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If We Build ItÖ..WILL He Come?
The Characteristics of a Congregation Jesus Builds
By David A. DePra"If you build it, he will come," was the signature line from the movie, "Field of Dreams." It is also what many Christians would say about a church. Somehow, someway, we have gotten the idea that if we start a church, or build a church, Jesus will come. We almost think that God is obligated to bless anything that we start, or continue, in His name. So people start churches and ministries, and hand them to God, and expect Him to bless. Well, the fact is, God isnít obligated to do anything of the kind.
Jesus said, "I will build My church." Nothing about us doing anything in that verse, except that we are the people He will build. For Jesus was, of course, not talking about church buildings or the organizational aspects of a church. He was talking about THE church, which is saved people. The church is the body of believers which God has, "called out," down through history. THAT body is what Jesus builds Ė upon Himself as the Rock; the foundation
Ok. But what about a congregation? A local church? Can we build THAT, and expect Jesus to bless us? No. We canít build it. But there are characteristics of a local church which Jesus is building. If we can discover those, we will at least be able to cooperate with Him.
Gathered In His Name
Jesus said that wherever there were two or three gathered IN HIS NAME, He would be there. But notice: He did not say that if the two or three meet, that this constitutes, "a church." No. Again -- a church is not created because two or three Christians meet. Rather, those two or three people are ALREADY the church before they meet -- and even if they never meet. A church does not spring into existence because of anything people do. The church is PEOPLE who are in Christ. That is already a done deal before we start talking about local churches.
A better term for Christians who meet together in fellowship on a regular basis would be a, "fellowship," or, "congregation." This is a segment of THE CHURCH that has banded together in a common place on a regular basis, with elders, and a pastor, etc.
Ok. So if we build THAT Ė a local congregation Ė will Jesus come? Nope. That is backwards. Rather, if Jesus comes, He will build. And He will not come unless we, "gather in His name."
That is what Jesus said. He said He would be where two or three were gathered, "in His name." Then, because they are gathered, "in His name," building is possible. Growth is possible. But none of this is predicated upon the GATHERING itself. It is predicated upon gathering IN HIS NAME.
To be gathered IN HIS NAME means to be there doing what He wants us to do, in the attitude He would have, and for the purposes He desires. This would primarily be WORSHIP. But it would also include everything Paul directs ought to be so in the household of God. Clearly, there is always a learning curve here. So just start with worship and praise. Anyone can do that! Then go on. To gather in Jesusí name, we should at least be in His will, in the Word, worshipping, and then through a continual seeking, be heading in the right direction.
The usual substitutes for gathering in Jesusí name would be to gather for a social occasion. It would be to gather for human reasons. Or for committee work. But even though these are not evil things, in and of themselves, they should be secondary outcomes of gathering in Jesusí name for worship Ė not the reason for gathering. The CORE reason for gathering must be to worship Christ and lift Him up -- to have each person built up in Christ.
Now we come to the point, donít we? God is not going to bless any church that is not gathered in Jesusí name for worship. He is not going to bless a church that gathers together in their own name. But notice that it does not matter why we SAY we are gathering. What matters is the real reason we ARE gathering. It must be in the name of Jesus Ė to undertake His will. Indeed, to BECOME His will. To worship Him, yes, in church. But also to worship Him with our lives.
So here we find the first characteristic of the church Jesus builds: The people must be gathered IN HIS NAME for worship. Worship should be demonstrated in church. But worship must also be lived. Then God is free to bless that church Ė because those people are putting HIM FIRST.
The Household of God
God will only bless a church -- IF He can trust that group of people to believe Him, obey Him, and properly represent Him. If He cannot trust those people to do that, He is not going to entrust to them the spiritual lives of others. Why would He want to?
Herein we find the second key to church growth. It is not found in campaigns and methods. Nope. God will only bless a church if that church FIRST has itís own household in order, and is a church which He can trust. This doesnít mean it must be perfect. But it must at least be a "spiritual work in progress" which is heading in the right direction Ė seeking Godís will and being committed to it at all cost.
