When you pray for revival… and it comes to someone else

Ministry, The Church

prayerIan Murray describes biblical revival as consisting of “…a larger giving of God’s Spirit for the making known of Christ’s glory… a sense of God… not only in conviction of sin but equally in the bewildered amazement of Christians at the consciousness of the Lord who is in their midst.”[1]  Revival is not a constant reality in church history or in the life of any specific congregation, rather it is descriptive of those extraordinary times when the Lord is pleased to pour out a greater abundance of saving grace, there is a greater zeal for Kingdom priorities, and a vital spirituality characterizes the people of God.  It is a time of unique energy and vigor regarding gospel labors, and of unique blessing from the Lord in those pursuits.

All churches would love to see such things become a reality in their own midst.  Who would dare to say that they would not want the Lord to pour out such grace, to act in mighty ways to save sinners, to animate and revitalize His people in such ways described?  To be desirous of such blessing need not signal any depreciation of the normal plodding rhythms of ministry and the ordinary means of grace.  Indeed, Biblical revival is not a circumventing of normal ministry activities, it is a fresh and dynamic outpouring of grace through those very ordained means.

It is true that some people take revival and do unbiblical things with the concept.  In fact, much of Murray’s book is given over to distinguishing the difference between true God given revival and man’s foolish attempts to manufacture an outpouring of the Spirit- a pursuit he labels as revivalism.  To the historically minded, terms like revival sometimes evoke negative associations like Charles Finney’s anxious bench (a forerunner of the more modern altar call), and to the broader culture it often takes on a garish tent-huckster ethos, but we should never let other people’s errors define our practice.  None of these abuses are the fault of authentic revival.  And so quite aware of the dangers of a false and manufactured show of dramatic piety, even solidly Reformed men do say.” Lord, if it pleases you, send revival in our midst!”

But what about when you pray for revival and it comes… but to someone else?  What are we to think of the grace that seems to be poured out on others, while He is please to withhold it from us?  What am I to think of my neighbor’s revival?

To that question I offer three responses.

1. Avoid the temptation to adopt an elitist “narrow way” cynicism.

The present reality is that the Kingdom of God on earth is fractured into a multitude of church denominations, sects, movements, and coalitions.  At this stage in church history, no matter what segment of evangelical Christianity you call home, there are always more people outside your circle than inside of it.  No one group has the majority. What that means is that God is always doing more outside your narrow context than inside of it.  This conclusion is unavoidable, unless you want to say that only your own theological and ecclesiastic tradition is truly the place that God is pleased to work.

We’d rarely say that out loud, but I fear that sometimes we do think that way.  It comes out when we adopt a “narrow way” cynicism regarding revival in other denominations or movements.[2] When we assign to apparent revival in other quarters a “broad way” condemnation because of the various ways they aren’t like us and therefore aren’t faithful to God’s Word and therefore couldn’t possibly be enjoying his blessing while we aren’t, don’t we betray the cynical elitism in our hearts?

Let’s not do that.  When our Christian brothers and sisters in other denominational contexts see real blessing from God on their labors, let’s not let our various disagreements with them over doctrine and practice prevent us from recognizing the true work of God in their midst.  Let’s not betray a belief that if God isn’t blessing us (or those most incredibly like us) whatever we are seeing must be a mere mirage of revival.  Being different from us doesn’t put another group beyond the reach of God’s blessing anymore than it puts them beyond the reach of His grace.  This of course doesn’t apply to those who hold to outright heretical views- I’m not talking about that.  But not all doctrinal disagreements are heretical.  There are a multitude of second tier issues which Christians will always disagree on.  Are we really ready to say that those who we disagree with over Baptism, or the exact role of the Law, or the precise nature of the Spiritual gifts or many other issues we rightly make distinctions over are so far gone that we can’t grant to them the genuine blessing and favor of the Lord?  Do we really want to say with our dismissive attitudes that we are the only ones who are deserving of His favor?

