As part of my efforts to keep up with what is going on in the wider Christian culture, I read several blogs each day. There are probably more blogs available to read than there is time to read so any choices about which blogs to read need to be made carefully. (Thank you for talking time to read this one.)
The ones I have chosen to read so far are chosen on the basis of some simple guidelines that work for me. The things I read, either on the Internet or in print need to:
• Inform me
• Educate me
• Have some point of contact with me
• Sometimes agree with my thinking
• Often disagree with and challenge my thinking
The last point becomes one of the most important in terms of my willingness to continue reading–I have never been a fan of only reading what I already know I agree with. Reading what I agree with might be ego boasting in the short term but it becomes boring after a time. Reading what I might disagree with means that I have to think in the process of reading, evaluate the content and discover how it affects what I think.
Today, I just finished that reading process and discovered that a couple of the blogs were both dealing with an issue that I often struggle with. One suggested that every small church can be (and probably should be) a large church. The other suggested that every small church pastor needs to be working to develop the small church into a bigger church. Both blogs are well written and have good theory and theology.
But both make an assumption that I find it difficult to make. Both these writers, like many other Christian writers these days, seem to assume that numerical growth in the church is either a key goal or the key goal of everything we do. I have struggled with that assumption for years–both publically and privately.
Part of my struggle comes from the fact that I think the New Testament model of church seems to support that idea that the role of the church–pastors, leaders and laity–is growth in faith. As individual believers develop their understanding of faith and engage in good spiritual growth practises, they will inevitably enable the congregation as a whole to develop a deeper and stronger faith that will have a powerful effect not only on the congregation but also on the world.
As pastors and church leaders work on their own spiritual health, they will more effectively shepherd and guide the growing church. The goal is healthy, growing believers in a healthy growing congregation. That growth might include numerical growth–but it may not include numerical growth. As I wrote in a blog posting here for October 20, 2015, it is God who brings people to himself and the church–we provide the healthy nursery through our spiritual development but God chooses when and if to introduce new believers.
When the goal of the church and its activity is numerical growth only, we miss the point. Our purpose is the development of spiritually healthy believers, spiritually healthy congregations, spiritually healthy leaders and spiritually healthy pastors. This emphasis on spiritual health will make foundational differences in the church.
Instead of arguing and fighting, we learn to listen, love and work together. That by itself is sufficient reason for focusing on spiritual health, given the number of congregations that are slowly self-destructing even as they move heaven and earth to make one new convert. But the benefits of focusing on spiritual health go even further–as we grow in faith as individuals and as congregations, we discover more and more blessings. We develop the ability to love God, each other, ourselves and others and understand how to show that love in very practical and powerful ways.
I think the words of Matthew 6:33 are very appropriate here. There, Jesus tells us to, “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” NIV
If we focus on becoming spiritually healthy, we will receive blessings beyond what we can imagine, blessings that will touch our lives, the life of the congregation and the rest of the world.
May the peace of God be with you.