The purpose of ministry is to edify, or build up, each believer in Christ. The church is to become a living witness of Christ. This means that when people look at your church, they should know Jesus Christ is there Ė weaknesses non-withstanding. There should be a witness unto HIM. All of this is accomplished through the ministry that occurs WITHIN THE CHURCH to those IN the church. It does not yet have anything to dowith the unbeliever.
If you read the list of spiritual gifts and ministry gifts, you will find that God has called some to be evangelists. But every other ministry is one that is for, not unbelievers, but saved people. God isnít after numbers. Before He will grow the number of people in a local church, He wants to grow the PEOPLE themselves.
God does not want a church which preaches Christ, but which does not reflect Christ. Why would God want to reproduce miserable Christians? Unbelieving Christians? Immoral Christians? Bickering Christians? Arrogant, self-sufficient Christians? Christians who refuse to deal with internal problems and follow NT mandates for church order? He WONíT. Get that. God WONíT bless such a church. Take that one to the bank.
Of course, someone is bound to say, "Well, I know lots of churches that are off the track, and they seem to be blessed of God." They arenít. Never say that it is impossible to build a congregation around error. Never say that human effort and personality cannot grow a congregation. These things CAN grow a congregation. Cults have BIG congregations. But size doesnít mean a thing. Spiritual SHAPE does. Man builds size. God builds shape. The size comes later, once the spiritual shape of a congregation is established in the image of Jesus Christ.
God is not stingy about blessing His people or His churches. He DESIRES to bless. But we keep out the blessing of God because we give Him little to bless. Indeed, it is amazing the blessings He gives us despite ourselves. He is quite long-suffering. But in the end, God has to be able to trust us with what He gives. If He canít trust us with blessing, He wonít send it, because it will, in the long run, end up hurting us. It would destroy us, and we would destroy the blessing. So God, in His mercy, withholds His blessing.
What does the Bible teach about growing a church numerically? If you read the New Testament, you will not find a single verse, or a single teaching, as to how to grow church attendance. In fact, there is not one concern expressed as to the size of a church, or whether people are attending. There are no worries about a church surviving. There are no hints that such concerns are even in the picture.
Why? Because the focus was always upon HIM. Jesus Christ. You know, the Person who said, "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH!"? He was FIRST. Then, secondly, as the outcome of the focus being upon HIM, the emphasis is CHRIST IN HIS PEOPLE. It is always the worship of CHRIST first, the spiritual condition of the church second, and evangelism third. These are progressive and lead into each other in that order. Always. Mix those up and you are out of the will of God.
The letters of Paul the apostle to the churches never mention methods for getting people to come to church. He does talk about Godís desire to save all people, and about the need to spread the gospel. Even the need to meet together. But the entire thrust of the epistles is upon the spiritual growth in Christ Jesus of the HOUSEHOLD OF GOD. Paul knew that unless the branches are abiding in the Vine, God would never be able to make MORE branches.
So the second characteristic of the church Jesus builds is that it allows Him to put itís own house in order. Worship Christ FIRST. If you do, then it will result in getting your own house in order.
Lifting Up Christ
The third characteristic of a church Jesus builds is that they lift HIM up. Do you want to know how free God to bless your church with growth? Lift up Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself." Do the math. If we lift up Christ, Christ will draw people to Himself. It only stands to reason that some of them will be drawn to our church Ė because that is where He is being lifted up. Doesnít this make sense?
Now note: Donít lift up Christ as a ploy to get Him to grow your church. Lift Him up without strings attached Ė because it is right. And then leave the rest to Him.
This is how we see things happening right after the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:38-47)
Peter preached Christ. And the Lord did the rest. But the goal of God was not to grow a church. It was to save people. But that does grow a church. So in other words, get people to fall into the hands of Jesus. If they do, the church HAS grown. And God will be free to send them to your congregation if it pleases Him.
The third characteristic of a church Jesus builds is that it lifts up Jesus Christ. He is the focus, the obsession, the Head. God is able to bless a church that does that.
Being a Witness
In the above passage, you will notice what those new Christians did: They continued in the Truth. They fellowshipped and learned. They worshipped. The RESULT was that God was free to add to them daily. The RESULT was that they became a living WITNESS for Christ, and enabled God to freely bless them.
