“Instead of asking, ‘How do I build the church?’ most mistakenly ask, ‘How do I make what I am doing work?'”
I meet weekly with several pastors for coffee. We have a good time of fellowship and sharing. Frequently a new pastor joins the group. One of the first things I more than often find myself asking is, “How many are you running (attendance)?” When asked, one newer pastor said he was running about 18 to 20. I then asked what I always ask: “What are you doing to grow?”
He responded, after a bit muttering, “It’s God’s job to build the church.” Without engaging my brain before opening my mouth, I quickly responded, “Well then, he sure isn’t doing a very good job for you!” We eventually became friends.
The Scripture text often cited when it comes to church growth, or the lack of it, is Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”
In light of this verse, here are two questions we should ask.
How do we labor in vain? Could it be:
… by laboring disobediently? (consider Saul and Samuel)
… by laboring without faith? (“Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”)
… by laboring with our own understanding? (“There’s a way that seems right to man …”)
How does the Lord build his House?
… by us obeying the Word (“Preach the Word,” 2 Tim 4:2-6).
… with his faithful people (see Acts 2:47).
… through his ways, not ours (see Acts 24:14).
Instead of asking, “How do I build the church?” most mistakenly ask, “How do I make what I am doing work?” I have found that the Ephesians 4:11-16 is the pattern that works:
He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the 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; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
On a related note, mistaken pastoral priorities hinder the building of the church. We typically hear the following as priorities: God first, then family, then the church.
I tend to get more than a little opposition here. This I see as not only a wrong order of priorities; it may be idolatrously wrong. The church is the body of Christ, his bride. We cannot separate the body of Christ from the person of Christ. The church is not an institution or just an organism; it is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, plus at least 21 additional New Testament references). It is not the church or your family; it is the church and your family.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying you should sacrifice your earthly family on the altar of ministry work. The work of being a pastor comes second to the work of being a loving spouse and a parent. What I am saying is that the church, as the bride of Christ, cannot be separated from the earthly family and cast aside as inferior.
C.S. Lewis said it so very well:
“When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.”
The answer to every church problem is building the church. Momentum steamrolls over just about every problem. Pastor, by building the church, you do not increase your laboring in vain, you eliminate it and eventually work your way out of everything except being given to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).
Tony Foglio is a pastor, church planter, businessman and author of Discover the Bible: Journey Through the Bible As It Was Meant to Be Read (Thomas Nelson, 2004). For more information, go to DiscovertheBible.com.