the weblog of Alan Knox

The birth and growth of a church

Posted by on Jun 23, 2009 in personal | 11 comments

Last week, I wrote two posts concerning the start of a church. The first post was called “Hypothetical Situation… what do you think?” The second post was called “More about the hypothetical situation“. In this hypothetical situation, I projected Paul’s first visit to Thessalonika into modern times.

When Paul first went to Thessalonika (Acts 17:1-10), he was only able to spend a few weeks in the city. Several Jews and later some of the Greeks became interested in the Gospel and began following Christ. Paul makes it clear in 1 Thessalonians that the birth of this church was miraculous, because the church was not birthed because of his teaching, but because of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, the Spirit used Paul and Silas and others, but Paul recognized that the birth and health of the church did not depend upon him, but depended completely on the work of the Spirit.

I’m concerned that we have replaced dependence on the work of God through the Holy Spirit with training, planning, marketing, leadership skills, etc. I’m concerned that some leaders (some, not all) have built something that depends on them and their team, such that, if they left, what they built would crumble.

Now, I want to say something that most people reading this blog will agree with. However, please think carefully about what I’m about to say, and compare it to how the church functions today.

Many groups of belivers today are more dependent upon leadership, training, programs, buildings, finances, etc. than they are dependent upon the work of God through the Holy Spirit. Many believers today are more dependent on good business practices than they are dependent on the Holy Spirit.

If removing leadership or programs or buildings or finances or anything else would cause believers to stop meeting together, stop disciplining one another, stop growing spiritually, then that group of believers is not depending on God.

Yes, I know this is a strong statement, and perhaps many will disagree with me. However, at least one author agrees:

We in the churches seem unable to rise above the fiscal philosophy which rules the business world; so we introduce into our church finances the psychology of the great secular institutions so familiar to us all and judge a church by its financial report much as we judge a bank or a department store.

A look into history will quickly convince any interested person that the true church has almost always suffered more from prosperity than from poverty. Her times of greatest spiritual power have usually coincided with her periods of indigence and rejection; with wealth came weakness and backsliding. If this cannot be explained, neither apparently can it be escaped.

The point I am trying to make here is that while money has a proper place in the total life of the church militant, the tendency is to attach to it an importance that is far greater than is biblically sound or morally right. The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it. So entrenched is its authority and so stable are the religious habits of its members that God could withdraw Himself completely from it and it could run on for years on its own momentum. (A.W. Tozer, Tozer on Christian Leadership)

I think that we are currently witnessing the result of the church (for the most part) being run on its own momentum for too long. The momentum (which is not powered by the Holy Spirit) is running down.

Now, we must ask ourselves… are we willing to forego all of the stuff that we think is necessary and rely completely on God and only on God?

Whether we are Baptist or Presbyterians, Institutional or Simple, Emerging or Lutheran, Missional or Attractional, we must all ask ourselves this question: Are we truly relying on God for our health and existence or are we relying on other people or things? And, we can’t just ask ourselves this question once. We must continually examine the way we live, the way we meet, the way we evangelize, the way we serve, the way we lead, everything.

For those of us who are leaders, this is an especially important question. If the church would stop functioning or growing if we disappeared, then there’s a big problem. We are – even if unintentional – building something that depends on us, not on the Holy Spirit.

The church is not the church unless we are following and relying completely on the Holy Spirit. We may birth something on our own, and we may keep something running on our own. But, only the Spirit can birth and grow a church.


11 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-23-2009

    I think you are right. What is important for folks to realize though is that the problem is NOT the “institutional” church. The solution is NOT, simple church, house churches, or any other movement.

    What I find troubling is that so many of our solutions depend upon us taking control and running things “our” way… or quite frankly running things the “NT” way (which is code for, I am more right therefore my church will be more successful). The problem is, as you point out, our lack of reliance upon the Holy Spirit, and the solution is learning to trust the power of the Spirit over the power of our mind, strength, training, models, etc…

    Personally, I am humbled by the thought of it and overwhelmed to think of how much maturing I have yet to do…

  2. 6-23-2009

    Hi Alan
    I think your analysis is correct. The whole issue of dependency on God is one that is completely overlooked in our self-sufficient, ‘all about me’, individualistic, western church culture. In discussions about ecclesiology and church planting I regularly come up against the argument that things recorded in Acts are ‘not prescriptive’ for us today. This usually means ‘we want to do it our way’.
    Church planting is a key example. In the NT Paul and his group planted a church and then MOVED AWAY – leaving the fledgling church without elders and totally dependent on God. Only later did he return or send a fellow worker to confirm those who God had raised up from within the church and were suitably equipped and qualified as elders to be the leaders. Our modern version seems to focus everything on identifying and equipping special individuals as church planters. These then plant a church…but never seem to move on. They train up people as elders around them and often under them, establishing some sort of hierarchy, with ‘senior pastors’, ‘assistant pastors’, etc. But still they never move on. They start to train up other church planters to go out and repeat the process elsewhere. But still they never move on. The whole church is based around their ministry and becomes very dependent on them. People within the church are not encouraged to develop their gifts and to minister to one another as this might be dangerous and undermine ‘the minister’s’ position. And still they never move on…
    And where in this scenario is there any place for truly relying on God rather than man?
    Enjoy Grace!

  3. 6-23-2009

    Alan,

    So many of us have become dependent on these ‘things’.