2. Avoid the temptation to adopt a shallow imitation of the latest new thing.

It is one thing to humble acknowledge the work of God in other contexts, it is a different thing to try and imitate whatever latest fads seem to be associated with that revival.  I use the word “fad” not necessarily to denigrate, but rather because it is an accurate description of evangelical patterns.  There is always some latest new thing.  Sometimes it has value, sometimes it doesn’t.  The test is God’s unchanging Word.

Sometimes two churches adopt identical strategies and have leadership that is practically interchangeable, but God grants revival to one while the other simply plods on without seeing extraordinary things in their midst.  Maybe they even see trial and struggle.  God is pleased to work when and where He chooses.  It’s not necessarily a stamp of divine approval or disapproval on either one.

It would be a mistake to assume that because God is pleased to work in diverse segments of the Kingdom, that the distinctions between those segments are irrelevant.  It would be a mistake to depreciate doctrinal precision on that count.  We can humbly recognize God at work in a context which our own Biblical convictions do not allow us to participate in.  Doing so does not make us compromisers; it merely keeps us chaste in our appraisals of our own achievements and humbly aware that we are never indispensible to the God who is actually the one building His Church.  Almost as bad as letting our doctrinal disagreements prevent us from thanking God for His work among other sorts of Christians would be to on that count dismiss or diminish the importance of taking those open and firm doctrinal stands.

3. Seek first the Kingdom of God.

Maybe the issue is that we spend too much time looking around horizontally, period.  Maybe we need to reevaluate the value of our horizontal evaluations. Maybe rather than correcting those outside our circles so often, we should be more concerned with working out actual gospel ministry in the doctrinal and traditional context to which we are committed.  Maybe we need to think about what we are truly seeking first, our own glory or that of the Lord?

This might sound preachy… but I am a preacher, so go figure.  To be clear, I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone else.  I want to be the sort of Christian who can rejoice whenever and wherever the gospel is proclaimed and people are being reached.  I don’t think I have to give up an inch of theological or doctrinal conviction to do that.  But I do think I have to give up some pride.

May God send us true revival, and if He sends it to others instead, may He send it all the more!

(By: Nicolas Alford)

[1] Ian Murray, Revival & Revivalism, p. 30.

[2] “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14, ESV)

Baptism in the Early Church

Book Reviews, Church History, The Church, Theology, Uncategorized, Worship

51YWHVKQWYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Note: For many of us who identify as “Reformed” Baptist, the question of the proper recipients and mode of baptism is quite pressing.  This is the primary practical matter that separates us from our other Reformed brethren.  Although the answer to this question must be settled by Scripture alone, church history is a helpful witness and relevant voice.  However, there are often competing historical narratives put forth, especially regarding the true views and practice of the so called “Early Church.”  Perhaps this extended book review of Baptism in the Early Church by Stander and Louw will be of assistance to some of my brethren working through these issues.  SDG!

History is a canvas upon which we often paint our own self-portrait.  By this it is meant that history as we experience it is in its very nature always mediated, and even when dealing directly with primary sources we do not approach them without significant presuppositions, barriers and biases.  What we call history is usually a carefully composed interpretive construct we have imposed upon the data.  While some are attracted to historical study on the basis of a romantic notion of objectivity, the truth is that historiography often says more about its practitioners than its subjects.  We are not typically neutral receivers of history; we have an active interest in interpreting the past in such a way that it supports the various agendas of the present.  To borrow and tweak a phrase from Paul, where agenda abounds anachronism abounds all the more.

One theological area in which these anachronisms typically reveal themselves is the debate concerning the recipients and mode of Christian baptism.  There is a very real temptation to go into the Patristic source documents searching for Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans or Catholics born out of due time.  Although a thorough discussion of the commonly subjective nature of history is beyond the scope of this review, these brief comments do well to define the arena into which Profs. Hendrick F. Stander and Johannes P. Louw offer their work Baptism in the Early Church.  While they are not necessarily immune themselves from bias and subjectivity, they at least recognize the problem and have sought to offer as neutral a presentation of the historical data as they can.

