Devotional Thoughts "And 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." These are the verses we have been working through the last several days in our devotional time. Verses that show us how Christ has given gifts to the church in the form of ministers and elders who lead, protect, guide, and serve the church. These men have given us the Word of God written and teach us that Word so that we might be equipped for the work of the ministry, that is, matured so that we might effectively serve God and each other.
And now we come to the last phrase in Ephesians 4:12 which tells us about the end result of the outworking of these gifts within the body. The work of the Apostles, Prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers is to bring the saints to maturity so that they might serve because in their service to God and each other the church is built! Even as Jesus tells us that He will build His church (Matt 16:18) this is the formula He uses. This is His program. It is an equipped, serving Body that makes disciples, first through evangelism and then through the ongoing process of discipleship within the Body.
In fact, we can go so far as to say that no matter what else a church is doing, no matter the evangelism programs, Bible classes, mission events, or even worship services, if the church is not being equipped (brought to maturity) for the purpose of humbly serving God and each other then the church is not being built!! If we skip any part of this verse we miss God's purpose driving church growth!
So if we are talking about church growth what exactly do we mean? What does the Bible say about building the Body? Church growth is the process of "edification", translated from the Greek word oikodome which means literally "building a house." And here it is the House of the Lord being built. Christ builds His Church using equipped, serving believers.
The process, if we can call it that, is not the subject of any best selling church growth book. It is not the emphasis of any program for reaching hundreds or baptizing millions. It is not a blip on the map of anything emerging from the latest fad driven mega mess purposeless seeker sensitive worship theme park. Then what is God's program for growing His body?
We learn about church growth, remember this is not church expansion, in the terms of building a house. In our study we will see what the Bible teaches and break it down into three stages. These involve the foundation, the framing, and the finishing of the building. So let us look at how it should be done by the Book.
Laying the Foundation - Christ and the Apostles and Prophets
The foundation for true church growth, the means Christ uses to build His body, starts with the cornerstone, Jesus Himself. He is the anchor around which the foundation is built. And that foundation has already been laid and is complete. No new foundation needs to be laid, for it is the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets and the written Word of God that they received and recorded from the Holy Spirit. So God's work through them gives us the foundation - the Word of God, Written and Living.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. - 1 Cor 3:11
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. - Eph 2:19-22
Paul tells us then that we are to build upon that foundation. What is it that we build with? The gospel. The Word of God. We make disciples. That brings us to the next step in our building.
Framing - Evangelists
The house of God, as it were, is framed by evangelists. This is the work of preaching the gospel to the lost. It is a matter of being salt and light as an ambassador of Christ, working to reconcile the world to God. Paul refers to it as planting, watering, and harvesting. One may plant the seed, another water it, but it is always God who gives the increase.
The conversion of sinners is His gracious work. We do not persuade, convince, or argue people into accepting Christ. We are to plant the seed, sowing it everywhere we go. And we are to water the seed that has been sown by teaching and preaching and living the Word of God. And through this process God uses His Word to accomplish the purposes for which He sends it out - without fail, without exception. He is the One who gives the increase.
It is the Holy Spirit who convinces men of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come. It is the Holy Spirit who draws men to Christ, without which drawing they would never come on their own. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us effectually to new life through regenerating sinners. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts, comforts, and then as we repent and believe, He indwells us, sealing us for the Day of Redemption.
But notice what He uses in every case to accomplish these things. It is the Word of God. And that is where we work along side the Spirit to "impart grace to the hearers." We spread the Word. We sow the seed. We preach. We teach. We encourage. We counsel. We speak the Word of God and the Spirit uses that Word to save sinners! Faith after all comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. And Paul makes the point in Romans 10 that people cannot hear without a preacher, without you and me to proclaim the truth to them with our words and our lives?
Finishing - Pastor-Teachers
Once converted, the process of making a disciple has just begun. This new born now needs to be nurtured and taught the Word of God by older more mature believers. This is the finishing stage. It is making the house habitable and comfortable! And this is the role of pastor-teachers. They equip us to serve one another. They feed us and nurture us and protect us and lead us.
In disciple making we are to teach each other all that Christ has commanded - again we are right back at the Word of God. And here the pastor is required, and even held to a higher standard of judgment because of this, to rightly handle the Word of God. He must be careful and diligent for he claims to speak for God! He interprets and teaches the Word of God to those who he is charged with leading. And he will give an account to God for those in his care.
This part of the process is what we studied two days ago - the equipping of the saints. Using the Word to enable them and empower them to live the life Christ has called them to live - so in reality they can walk worthy of the calling with which they have been called. And this is a part of the job that never ends. As long as we remain in this fallen body on this fallen earth we need to be built up. And it is the building up of one another, the edification of Body of Christ, that forms the true focus of church growth.
To close out our study today let us look at the stages of building in another light. This hopefully will help us get a good mental picture for how church growth really works. Here we will break it into 6 stages: