How does one grow a church? How does one make your church a “success”? I know the right answer to this: God makes a great church. But even so, I’m very aware of the temptation within me to try to “tweak” things so that not only will “my” church be successful, but also so that people will look at me and think me a “great” pastor. If I’m brutally honest, I want people to admire me – to admire me for my skill as a communicator; to think me the next Billy Graham; to think that I have a way of communicating that makes everything clearer.
Now, I do think that God has given me certain gifts when it comes to communicating. But what I (and I suspect many other pastors and leaders) need to be wary of is putting my own ego before the gospel of Christ. I need to be wary of putting myself forward as the “spiritual crutch” for my congregation. I know how weak I really am, I am certainly not strong enough to carry any one else spiritually. Sometimes I don’t even have the strength to carry me. The point is: I’m not meant to be anyone’s spiritual backbone. Christ is. Christ alone.
It’s tempting to try to speak with clever words, sounding wise. Tempting to speak with a wisdom that would be winsome to the world. Tempting to put aside some of the more controversial and demanding claims of the gospel for the sake of “growing” the church numerically. Things like taking up one’s cross, loving others sacrificially, the need for God’s holiness to dictate how I act, even the cross. You can get a strong following by preaching human wisdom. Think of Oprah, Olsteen, so many others.
But we need to remember, as Paul reminds us, that it was this world’s wisdom that crucified Christ. Jesus was killed because the Jewish authorities could not fathom that God would save and restore in weakness. They could not fathom a God who was for the desperate and downtrodden. Their wisdom said that one had to be good enough for God; God’s wisdom said that God acts to save us even whilst we are opposed to him. The two wisdoms are incompatible. And – in a moment of seeming wisdom – the world crushed the Lord.
Of course, in that very act, God’s wisdom shone all the brighter. Through the failure of human wisdom, the wisdom of God was revealed to be wiser!
I can try and operate on a human level. But true wisdom is from God. God needs to open my eyes – your eyes – to it. We need his Spirit in order to understand the mysterious plan of God for our salvation.
So when I’m trying to grow my church…. if I do it out of fancy speech and people thinking I’m brilliant… it’s not real; it won’t last. What I need is for God to work. His Spirit needs to open hearts and change minds to accept the simple – seemingly foolish – message of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. No amount of clever words can do that.
Yes, the Spirit uses the Scriptures and their exposition. But unless the Spirit moves, who would pay any credit to the message of the gospel?
Lord, please help me to not try to use my eloquence and power to convince. It’s tempting, Lord. And a part of me wants people to think of me as brilliant. But give me a greater desire that people should see less of me and more of you. Open hearts and minds in our suburbs to you as I, as we speak for you. And Lord… keep my heart and mind open to you too, I pray.