First, on pages 15-16 they acknowledge the reality of theological bias common in historical work:

Scholars are often led by their theological presuppositions when they claim that history supports their particular point of view.  All the different perspectives concerning baptism have been ‘proved’ by quotations from the writers of the early church.

The authors are able to marshal many witnesses to prove this point.  Through several direct quotes from historical works along side the original sources in their own contexts, they show the way that men such as A.C. Barnard, W. Oetting, W. Marais and L.J.C. Van den Berg[1] have (in the words of Stander and Louw) gone to history “groping for proofs “(p. 26).  They then clearly delineate the scope of their own current contribution to the historical conversation regarding the doctrine of Christian baptism:

It is not the aim of this book to defend any theological point of view.  Certainly not.  The purpose of this study is to present the information about the actual rite of baptism in the writings of the early church as literally as possible, and in historical order, so as to provide a source book which may be of help to debaters in their quest for the practice of baptism in the first four centuries A.D (p. 16).

This review will now summarize some of the key historical data presented by this “source book” and then analyze its contribution to the modern debates.  Although all of the sources presented are a vital part of the Patristic witness, only the chapters on The Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian will be briefly summarized in this review.[2]

The ‘Apostolic Fathers’ is somewhat of a misnomer, as it simply refers to a small collection of writings which are only unified by their unique antiquity among the corpus of Christian writings.  These are the most ancient non-Scriptural witnesses we currently possess.  Stander and Louw only deal with three of them, as the others have nothing significant to contribute to discussions on baptism.  Those three are The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, and The Shepherd of Hermas.  Common threads begin to develop which will remain a constant throughout this study.  Namely, a pre-baptismal requirement of fasting and prayer (p. 33), the use of language with best harmonizes with immersion of the body as the normative mode (p. 37), and the prevalent early church understanding of baptism as being effectual for the remission of sins (pp. 39-42).  Interestingly, these initial foci include both a strong argument in favor of exclusive patristic credobaptism (infants would not have been able to fast and pray, and there is no exception for them mentioned) and the seed that the authors later will argue eventually blossomed into acceptance of paedobaptism (if baptism provides for the actual remission of sins a society with a high mortality rate temps disaster by withholding it).[3]

The late second century work by Irenaeus entitled Against Heresies is primarily relevant because of the appeal made to his inclusion of infants in those who “through [Christ] are born to God” (p. 53).  But a broader look at the context shows that he was actually arguing along lines quite foreign to our own debates- namely that Jesus passed through all stages of life in the flesh (even making it to the age of ninety or more!)  in order to redeem all sorts of people.  That fact gives critical context to his quote that “Jesus came to save all through means of Himself- all, I say, who through Him are born again to God- infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men” (p. 53).  Yet this quote is often appealed to as a proof text for infant baptism without due consideration of its unique intent.

Perhaps the most frequently debated ancient passage on Baptism and its recipients is found in the writings of Tertullian.  Although Chapter 7 includes many interesting passages concerning immersion and other baptismal details, the more famous quote is actually dealt with in Chapter 1.  The passage in question relates to whether baptism should be delayed until as close to death as possible (so as to allow the subject no time to commit new sins after being cleansed), or if it should be administered to the very young.  The reader will need to consult the book itself for a full discussion, but one quote from Stander and Louw will reveal the thrust of their analysis:

The passage from Tertullian does not speak of infant baptism as it is understood today; it merely refers to a practice among some Christians (of which Tertullian disapproves) to baptize people at a very early stage as small children (p. 18).

