Church Growth Guru (the 5 Pillars of Church growth)

Paul teaches Timothy in his last "prison letter" several vital lessons about Church growth.  Church historians believe Paul was released after two years house arrest and allowed to travel to Spain and areas surrounding Britain before returning to Rome and being martyred on the same day as Peter.  While Peter was crucified upside down (requesting this, feeling he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord), Paul was beheaded outside the city, being given a more "humane" treatment because he was a Roman citizen.  In essence, what Paul discusses in 2 Timothy (around the same time as the last chapter of Acts) is some of his last recorded words to us today.  They represent a summary of his life and ministry to one of his most cherished students.  Dozens of people are recorded in Scripture to have traveled with and been mentored by Paul.  His life exemplifies mentorship to the greatest degree.  He referred to those he "raised up" as co-workers or associates.  They were friends and partners together.  Paul did not just train on the Christian life and mission, he lived it.  He was a practicing preacher, not a sideline teacher.  I get a picture of some ministers as the overweight coach on the sidelines yelling at their players to work harder.  Paul seems to be more of the captain out on the field.  He is encouraging everyone around him, "follow me as I follow Christ."  Church historians believe Paul won 100,000 converts in the area of Ephesus alone during his lifetime.  Within other cities he saw many more come to Christ.  He will have a long line of people trailing him to heaven someday.  He was a Church growth guru ... he is THE Church growth guru, giving us the very words of God in the New Testament.  Let's learn from what he shared with Timothy.  2 Timothy 4:1-6 ...
"I solomnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus - who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom:  Preach the word of God.  Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not.  Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.  For a time is coming when people will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear.  They will reject the truth and follow strange myths.  But you should keep a clear mind in every situation.  Don't be afraid of suffering for the Lord.  Work at bringing others to Christ.  Complete the ministry God has given you."
In this beautiful passage, Paul lays down the five areas of Church growth - useful for denominations, local churches or ministries.

1. Preach the Word - for truthful growth
Church growth is about a lot more than numerical growth.  Church growth is about these five areas that Paul lays down.  If many are being saved, but none are discipled or taught to evangelize, the message will soon be lost.  Cults, false religions and evil empires have risen up with large numbers of people, but they are not the good growth we are talking about here.  Preaching the Bible brings truthful growth.  The spiritual leaders must study, know and present the Word of God constantly.  This allows people to see what God expects of them.  Paul tells us to be persistent or repetitive with the Bible.  He tells us to preach the truths of the Bible whether they are popular at the time or not.  He tells us to correct, rebuke and encourage our followers - based on what they are needing or going through, from the Bible.  He is also careful to tell us that times will come when people will follow strange religions and teachings, following whatever they want to hear.  In our generation, around the world, people try to bend their religions to fit what is popular.  For truthful Church growth, we must not follow this tendency, nor be scared to present truth when it is unpopular.

2. Keep a Clear Mind - for strategic growth
A wise man once said, "If we aim at nothing, we will hit it every time."  We are called here to clear our minds from the busyness, stress and craziness of life and ministry.  Pause, reflect, evaluate what we are doing and if it is working or not.  Our goal in ministry is not to stay busy, but to work towards strategically what God is trying to accomplish through us in our area of the world.  It is important to take time to evaluate where we are going, each area of our ministries to see if God is in it.  It is helpful to cancel areas of ministry that are ineffective and "time fillers" to laser focus on what God has specifically called us to do.  In these times, we should also take time to celebrate what God has done in us and through us.  Make memories and strategically narrow our focus for the future.

3. Don't be afraid of suffering - for long term growth
The greatest growth in ministry is long term.  A constant failure on the part of spiritual leaders is constantly moving around to different churches, ministries, cities and positions.  We have to learn to endure and sink our roots down deep into a place where God has called us.  True growth comes over the long term.  I have an incredible example of this in my Grandfather in law - Pastor G. Mark Denyes.  His story is amazing - he first pastored in Chilacothe, MO where he had to close down the church forever because of lack of growth and funds.  He and his family moved next near Minneapolis, MN where he has pastored the same church for 43 years, recently stepping into the role of founding pastor.  The church grew from the basement of a house and a few families to over 5,000 every weekend currently.  He lives this point.  So many pastors I speak with (and any calling could relate to this point) are constantly feeling the desire to quit because everything at their church isn't fitting their "dream job."  Suffering for Christ does not only denote being attacked by non-Christians, but also the more inner suffering of feeling undervalued or unfulfilled.  The longer we stick, the more our vision will stick, and the greater the stickiness of Christ's message for our cities.  Don't move with every emotion.  Stick close to God, spend your life listening to his voice, encourage yourself in the Lord, endure for greater effectiveness and growth.

4. Work at Bringing others to Christ - for numerical growth
This is the area that is typically thought of as Church growth, although all five areas together correctly portray God's hope for Church growth.  Numerical growth is really very simple.  The leader must see it as their responsibility to lead the way on this one.  It is not enough to say this is not their gifting or area of expertise.  They must get past their feelings of inferiority and learn to bring others to Christ.  It must extend beyond the church service (although giving opportunities regularly in services for non-Christians to accept Christ is a start).  They must catch God's heart for non-Christians, learn to practically respond, and set the pace for their followers.  Paul correctly labels evangelism when he says "work" at it.  It will take effort and action.  It may even take some sweat and tears.  Even so, do what it takes to learn and lead the way, and then encourage others to follow you.  Apply the other areas of Church growth as you do #4, and you will see numerical growth.

5. Complete the Ministry God has given you - for Leadership Growth
The NIV version translates, "Discharge all the duties of the ministry."  The majority of completing the ministry God gives you will be to "raise others up" to help.  This is a scary thing for several reasons - it can be hard to compromise your standards of expectation and excellence to pass the baton to other leaders.  And one of the greatest mistakes a spiritual leader can make is to overemphasize your vision and ministry while simultaneously trying to persuade others to join you.  While trafficking the dangerous terrain of passing on leadership, know it is all worthwhile.  When we give others "say" and responsibility, we give ownership.  Ownership is powerful and literally has the potential to multiply the ministry.  Watch Moses transferring the anointing on the 70 leaders of young Israel.  Passing the baton takes the weight off the spiritual leader and multiplies effectiveness many times over.  Part of successfully raising up leaders can be learned from an earlier part of Paul's letter, 2 Timothy 2:2 says, "Teach these great truths to trustworthy people who are able to pass them on to others."
-Locate people you trust.
-Take time to prepare your vision and strategy in a teachable form.
-Take time to teach them, (and later make time to remind them.)
-Teach them to teach others.
-Allow them to teach others (don't micromanage or withhold trust and responsibility).

While we follow these 5 great pillars of Church growth:
1. Preach the Word - for truthful growth
2. Keep a Clear Mind - for strategic growth
3. Don't be afraid of Suffering - for long term growth
4. Work at Bringing others to Christ - for numerical growth
5. Complete the Ministry God has given you - for leadership growth
We can trust that God will build his Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail.