Sermon: God’s Foundation For Church Growth

 

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:11–13)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

What is the first thing you think of when you think of “church growth”?

 

For many Christians, church growth discussions usually center on topics like youth outreach programs, evangelism techniques, musical styles in worship, and the like. 

 

Those aren’t necessarily bad or unneeded discussions. In fact, we called Jon Ellingson as Outreach and Youth pastor to help us with some of those very things. Programs and methods are important and cannot be ignored.

 

But at the same time, they cannot be correctly discussed without proper grounding in what the Word of God says about church growth. Ephesians 4:11-13 are pretty much some of the clearest verses in the Bible regarding church growth. 

 

No, there’s no discussion about programs, worship styles, church decor, or the like. It’s the foundational material that, if we don’t have right, nothing else matters. 

 

In verse eleven, we learned that some of the spiritual gifts that Christ gives to Christians is that he gifts some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastor-teachers. 

 

Of these, apostles and prophets were used to establish the church in New Testament times and are no longer found (see Ephesians 2:20). 

 

Evangelists (who work to proclaim the gospel to the unsaved) and pastor-teachers (who work to encourage and grow the saved) are the gifts still being given today. These gifts are especially important for growing the church.

 

How does that happen? Let’s look at…


I. THE METHOD OF GROWING THE CHURCH

 

Christ’s method of growing the church begins with that he gifts some to be evangelists, some to be pastor-teachers—for what reason?

 

Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 

 

A. Church Training

 

“For the perfecting of the saints”—The “saints,” remember, are ordinary Christians, not someone who is a special Christian.

 

The word “perfecting” “refers to the preparation of the church for becoming perfect, but not to this perfection itself” (NIDNTT, vol. 3, 350). So it’s the process of training or equipping with the goal of making perfect.

 

In what sense are we to become perfect? It doesn’t mean to be without sin (which we can’t do in this life), but to become a mature Christian, one who is biblically discerning and passionate about Christ and being his servant in this world. 

 

Paul the apostle was an excellent example of a mature Christian. He knew scripture well and loved Christ enough to die for him and served him to the very end. 

 

How are evangelists and pastor-teachers supposed perfect, or train the church? There are three important tools that God gives to train Christians to be perfect.

 

1. The Bible

 

In 2 Timothy we have those great verses about the Bible:

 

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

 

So we see the scripture is inspired by God, useful for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction all for what goal? “That the man of God may be perfect.”

 

Anyone in a teaching capacity in the church needs to recognize the power of the Bible to train people and not to shy away from it in order to supposedly be more relevant and meaningful—nothing is more relevant and meaningful than the Bible.

 

2. Prayer

 

A second tool that God gives for the training of the church is prayer. The fact that prayer is important is found in Acts 6. 

 

There we find that the early church had grown numerically and the twelve apostles were having a hard time managing the logistics of caring for all the new Christians. In particular, there was an issue with certain widows being neglected.

 

Seeing that, if things continued this way, that their work would be consumed by social activities instead being focused on the spiritual growth of the church, the apostles came up with a plan.

 

3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:3–4)

 

So here they identified the two most important tools for church leaders: the Word of God, and prayer.

 

Prayer is often something we talk about, but rarely do. We’d rather jump right in and start doing something than to have an hour of prayer waiting on God. 

 

Yet neglecting prayer would be like changing a car tire  without a jack! It would be virtually impossible. Prayer is like the jack that lifts everything up.

 

3. Trials

 

A third tool that God uses to help perfect and train Christians is trials. Evangelists and pastor-teachers can often come alongside and help suffering Christians see something of God’s purposes in trials.

 

In James, we see the link between trials and the perfecting of the Christian:

 

2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience [patient endurance, not passively waiting in line at the post office, but like a boxer enduring punch after punch until the bell rings]. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2–4)

 

Surprisingly, James even tells us that we are to consider it a joy when we encounter trials and testing (which is what is meant by “temptations” here) because they can help our faith to be perfected.

 

But we must “let patience have her perfect work,” and not become bitter. That’s where pastors can come in and help people not to be bitter, but to see the trial as a tool to help them grow.

 

When we think about growing the church, the first place we need to look is ourselves: are we growing, are we being perfected and trained?