The final ancient witness to be summarized in this review is that of Cyprian.  He is selected because, in the words of the authors, “Cyprian is the first Church Father who bears indisputable witness to the practice of infant baptism in the Christian church of the third century” (p. 105).  The document in question is a letter sent to the Bishop Fidus in the year 253.  That it describes and assumes infant baptism is beyond debate.  Here is the first explicit mention of that practice which does not require any contextual acrobatics or special pleading.  Yet lest we fall into the very anachronisms this review began by warning against, the authors helpfully point out that “…one should remember that Cyprian’s motivation for infant baptism differs from the motivation offered by those churches who profess infant baptism since the Reformation” (p. 116).  Cyprian is no more a Westminster Presbyterian born in the wrong century than Tertullian is a lonely ancient Baptist because he describes immersion .  We must not conscript these men into our various causes on the basis of similarities which are tertiary at best.[4]

This review began by arguing that neutrality tends to be a stranger to historiography.  Stander and Louw have labored to overcome this fact, and have presented the fact in as plain a manner as they can.  When the history has been allowed to speak with as much unbiased clarity as they are able to give it, what does it say?  This review will close with three observations.

First, Stander and Louw do not come across completely unbiased.  A fair-minded reader (even a credobaptist one) should admit that they seem predisposed to explain the evidence in favor of immersion and credobaptism.  Regarding the question of whether the normative mode of baptism in the early church was immersion or effusion, they interpret the early Christian art they present as inconclusive (pp. 172-9).  However, this art seems to clearly depict one person pouring water on another in several of the examples shown.  They are right to critique the practice of reading too much into the diverse size of the depicted subjects, as ancient art tended to reflect the patron/client societal structure of the day with authority figures drawn significantly larger than their dependents.  Therefore, assuming that the size discrepancy in this art reflects very young recipients of Baptism is unwarranted.  But it seems a stretch to say that the one being baptized is not being effused in the pictures on pages 172-3.  Furthermore, they present in the introduction many examples of paedobaptist mishandling of the historical witness without giving credobaptist missteps equal time.[5]  While this may reflect an actual superiority of credobaptist historians on this point, it more likely is simply a reflection of the authors’ South African context.  Fallacious Baptist appeals to history are fairly common in the West.[6]  This apparent predisposition in favor of immersion and credobaptism may also be due to the fact that as paedobaptists themselves, Stander and Louw at time go further than is necessary to appear unbiased in favor of their own scruples.  Sometimes our good intensions in this regard can make us distastefully uncharitable to our own theological allies.

Second, while this work is a valuable contribution to the Church’s understanding of baptism, it also serves to remind the reader of the limitations of Historical Theology.  Books like this rarely change minds.  Typically those who already held the view favored by history are encouraged and strengthened in their position, while those who already disagreed take issue with the methodology and conclusions offered.  Furthermore, we must always remember to keep Historical Theology in check.  As Dr. James M. Renihan writes in his foreword, “In theological debate, history should never be the final judge; that place is reserved for Scripture” (p. 7).

Yet thirdly, we ought never be afraid to let history speak to us with as clear a voice as our research is able to give it.  That voice should never be as loud as that of Scripture, but that does not make the voice irrelevant.  As Dr. Renihan continues, “History may, however, make a significant contribution to the discussion, shedding light on the practices of those living closest to the era of the Bible” (p. 7).

With those thoughts about the chaste nature of Historical Theology in mind, and remembering everything the introduction of this review asserted regarding the way we tend to paint the concerns of the present upon the unsuspecting canvas of the past, a bold statement can now be made in context: Baptism in the Early Church powerfully argues in favor of credobaptism by immersion.  While there are many legitimately debatable references in the Patristic witness regarding possible examples of the baptism of infants, one must look up from these small grains of sand and survey the vast beach before him.  Anyone who examines the material available from this period should be struck by the sheer amount of detail the early writers went into when describing baptism.  We are told the preferred temperature of the water, the advisable dates, the specific language used, the preparations, the immediate aftermath, the appropriate levels of dress, even how to handle the baptism of menstruating women and much more.  But there are no provisions made for infancy until hundreds of years had passed on from the days of the Apostles.  Furthermore, the oft-repeated arguments that these documents (as well as the New Testament) are simply describing convert baptism and not covenant family baptism do no hold up either.  As Stander and Louw write on page 186, “…no distinction was ever made between persons coming from a heathen or Christian family,” and on page 80 that even if vague references are interpreted in favor of paedobaptist practice, “…it is important to notice that the baptism of these infants was not linked to the covenant or the rite of circumsicion.”[7]

