Does God promise success?

If you are like me, then church growth matters to you. The success of the church and its ministries matters and my heart is so burdened for the people around us. I know that there are plenty of resources to help with church growth and outreach, but I was curious about just how many books there are on church growth.

I have read a couple and my opinion is that most of these books do not actually reveal the secret on how to successfully grow a church. They give good ideas on how to do events or practical ways to do community outreach; but they lack a unified strategy that would work for any church. Just to gage the diversity in the number of opinions out there, let me give you some of the titles and my initial reaction:

  1. How to grow YOUR church: 153 creative ideas for reaching YOUR community
    1. “Isn’t the church God’s church? Isn’t the work His?”
  2. Rapid church and economic growth in 5 steps!
    1. “Rapid growth tends to be shallow growth. I want something that outlasts me.”
  3. Grow your church from the outside in!
    1. “This statement is nonsensical. It takes people inside the church to reach out and to grow the church. No church can bring people in if it doesn’t first send people out.”
  4. A growth strategy for pastors and church leadership!
    1. “Isn’t the church all of God’s people, not just the leadership?”

Other than these, I came across an article titled 8 reasons churches never break the 200 attendance mark.[1] I am not going to give my opinion on these things now, but here is why Carey Nieuwhof believes churches do not continue to grow:

  1. Pastor is the primary caregiver for the whole church; and one person simply can’t care for an absorbent number of others.
  2. The church is clear on vision and mission but lacks strategy. (They know the why and what but haven’t thought about the how)
  3. True leaders are not leading and leadership consists of people who do not lead.
  4. Volunteers are un-empowered
  5. Church government micromanages, making further growth impossible.
  6. There are too many meetings that don’t serve a specific purpose
  7. Too many events and programs that lead nowhere. Activity does not equal accomplishment.
  8. And/or the Pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody.

Despite our opinion concerning the reality of these things, I notice that in our churches we have a desire to grow and we are frustrated when we do not necessarily see that growth. We will try and try and try to do more and create more ministries and change things about our services so that we can reach more people, and we are frustrated when our efforts do not immediately bring more people in. These things may not be bad things, but I have to ask myself what a successful church looks like because I am burdened for this community. I am burdened for the growth of the church God has placed me in (not just for growth’s sake but so people will respond to and engage the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

I have a great feeling that this burden is not mine alone. We want to see people being reached with the Gospel! My question is: Do we know how to get there?

“Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance. Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”[2]

Questions about the text

After reading this I have two questions. The first is this: What is our promised land? Is it the land of Canaan, as it was for the Israelites? Is it the campus of our local churches? Is it the United States of America? Or is it heaven?            Titus 1:2 states that eternal life was promised before time began by God, who cannot lie. Philippians 3:20 states that our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we eagerly wait for a savior. In 2 Timothy 2:10, Paul writes that he will endure all things so that others may receive eternal life in Christ along with eternal glory. Isaiah 25:8 reveals that “He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove His people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken.” According to scripture, our promised land is Heaven: A place where there will be no more mourning, or crying, or pain, or sorrow, or death. This is THE amazing promise that we receive from God. Just as the Israelites travelled through the wilderness to get to the promised land, we too traverse this world until we receive this promise.

That, then, is the call upon our lives. We ask Jesus into our hearts. We go home and mind our own business until He returns. No commitment needed We don’t need evangelism We don’t need the community we find in church We don’t need to reach out to family and friends All we need to do is criticize the world for acting out against God and wait for Jesus to come and get us!

This is FALSE! But it sounds an awful lot like Christians seem to think in our western context. We do receive the amazing promise of Heaven, an eternity with God, but God’s promise does not end there and this leads me to my second question.

To whom does this passage actually apply within the Church? Is it just recognized church leadership, or have we all somehow gained a position of leadership in Christ? In Genesis 1:26, humankind is given authority over the whole earth and the creatures of the earth. He is not given authority over his fellow man. People were not designed to rule over other people. When God selected Joshua to succeed Moses as the leader of Israel, it was for the purpose of serving them: not that he should consider himself greater than his fellow people. God called Joshua to be strong a courageous, for Joshua had been chosen to distribute the land to the people of Israel (v. 6)

It is significant to point out that Jesus gave us a similar job as His disciples on this earth. He looked out before ascending into Heaven and said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 HCSB).

Just as God called Joshua to give the promised land to the Israelites, Christ called each of us to offer a share in heaven to the people of the world! What I find is that God has selected every single Christian to lead the world to Him, and to do so by serving and suffering for the world, just as Christ did. So, we have each been saved to God and have been called to serve the world, offering those around us a place in God’s kingdom! Because of this, I must conclude that every true Christian is a leader and a servant in the way of the Gospel.

God’s promise

If we observe God’s instruction, not turning to the right or to the left, God will grant us success wherever we go!            According to Jesus, the entire law rests on two commands: that is to love God and to love people (Matthew 22:36-40). If we love God and we love people, God promises to make us successful wherever we go. I hope that we can grasp the awesome greatness of this promise.

 

What does it mean to love God?

To love God is to have an intense or deep affection for God and to take great pleasure in the things of God. This means that to love God, we must have a relationship with Him, and to have a relationship with Him we must trust in Christ: there is no other way (John 10). If we love God we strive to do what pleases God. We are not concerned so much with defending our own actions, but instead doing what pleases God.

What does it mean to love people?

It means that we care deeply for all people. If people are God’s prized creation, then we treasure each and every person regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender or age. This is why we resolve to take care of the orphan and the widow. This is why we do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. This is why we get to know our neighbors, schoolmates and coworkers and serve them: constantly showing them the love of Christ. If we do not genuinely love people, we must question the love we have for God. God’s promise to those who observe this instruction is success. What is success, and what does a successful church body look like?

My church success

In the context of the above passage, success for Joshua meant receiving the promised land and rightly distributing the land about the people of God. Applied to our current life in Christ, success for the Church (the people of God) is the rightful sharing of the Kingdom of God with the people of the world. If we do not do this, we are not a successful church. We are all leaders and servants in the way of the Gospel. If we love God and love people, we will have success as leaders and servants in the way of the Gospel. Success means that new believers are receiving a part in God’s kingdom and as a part of our family in Christ because of how God uses us!

So…

Let us take up our mantle of both leadership and servant-hood! This requires strength and courage along with an unprecedented commitment to God’s Word and to our local church family. Let us get to know our neighbors, schoolmates and coworkers! Let us be about the business of sharing Christ with others! We cannot be afraid to meet new people. The consequence of only reaching out to those on our Sunday School lists is that we never truly reach anyone with the Gospel. We always invite the people we meet to be a part of our lives, and meeting together as a church family is a necessary part!

Here is God’s great promise: That if we keep His instruction, He will make us successful. Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!

[1] <http://careynieuwhof.com/2013/09/8-reasons-most-churches-never-break-the-200-attendance-mark/&gt;

[2] Joshua 1:6-9 (HCSB)

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