 

This training is for a purpose, however, it’s not just to give us heads full of knowledge and a heart that loves the Lord; we are trained so that we can be involved.

 

B. Church Involvement

 

Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

 

“for the work of the ministry,”—The way that we should read this is that the ones to be doing the “work of the ministry” are the same ones being “perfected,” that is all the saints—all Christians—not just the pastors, teachers, and evangelists.

 

“ministry” means simply “service,” and does not necessarily refer to a full time ministry that a pastor or evangelist may have. 

 

It could be just about anything: playing piano at the nursing home, mentoring a child, teaching Sunday school, greeting people at the door on Sunday morning, even handyman-type things like auto-repair, plumbing, or mowing a lawn. Practically anything can be a ministry, a service, for the Lord Jesus.

 

How could a single pastor possibly do all that? He couldn’t; two pastors couldn’t. The “work of the ministry” does not belong to the clergy, it belongs to all Christians.

 

Every Christian is to be doing much more than setting in a pew on Sunday morning. The “work of the ministry” is for every Christian—it’s how Christ does his work in this world.

 

What verses 11 and 12 are saying is that Christ has gifted some to be evangelists and some as pastor-teachers and those are to perfect or equip the saints—all Christians—to be workers in ministry to the Lord, whatever form that might take.

 

Why is that important for church growth? Here’s one reason: think about how you first came to church. Was it because of a pastor or evangelist? 

 

Or was it another Christian, maybe a friend, or a family member, who invited you and brought you to church? For most people, an ordinary Christian witnessed to them and invited them to come to Christ and to church.

 

So far in verse 12, we’ve seen that evangelists and pastor-teachers train Christians to be involved in the work of the ministry. 

 

In the last part of verse 12 what this is all for:

 

C. Church Construction

 

Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 

 

The word “edifying” (οἰκοδομὴν, οἰκοδομή, Acc/Sg/Fem) means to build up or to construct. For two thousand years now, the body of Christ—the church—has been being constructed. How does that happen?

 

1. The Unsaved Are Saved

 

To be saved, a person must come to understand that they are sinners, and that their sin is primarily against God himself. As a result, the cost of their sin must be as infinite as God is infinite, and no one can pay such a cost.

 

So a person needs to turn to Jesus—they need to believe in him for salvation. Why? Because God sent him to die for our sins on the cross and he was raised from the dead as proof that the cost of our sin was paid in God’s eyes.

 

Once a person is saved by trusting in the Lord Jesus, they are added to the church. Acts 2:47 tells us that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

 

When another person is saved, the church’s construction is a little bit more complete. Harry Ironside once said that after nineteen hundred years, we must be working on the roof of the church by now!

 

The edifying of the body of Christ is not just about adding more people to the ranks of the saved. It’s also that…

 

2. The Saved Are Built Up

 

A critical part of church growth is the spiritual growth of Christians already in the church. Why? Let me show you by asking a provocative question:

 

Are we as a local church spiritually mature enough to grow numerically? 

 

Here’s what I mean: How would you feel if next week there were fifty new people in the church? 

 

Would it scare you, upset you? Would you be angry because they took your pew? Or would you rejoice because God has added to the church?

 

The foundation of church growth is going to be the spiritual maturity of the individual Christians. As we are built up spiritually, the church will be added to numerically.

 

Because spiritual maturity is so important, Paul goes on to list specific goals that we should aim for in our spiritual maturity. These could be called…

 

II. THE GOALS OF GROWING THE CHURCH

 

Verse thirteen contains three goals of growing the church. They are the directions that each one of us as Christians should be growing. 

 

As we grow as individuals in each of these areas, we will find the church as a whole more likely to grow.

 

A. To Grow Together In The Faith

 

Ephesians 4:13a Till we all come in the unity of the faith,

 

The word “come” (καταντήσωμεν, καταντάω, Aor, Act, Subj, 1st, Pl). Used 13 times in the New Testament. Means to arrive at a destination (BDAG). For example, Paul “came to Ephesus” (Acts 18:19).

 

The destination that we are to be heading toward is “the unity of the faith.” 