As it concerns the debates within the modern Reformed milieu of which this current writer is a member, Baptism in the Early Church is certainly no deathblow to the covenantal infant baptism of the churches which subscribe to the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity.  To expect it to do so would be to ask the historical witness to go beyond its bounds.[8]  But the apparent fact that infant baptism was not the practice of the earliest churches, nor was it likely introduced for hundreds of years, does testify strongly in favor of the Baptist position.  The reflections of the authors on this point serve as a fitting conclusion to this review:

The patristic literature of the first four centuries clearly shows how infant baptism developed.  Probably the first instances known, occurred in the latter part of the third century, mostly in North Africa, but during the fourth century infant baptism became more and more accepted… the development of the church (after church and State became reconciled) into a more unified body, controlled by the see of Rome, provided a theological base for infant baptism to be accepted… since the fourth century infant baptism began to develop into a generally accepted custom” (p. 184).

[1] Although the works the authors interact with in the introduction betray their South African context, the reader will have no trouble applying the same analysis to more familiar authors.  Even John Calvin wrote of infant baptism that “…there is no ancient writer who does not refer its origin, as a matter of certainty, to the age of the apostles” (cited in Jewett, Infant Baptism & The Covenant of Grace, p. 14 n. 2), an assertion which this current work immediately discredits.

[2] The required brevity of this review makes this list uncomfortably selective.  The author has attempted to avoid redundancy, and has thus left out some key texts which have similar aspects to those highlighted.

[3] See the Conclusion, especially pp. 183-4 for a more nuanced discussion of this process and the role “emergency baptism” played in the early church.

[4] By this it is meant that we must not be myopic in our research.  We should start with their overall witness to baptism, which first addresses other concerns such as theological meaning and the various relevant cultural/ecclesiastical pressures before looking for testimony regarding our own views on baptism’s recipients and mode.

[5] To be fair, they do occasionally critique credobaptist mishandlings of the text, but only rarely.  One example is on pages 44-5 where they are critical of Aland’s interpretation of the Apology of Aristedes of Athens.

[6] See The Trail of Blood by Dr. J.W. Carroll as a particularly egregious example

[7] Paedobaptist theologians often argue that there is no command given in the New Testament to baptize infants because the principle of covenant family inclusion was so ingrained in Israel that none was necessary.  When one surveys the early church documents and finds this silence continuing, one does wonder when this argument runs out of steam.  Even when extending charity on this point, our practices do need to eventually exist somewhere to be considered valid.

[8] In attempting to empathize with his paedobaptist brothers, this author believes that if he were Scripturally convinced of covanental infant baptism, he would not be shaken by Baptism in the Early Church.  Even if it is granted that the early church practiced immersion and exclusive credobaptism, it is also indisputable that they believed near universally in the conflation of the symbol and the thing signified, i.e. baptismal regeneration.  It is not totally invalid for principled paedobaptists to object that modern credobaptists are selective in their championing of the early church witness at this point.  Yet the reply is that there is a real difference between heteropraxy and heterodoxy at this stage of the church.  It takes far longer for the church to develop dogma than it ought for vital practices to be corrupted.

10 Myths About Church Growth

Ministry, The Church

34rixr7“Hi, my name is Joe Preacher, Pastor of a Church of 3000.”

“Hi, my name is John Preacher, Pastor of a church of 300.”

“Hi, my name is Joel Preacher, Pastor of a church of 30.”

How do we think about the zeros in the above sentences?  What are our assumptions?  Do we have an instant gut-level reaction to the various hypothetic ministries represented by Joe, John, and Joel Preacher?  Do we envy Mr. Pastor of 3000?  Do we assume he has the superior ministerial gifting?  Or do we perhaps assume that he is a pragmatic compromiser, that his church must have watered down hard doctrinal truth and departed from Biblical precept in order to get that sort of attendance?

What about Mr. Pastor of 30?  Do we assume he is an inept man, a poor preacher with no relational aptitude?  Or do we automatically see him as the courageous warrior, the unflinching Man of God standing athwart a squeamish age and thundering out the truth, unwilling to bend on conviction even if it locks him out the world’s acclaim?

And Mr. Pastor of 300?  Maybe he our Pastoral Goldilocks, not too hot and not too cold- this one is just right.

There is much ink spilt on the topic of church growth (Note: I’m not sure what the digital age equivalent of “ink spilt” is.  “Many keys typed” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  “Touch screens often touched” is even worse…).  Some of it is helpful, some of it isn’t.  Some see church growth as the bottom line by which pastoral effectiveness is to be judged.  Others look with constant suspicion at large or growing ministries, almost wearing as a badge of honor the relatively modest size of their flock.

The fact is much of our thinking about church growth is based on myths, and no one side of the issue has a monopoly on the mythology.  There are myths that Mr. Pastor of 30 believes.  There are myths that Mr. Pastor of 3000 believes.  And if Mr. Pastor of 300 thinks he really is the Goldilocks who has found the just right approach, he may eventually realize just how much of a fairy tale he is actually living in.

Here are 10 common myths we often believe about church growth:

1. Numerical Growth is an Infallible Indicator of God’s Blessing

Pastors of larger churches often present the size of their congregation as evidence that what they are saying should be treated as wisdom from a sage.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a Mega-Church Pastor respond to being challenged on something by saying essentially- “Well, I started 15 years ago with five people and a dog meeting in my Aunt’s kitchen and now I’m the Pastor of a church of 2 million with 46 campuses on three planets, so shut up and buy my book, you plebe.”  Or at least it was something like that.  But this argument about numerical growth being an infallible indicator of God’s blessing is a total myth.

Exhibit A: Joel Osteen is the Pastor of the largest church in America.  Do we really need an Exhibit B?  Ok, fine.

Exhibit B: Lot’s of churches are big.  That doesn’t mean the numerical growth is an infallible indicator of God’s blessing.  Mormonism is pretty big.  So is Roman Catholicism.  The predatory health/wealth approach to church is huge in Nigeria.  Next.

2. Growing Churches Are Necessarily Seeing More Conversions

Lots of ministries with surging membership roles like to rattle off impressive sounding numbers regarding their impact for the kingdom.  But consider this- take a look at how many of the members of these churches (especially the more missional/contextual types) are actually the kids who grew up in more traditional churches and drifted away.  I’m glad they’ve fully embraced the faith and are excited about church again, but let’s not pretend they were all unchurched pagans.

Also, it is extremely common for large churches to be very, very quick to say that the Spirit has done a genuine work of conversion.  Many practice immediate baptism.  Most have highly systematic and scheduled approaches to moving people from visitor to active member.  That’s not necessarily bad, but those bragging about the amount of people coming through their doors often don’t tell you how many are hanging around for a while and then slipping out the back.  Large churches don’t always get large because of genuine revival.

3. All That Stands Between Smaller Churches and Dramatic Growth is Implementation of a Set of Techniques

There is a sometimes crudely mechanistic way of thinking and talking about church growth strategies.  The impression is given that anyone who learns the proper techniques can quickly build a church of substantial size.  That’s pretty strange when you consider what Jesus taught about the work of the Spirit in John 3, what Paul says about who provides growth in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, and the way growth is described in the book of Acts (The Lord added to their number…).  We also must remember that there is a vast gulf between drawing a crowd (which any showman can do) and genuinely building a church (which must be a work of the Spirit).

