Jesus Christ’s Invincible Church Growth Strategy


Books abound on church growth strategy. There are books to grow your church from the inside out. Other books teach church growth from the outside in. One book wants you to grow your church by learning from unchurched Americans. Another book says Christians just need to become contagious (in a good way, of course).

Christ church prevail persecutionEach of these books has the right heartbeat: Christian churches ought to grow and bear good fruit. Jesus Himself said,

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples, John 15:8.

That churches ought to grow is not as difficult a question to answer as is the question, how are churches to grow.  That question begets much opinion with copious emotion.  The vast array of such opinions and emotions has generated wave after wave of church growth movements. Pastors and laypeople alike may, at times, feel swept away by the waves of change mandated in the latest church growth stratagem. How can we grow the church?

In response, I offer this reminder of a simple, helpful, strong, and encouraging message embedded in the Scriptures, one which is also being demonstrated in real-time through the persecuted church.  The lesson?  Jesus Christ will build His church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against her.  Consider the scenario unfolded in Acts 8.

A very bad thing happened in Acts 8. A great persecution struck the church. Christians had to flee Jerusalem (in the same way they are having to flee the Middle East today).  The ones who thought they might stay and maintain some form of normalcy in Jerusalem were dragged off to prison (Acts 8:3). It was all bad. All their dreams of family comfort were shattered as a crystal glass shatters on a granite counter—instantly broken into scattered pieces.

And what of the decimation to the Jerusalem church? After whom would the persecutors go? Persecutors typically attack the leaders first. So, the great persecution unleashed in Jerusalem decimated the church, chasing even some of her leaders far away and out of reach. And yet, the bad news had a divinely-empowered good result. As Acts 8:4 reports, “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”  And the people in the places they went to ended up rejoicing. The bad the persecutors were producing ended with the good news of the gospel spreading.

In a similar way, a very bad thing happened in China in 1949.  Communism took over in China, and, among other changes, the Christian Church China PersecutionCommunist government expelled all missionaries from the land. And that wasn’t all:  The Communist government immediately began putting in prison Christians who could not swear first allegiance to the Communist party.  The blood-bath was immense through the 1960’s, as government officials announced “the death of God.” The situation was very bad indeed.  But God was not dead. He was as alive as His Word.

Without foreign missionary aid, without government help or support, without any serious infra-structure or property or resources in the country, the Christians of China did not die. The church grew.

When Communism took over, there were 870,000 Christians in China. Today, after a 60 year assault on the Christian church, there are an estimated 90 million Christians in China. There may in fact be more Christians than there are Communist party members! That growth happened—as it happened in Acts 8—through the promise from Christ that He would build His church–that His word would continue to increase and go forth empowered by the Spirit to the ends of the earth.

The point for us to remember is simply that Jesus is the one building his church, and the work cannot fail. Indeed, Paul tells us that the work we do in the name of the Lord will never be done in vain (1 Cor 15).  So, by faith, preach the Word. Strategize. Seek to fulfill the Great Commission mandate, but, even when persecution and unexpected setbacks come, take courage:  Jesus Christ has not lost control of heaven or earth, and He will build His church.  That’s a strategy with a 100% durable success.

An Ugly, Unattractive Jesus


Jesus

Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once proclaimed, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”[1] Americans in particular have a fascinating attraction to beauty (or, more accurately, to the beautiful). Consider this simple factoid: Vogue magazine has nearly three times the readership of Sports Illustrated—and Sports Illustrated’s most successful issue is the annual swimsuit edition! Beautiful women get our attention.

 

The quest for beauty is not lost on the church in America. Sanctuaries and lobbies are often decorated by women with a feminine perspective of beauty: flowers and pastels rule the day.  Not long ago, I visited a church which was intentionally “masculine” in its décor: rocks, stones, steel, and brown. Mundane. Bland. Yet very sturdy and forceful was the building. Which is the more biblical approach to building décor? That is a great question to which I do not know the answer. I do know, however, that we have a problem when it comes to communicating Jesus.

 

The biblical record is quite plain: Jesus isn’t pretty. Jesus is ugly. We tend to feminize Jesus—painting Him in accord with our lobbies—in pastels and flowers. He is rarely forceful. And never ugly.  Yet, in the Bible, He is unattractive. Consider the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53:

 

…He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

 

Contrast the passage above, which the New Testament affirms is fulfilled in Jesus Christ,[2] with the popular presentation of Jesus in our churches. Typically, Jesus is promoted as the antidote to whatever is your Kryptonite. Are you weak and in need of power to perform? Get Jesus. Are you depressed and in need of a super-sized, pick-me-up? Get Jesus. Are you suffering from a rotten life and in need of a better life now? Get Jesus. Does your marriage suck? Get Jesus. Financial woes? Jesus. No matter what brings you down, Jesus lifts you up.

 

Jesus has been tamed into a prophetic panacea, a Self-help Savior. He is no more threatening than “Mr. Rogers with a beard.”[3] And he is typically portrayed as being at least as attractive as Brad Pitt—but even more popular. The musical group Down Here gets to the point in their song “The Real Jesus:”

 

Jesus on the radio, Jesus on a late night show

 

Jesus in a dream, looking all serene

 

Jesus on a steeple, Jesus in the Gallup poll

 

Jesus has His very own brand of rock and roll

 

Watched Him on the silver screen

 

Bought the action figurine

 

But Jesus is the only name that makes you flinch

 

Oh, can anybody show me the real Jesus?

 

Oh, let Your love unveil the mystery of the real Jesus

 

The real Jesus has scars. He is cursed by God, hanged on a tree. He is forsaken by men who mock him, ridicule him, and slander him falsely. So

 

Leo Tolstoy 1848

Leo Tolstoy 1848 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

hideous were his final hours that his closest companions denied they ever knew him. When he died, he had no crowd. Even after his post-Resurrection appearances, Jesus had only 120 following him (Acts 1:15). His ministry would not be lauded by anyone taking score with any human measure of efficiency.  Jesus proved not to be much of a leader (by our typical leadership measures).

 

There was nothing in His appearance to draw us to Him. In fact, He had the kind of life—and the kind of appearance—that would make us turn away from Him.  The real Jesus turns out to be ugly, unattractive, and downright distasteful. He proves to be the kind of man rejected by almost everyone.

 

So, why would anyone follow such a man? The real ugly truth about Jesus is that His ugly appearance reveals our own sinful nature. He condemns publicly the sin that ruins us privately. He reveals to us the life that swallows our own deserved death. He reveals the purity that washes away our vanity. But vanity, sin, and death are not easily dismissed. The remedy for such horrendous maladies is unapproachable apart from suffering. And suffering God’s curse is an ugly affair. Christ came as a suffering servant for us.

 

If we see our own sin as ugly before the holiness of God, then we might begin to see the loveliness of a suffering Savior. The one reason to follow Jesus is to be reconciled to God forever. And, for us who are being saved, ugly has never been as lovely as it is in Jesus Christ.

 


[1] Leo Tolstoy, Kreutzer Sonata.

[2] See Acts 8:34-35; Matthew 8:17.

[3] Phrase used by John Eldrige in Wild at Heart.