 

“the faith” here does not refer to our trust in Christ but to the doctrines of Christianity—it’s not the act of believing but what we believe.

 

When Christians grow in the knowledge of the truth, the faith, unity is the result. 

 

On the other hand, much disunity in a church is the result of ignorance of the Bible and what it teaches. 

 

Some Christians are simply concerned about their feelings and their own ideas and are not checking them with the scripture. Or if they do check scripture, it’s only to find a verse that proves their point. 

 

Pastor John MacArthur wrote: 

 

God’s truth is not fragmented and divided against itself, and when His people are fragmented and divided it simply means they are to that degree apart from His truth, apart from the faith of right knowledge and understanding. (John F. MacArthur Jr., Ephesians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1986], 157)

 

That’s a stunning statement, because it means that when we are not united, that some or all of us are lacking knowledge about God’s truth.

 

Let me say it this way: God’s truth, the faith of Christianity, is perfect truth—it is united, not contradictory. So if we all strive to know it more perfectly, we will find ourselves more and more united.

 

A second goal in church growth is…

 

B. To Grow Our Knowledge Of Christ

 

Ephesians 4:13b and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man,

 

Right away you can see that this isn’t talking about a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, because Paul is writing to Christians. They already have a saving knowledge.

 

What knowledge is he talking about then?

 

“knowledge” (ἐπιγνώσεως, ἐπίγνωσις, Gen/Sg/Fem, knowledge). Used 20 times in the New Testament. The word family is used quite extensively in the New Testament, however.

 

This word for knowledge is not the normal Greek word for knowledge, but one that means full or deep knowledge.

 

This is a knowledge that we cannot obtain in a few days of Bible study, or even a few years. It’s a life-long process of Bible study, prayer, and living for Jesus through trials and good times.

 

Why isn’t just a basic knowledge of Jesus enough? Why is it important to grow in our knowledge of Christ? Because we are…

 

C. To Grow To Be Like Christ

 

Ephesians 4:13c unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

 

“stature” (ἡλικίας, ἡλικία, Gen/Sg/Fem, stature). Used 8 times. This word has to do with maturity. To become mature enough to be able to do certain things.

 

The same word is translated “of age” in John 9, where Jesus gave sight to a blind man and upset the Jewish leaders who confronted the formerly blind man’s parents:

 

20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: 21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. (John 9:20–21)

 

These parents concluded that their son was old enough and mature enough to speak for himself. 

 

One of the joys of parenting is to watch your children mature and grow in stature—to be able to do more and more things themselves. 

 

The ultimate goal for them is to be a functioning adult who is able to take care of themselves. That is the measure they will be measured against. If they don’t make it in a certain area, then someone will say to them, “Didn’t your mama ever teach you to…”!

 

What is the Christian’s “measure” that they will be measured against? It is Christ. Are you like Christ? Christians are to be growing in maturity, with the goal of being like Christ.

 

The question, “What would Jesus do?” is a good question to ask ourselves, it’s almost like the question that a young adult might ask, “What would dad do in this situation?”

 

As we grow more to be like Christ, the answer to “What would Jesus do?” in whatever situation that it is asked becomes more clear. That’s because we are taking on the characteristics of Christ in our life—his “fulness” is filling us.

 

Christians are supposed to grow into people who think, speak, act, and even feel as Christ does.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Church growth will not just bring growth in numbers, it will bring a spiritual growth in every believer. It will bring unity of faith; it will bring knowledge of Christ; it will bring Christlike behavior.

 

In fact, another reason church growth needs Christians to have such changes in their lives, because it becomes a witness to the unsaved. 

 

It provides the “I want what they have” longing in their hearts that can cause them to seek out Jesus Christ for themselves.

 

Spiritual maturity. That is the foundation of church growth. Do you have it? Do we have it?

One thought on “Sermon: God’s Foundation For Church Growth

  1. Deep, touching, and breathtaking … I’m particularly touched by “…God’s truth is not fragmented or divided against itself”. Every believer knows this principle, but rarely if ever, see its application to resolving the challenge of forming different camps, or when tradition is in contention with truth in the Church. Indeed, the least I can say is that I’m very much enlightened, and I must spread it. Thank you, sir. Blessings.

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