4. Ministry is Dramatically Harder in a Large Church

Somehow statements like this never quite move my spirit to pity: “Woe is me, I am the Pastor of a Mega Church.  You don’t know how difficult it is to keep this thing together.  You lesser mortals have no sense of the pressure I am under”

Granted, I’m sure there are a lot of challenges unique to numerically large ministries.  But I’m also sure there are also a lot more resources, staff, and opportunities.  No one put a gun to your head and told you to write all those books or take all those speaking engagements.  Somehow I find it difficult to work up more sympathy than I would have for Pastors of moderate to small sized congregations.

Granted, all ministry is difficult.  And yes, I’m sure there are things I don’t even know about that come with a higher profile.  But I don’t buy the myth that being Pastor of a large church is a dramatically harder calling.  Predictably, Trueman has an outstanding post about this.

5. Ministry is Dramatically Harder in a Small Church

Ok, this is where we pivot and try to give equal time to smaller churches in pointing out a few of these myths.

It is true that the burden of having to print your own bulletins and answer your own phone as well as leading nearly all elements of worship and taking on the majority of ministerial responsibilities solo is exhausting.  Isolation and loneliness are legitimate struggles.  But smaller ministries have their perks too.  There can be a blessing to the simplicity of a modest ministry that shouldn’t be overlooked, and is often taken for granted.  Many who have experienced dramatic growth have later pined for those earlier and simpler days.

6. Small Churches Are More Faithful to the Truth

Yeah, maybe.  But maybe not.  Just like I did with large churches, it’s not hard to list small congregations that are anything but faithful.  The lunatics out of Kansas who picket military funerals come to mind.  Plus, not all churches are stay small because people have “itching ears” and run to more flashy ministries that don’t care as much about the Bible.  We have to be honest and say that sometimes a man just doesn’t posses the requisite gifting to be a credible Shepherd to a flock, no matter how orthodox his doctrine may be.

7. Pride is only an Issue for Large Churches

Ministerial pride is a two way street.  I’ve heard some shockingly prideful statements from men who Pastor tiny flocks.  There is a sort of pride that can come with seeing yourself as a Jeremiah or Isaiah reincarnated for the 21st century.  Pride is such a subtle enemy that it can even turn rejection into a badge of honor.

8. It is Wrong to Desire Church Growth

The very real abuses of the Church Growth Movement shouldn’t make us take an unnecessarily pessimistic view of all church growth.  Church growth can mean more people are being saved.  It can also mean more Christians to disciple.  Often it comes with an increase in resources which open new opportunities for the spread of the gospel in the world.  This are all good things which ought to inspire joy rather than condemnation.

9. A Church Must Be a Certain Size to be Effective in Gospel Ministry

This is simply not true.  I know from first hand experience that very small churches are sometimes the most generous with their money in the cause of missions and support for ministries.  Additionally, we need to be very careful in how we define “effective.”  Decades of faithful service from a Pastor, a congregation (of whatever size) that grows together like a family and rides through the trials of life and ministry together, and  consistent support for missions and evangelistic outreach is pretty “effective” by any Biblical standard.  We ought not depreciate things God has called good.

10. Church Growth is Purely Numerical

The church shouldn’t be guilty of being a mile wide, but only and inch deep, no matter how long its membership roles may be.  Jesus did say to make disciples after all, not simply converts.  Growth isn’t just numerical, it is also spiritual.  Individual Christians should be growing in the knowledge of God, love for the brethren, and the experience of Spirit led New Covenant life.  A congregation should be growing together as the members experience this growth in their own lives.  Love for Christ and desire to see sinners saved should be increasing day by day.  No matter what size your congregation is now or will be in the future, those are areas everyone can seek to be in constant growth.

In this last way especially, may the Lord give us great increase!

(By: Nicolas Alford)