they may interact with the church body gathered on a Sunday morning. They would see in a very general sense the “one another” passages in practice. Then, someone would invite them to Community Group for a closer look. There they would see an even deeper community and a more vivid display of Christ-like love. Then, perhaps they would begin to hang around my family and other families in my Community Group. And there they would see marriages and families that genuinely love the Lord and practice the “one another” passages in the ups and downs of real life- not just the sanitized trappings of the Sunday morning gathering.
If each member of a church were to commit to shrinking the growing church by deepening our closest relationships, the church would function more as she were designed and would grow and multiply rapidly while remaining healthy!