In the last issue, we started to list 10 marks of churches that grow, and finished through #7. After completing the list, I’d like to suggest some ways for a group of concerned elders to proceed.
8. Spiritual vision for the future is not limited to the Lord’s return. Some assemblies have become so discouraged, that they have virtually given up all hope for growth or outreach and think only of keeping the meetings going until the Lord returns. Now the Lord’s return is our blessed hope-but He Himself said: “Occupy till I come” ( Luke 19:13 KJV).
According to Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” Some writers labor to show that the word “vision” means no more than “law” or “word,” but the Hebrew word was chosen carefully and emphasizes the idea of something seen. Certainly there are serious dangers and misuses of the word today, but why abandon a good word because some misuse it?
Think of the early church at Antioch in which spiritual men were ministering to the Lord and fasting (Acts 13:2). Suddenly the Lord disclosed a plan for the future that led to what we call “missionary work” today! These men all were firm believers in the imminent return of the Lord, but grasping a vision of exciting things ahead was not inconsistent with this. There are tremendous opportunities all around us; we cannot do them all, but the Lord can grant us a vision (or spiritual insight and foresight) into His will for us if we are willing.
9. Take people’s needs seriously. In His first public ministry (Luke 4:16-18) the Lord Jesus affirmed that His calling was to needy people. Poor people and prisoners are no more needy than other lost souls and yet He singled them out for Good News and help. Repeatedly we read that He was moved with compassion for them. The church must be the same.
Sometimes the needs may be temporal or social. True, the gospel must not be replaced with social programs, yet ministering to the needs and hurts of people often opens doors for spiritual progress in the soul. All missionaries know and practice this. Ask yourself when was the last time those in leadership offered to pray for sick or disheartened people as part of Sunday’s busy schedule of meetings. How much of the church’s income is spent helping the needs of young families or people out of work in our fellowship?
10. Facing and clearing up problems. Relational problems are barriers to unity and answered prayer. The Lord Jesus spoke of unity as the great key to outreach (John 17:21 -23). Over the years elders can become callous to problems and paralyzed to clearing them up. Yet the Lord has made this process so simple……..confess (admit) and move on!
In addition, as we saw in a past series on the work of elders (ESN: March – November 2000) that this matter called “oversight” is one of the chief responsibilities of elders. Indeed very often the failure to deal with problems is the reason the assembly has dwindled. May the Lord give us courage to face and deal with problems quickly.
What Can Elders Do?
It will not help to over-simplify complex problems. But neither can it be right to neglect the victory that overcomes what the world may call “hopeless,” namely, our faith (I John 5:4). God can do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think….” (Eph. 3:20) Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Him work this way in our midst? Are we willing to pay the price? It’s not the sacrifice of money He wants, but a humble and contrite heart.
Let me reduce the subject to two suggestions well within reach of even the smallest company. First, repent! Begin right where the Lord Himself told us to start. Now I am not referring to a process so lengthy and emotion filled that few could achieve it. On the contrary, one simple heartfelt prayer will serve: “Lord, we have taken a wrong turn, and we want to make it right.” Is this unrealistic today?
Consider that in His counsel to seven of the earliest Christian churches (Rev. 2-3) the Lord Jesus warned five of the seven to repent. That works out to about 70% of the group He was addressing churches that had been in existence for about 50 years and fell into such a condition before the close of the first century AD! When was the last time you heard a church repent?
Second, elders lead! Begin by spending time in the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4) to seek the Lord’s help. Then practice loving communication among those seeking to move forward, all willing to listen, all free to share ideas, blame rejected as a solution to anything. Strive to be both faithful to God and relevant to the needs of the flock.
The list of ten marks provided above may ignite some ideas or at least lead to some open discussion. Incidentally, as one point of discussion, did you notice how many of these marks depend directly on good leadership? Don’t be afraid to test ideas. New applications to timeless principles can be evaluated to see what the Lord may do.
A Final Suggestion
If I had to choose just one mark from the list of ten, I would work on #7, fellowship. The potential in this one word to revitalize a struggling group committed to one another and to the Lord is absolutely beyond calculation.
I remember one small assembly that instituted an informal “family fellowship time” between the breaking of bread and the Bible hour on Sunday mornings. “Get a cup of coffee and a snack, and let’s all gather around and talk about what the Lord is doing in our lives and our families. At the close, a brother will bring any needs before the Lord.” The effect was amazing. People loved the time and began to open up.
It was not surprising that some visitors hearing about such a time “in a church,” actually came just for this one half hour, but they came! And the Lord blessed it because it was genuine fellowship. One of our favorite hymns begins this way: “Great the joy when Christians meet; Christian fellowship how sweet…..”
Recently I heard someone say “Fellowship is not something we do, but something we have.” I protest! Fellowship is both, and the “do” part has gotten lost in the dust. “But to do good and communicate (literally “fellowship” Gk. koinonia) forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16).