A Growing Church
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. -II Peter 3:18, NRSV
I’m starting to see a lot of seed pods, or “Polly noses,” on my walks with my Gordon Setter, Murphy. You may remember playing with these as a child—maple seeds with a fanned tail that whirl to the ground like a helicopter. These seeds float from the branches of strong maples and land on the grass and concrete below. I wonder about the science of this phenomenon. I wonder why God created seeds to hang in the air for a moment before they fall gently to the ground. Was it to give them a better chance of landing on fertile soil so they might become tall maple trees one day?
It is the season of spring, and the world seems to be coming alive again. Trees are in bloom, bushes are covered in bright blossoms and the songs of birds can be heard in every which direction. These annual signs of new birth bring to mind the rebirth that happens in our own lives. Although often not as visible as the signs of spring, we are all being summoned to grow as individuals and as a church.
As I think about where we’ve been and how we are growing into God’s love, I wonder, “What will our church look like a year from now? Five years? Ten?” I’ll admit that I like to dream about our congregation’s future. I also like to think about how I will grow as a Christian, husband, father, and pastor. It’s exciting for me to think about how God is working in and through the people that I am able to shepherd. I can only imagine where God will lead us and how our church will grow in the years to come.
The Apostle Paul wrote compellingly about spiritual growth: “…the One who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:8-9, ESV). The question any disciple must ask himself/herself is, “What kind of seeds am I sowing?” Seeds of gossip? Seeds of encouragement? Seeds of anger? Seeds of blessing? Seeds of unbelief? Seeds of faith? Depending on the types of seeds we are sowing, we could reap either a crop of sorrow or a crop of eternal life.
It seems to me a growing church is focused more on answering these types of questions. In such ministries relationships become paramount. Listening becomes a form of love. Prayer becomes an essential part of supporting one another. Walking together and sharing each other’s faith stories becomes commonplace. Service to others in need becomes proactive and life-giving to the body. There is less talk about how best to measure church growth and success and more talk about discipleship and empowering people for ministry. Growing churches do these things. It’s where Christians become more spiritually mature, growing “in the grace and knowledge” of Christ (II Pet. 3:18).
Author Richard Foster once observed, “Superficiality is the curse of our age…The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” I so want this for myself and for those I’m trying to lead into a deeper walk with God. Those who see themselves as lifelong learners–as lifelong disciples of Christ–understand this. They follow Jesus’ example, nurturing his love, understanding and likeness in their lives. As author Howard Macy once put it, they move “beyond the self-interested isolation of private lives and beyond the superficial social contacts that pass for ‘Christian fellowship'” to the biblical ideal of community of “life together as the people of God.”
Macy’s words remind me of something Pope Francis recently preached. He said, “No one walks alone and none of us can think that he is alone, because ‘this companion’ is always with us.” That’s it! In a growing faith community no one walks the Christian journey alone. Our Lord is always with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can feel his presence guiding us, nudging us to expand our capacity to love and forgive.
Just as those seed pods fall gently to the earth and somehow find fertile soil to grow, so it is with the church that is summoned to grow wherever it is planted. It’s all part of God’s design. And, it’s beautiful!
Follow Pastor Steve on Twitter @revspierce