    The question in my mind is: How can we strike a balance between understanding that there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things you listed (finances, buildings, training, planning, marketing, leadership skills), while at the same time not idolizing those things?

    All of these ‘things’ represent normal means that God may use for the building of His Kingdom.

  4. 6-23-2009

    Joe (JR),

    Yes, I’m also overwhelmed and realized how much maturing I have left to do. I also recognize that it is natural to build something that depends upon me. I think this is one of the areas where I need to mature.

    Goblin,

    Yes, I’ve noticed that many churches today begin with a plethora of leaders. This should be a concern, but I think its often applauded today.

    Wade,

    I think it would help if we asked ourselves this question: “What would happen if we didn’t have or didn’t do X”. If the answer is, “We couldn’t be a church,” then I think we should get rid of X as soon as possible.

    -Alan

  5. 6-23-2009

    Alan

    Wonderful post. Interesting insights.

    Maybe I’m mistaken but
    you seem to be struggling with
    what you are doing and seeing around you,
    and what God is showing you; are you?

    “Now, we must ask ourselves…
    are we willing to forego all of the stuff
    that we think is necessary and
    rely completely on God
    and only on God?”

    Jesus warned us: “Making the word of God
    of none effect through your tradition.”

    Do we rely completely on God?
    Or do we rely on our tradition
    and “the stuff that we think is necessary?”

    But this thing commanded I them, saying,
    Obey my voice, and I will be your God,
    and ye shall be my people.
    Jeremiah 7:23

    Obey my voice, and do them,
    according to all which I command you:
    so shall ye be my people,
    and I will be your God.
    Jeremiah 11:4

    …blessed are they that
    hear
    the word of God, and keep it.
    Luke 11:28

    Abraham:
    “and he went out, not knowing whither he went.”

    Because that Abraham obeyed my voice…
    Genesis 26:5

    Abraham obeyed God.
    He heard His Voice and
    relied completely on God.

    Paul:
    “But when it pleased God… and called me
    by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately
    I conferred not with flesh and blood.”

    “the gospel which was preached of me
    is not after man. For I neither received it of man,
    neither was I taught it,
    but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

    Paul obeyed God.
    He heard His Voice and
    relied completely on God.

    Simon Peter:
    Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona:
    for flesh and blood
    hath not revealed it unto thee,
    but my Father which is in heaven.

    John the apostle writes:
    These things have I written unto you
    concerning them that seduce you.
    But the anointing which ye have received
    of him abideth in you,
    and ye need not that any man teach you…

    And other sheep I have,
    which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring,
    and they shall hear my voice;
    and there shall be one fold,
    and one shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One voice – One fold – One Shepherd
    If not now; When?

    “Now, we must ask ourselves…
    are we willing to forego all of the stuff
    that we think is necessary and
    rely completely on God
    and only on God?”

    Be blessed in your search for truth.

    In His Service. By His Grace.

  6. 6-23-2009

    Alan,

    Tozer had it pegged long ago: “The average church has so established itself organizationally and financially that God is simply not necessary to it.”

    I have seen this is several churches I’ve been in. It is sad, but hard to admit, that your church, or yourself, is so established that God isn’t necessary anymore.

    As you stated, “only the Spirit can birth and grow a church.”

    Amen. Amen. And AMEN!

    Tom

  7. 6-23-2009

    Alan,

    You said, “If removing leadership or programs or buildings or finances or anything else would cause believers to stop meeting together, stop disciplining one another, stop growing spiritually, then that group of believers is not depending on God.”

    Absolutely!

    Tozer also comments on another facet which you touch on, “Christianity is so entangled with the world that millions never guess how radically they have missed the New Testament pattern. Compromise is everywhere.”

    The master builder, Jesus, said, “….I will build my church…”, but the apprentices think they know best.

  8. 6-23-2009

    Alan,
    The more I work in this setting of a traditional church, and even when I look back at my home church, I can see this momentum you speak of either catching on where the Holy Spirit left off, or pushing a church along while God’s presence is not there. This church I’m interning with particularly is not part of the momentum. Several times since I’ve been here this summer I’ve witnessed believers who totally depend on God and not the institution display their faith. It’s an awesome thing to see a church on fire for God, AND totally dependent on him. Thanks for this post.
    Jason

  9. 6-23-2009

    A Amos Love,

    I’m not struggling with the church, or understanding the work of God through his Spirit. I am struggling with what I see people doing and calling it “church”.

    Tom,

    Thanks for the comment. I think Tozer is correct also. If he is, it should cause each group that calls itself a church to look carefully at their beliefs and practices.

    Aussie John,

    Another good quote from Tozer… thank you!

    Jason,

    Awesome! I’m glad to hear it.

    -Alan

  10. 6-4-2012

    I think you might appreciate this article from Winfield Bevins @winfieldbevins: http://www.gospelcentereddiscipleship.com/how-jesus-made-disciples/

  11. 6-4-2012

    Ben,

    Thanks for the link. I’ve read similar articles, and I agree with much of what is said. We have to remember that each person that we help to follow Jesus will be different. In the same way, we are different than other people as well. So, these kinds of summaries can be good, but I think they work best as examples of different approaches to helping people. In fact, even Jesus didn’t step through any kind of process. He knew what each person needed at that time.

    -Alan