We get it backwards. We think that we need to grow a church so we can do these things. No. We need to do these things Ė whether at church or not Ė and God will bless.
You see, people naturally become concerned about the church as an, "IT." "IT" must thrive and survive. Well, Iíve got news: There is no, "IT!" There just isnít. There is only HIM. There is HIM in US! Thus, rather than remain devoted to the church, or to the cause of the church, we need to remain devoted to HIM.
The early church allowed God to make them into a LIVING WITNESS of Jesus. Notice: It wasnít that they just went out and did some witnessing. No. They BECAME a living witness. God can bless a witness to Christ, because it is a church which is telling the Truth about Him. Unless a church is a living witness to Jesus Christ, it will not be likely that God will send many people there. Why would He want to send people who need to know Him to a place that doesnít know Him?
The fourth characteristic of a church Jesus builds is that it by allows God to make them a living witness for Christ. Does our church look like it belongs to Jesus? Or does it look like it belongs to us?
Outward, Not Inward
It seems to be a universal spiritual law of the kingdom of God: The more you focus on the Source, and open to Him, the more you receive and are able to give. It is always VERTICAL first, resulting in HORIZONTAL. The more you embrace of Christ, the more you have to give to others. But the opposite is true: If you bottle up yourself from Christ, the flow will stop. You wonít have much to give because you have become inward, not outward.
The fourth characteristic of a church Jesus builds is that it is OUTWARD, not INWARD -- to itself. The reason it is outward is because it has the life of Christ flowing from within! It is able to flow outward in a horizontal plane, because inwardly, there is an open vertical pipeline to God.
Now, this might seem to contradict the earlier characteristic of, "needing to first get oneís own house in order." But it does not. A church that allows God to deal with THEM FIRST Ė on the vertical plane -- is NOT focused upon themselves. It is focused on, and open to, HIM. That is why Christ is ABLE to deal with them. That is why Christ is able to get their house in order. And then, because that house is in order, the result is always that this church has an OUTWARD quality to it. It is not INWARD unto itself.
Too many Christians are in love with their church. I didnít say they were in love with other Christians. I said they were in love with their church. To them, the church is, "an IT," to which they belong, which provides them with certain benefits. "My church," or, "our church," or, "this church," populates the vocabulary. The goal is to make sure the church survives and thrives.
What ends up happening is that the whole focus of the people in the church deteriorates to being upon what is HAPPENING at church, who is doing what, and whether the pastor is doing what he is supposed to be doing. The church develops self-centeredness much like the ones that individuals develop. It can get almost to the point of obsession.
The problem here is that people are trying to be outward in a horizontal fashion, but by-passing the vertical. They arenít right with Christ, but are trying to act like it towards each other. But when Jesus is allowed to deal with the individuals in a fellowship, people are much less occupied with the church as an organization, or a thing, or an IT. They are taken up with HIM. And the result is always OUTWARD.
This expresses itself certainly through missions, etc., but I am talking about something much more subtle. Itís an attitude, or focus. It is an openness, embracing, and accessibility that permeates the people. The people donít want you to join them. They want you to join Christ. They arenít on a campaign to get you to church. They simply want you to know Christ.
So the fifth characteristic of a church Jesus builds is that it is OUTWARD, not INWARD. It is outward because Jesus is within, and He will overflow. This church is solid in Christ. He is able to work through them. And God is able to bless them with growth.
Thus far we have noted five characteristics of a church Jesus builds:
The people are gathered IN HIS NAME for worship.
The people allow Him to put their own house in order FIRST.
The people lift up Jesus Christ.
The people allow God to make them into living witnesses for Christ.
The people are OUTWARD, not INWARD.
You will notice that these things represent spiritual principles or conditions. The way in which they are practiced could vary. But in the end, the church Jesus will build must have these desires and traits.
When you look at these things, you will see devotion and love for a Person, instead of devotion to an organization or a, "thing," called a church. Fall into the hands of Christ, and the church will then begin to be what it was called to be. *
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