Church Growth Or Kingdom Impact? A Courageous Decision, by Ed Underwood

When churches pursue growth for growth’s sake, the community will topple.

When churches pursue growth for growth’s sake, the community will topple.

The Apostle Paul was one of the most revolutionary leaders in church history. He’s a model to anyone called by God to lead His people in the revolutionary ways kingdom impact demands. When he reminds the Thesalonian church of what he was about, we discover that his values weren’t what the desperately-seeking-church-growth crowd is about. One of these values was his commitment to the Word of God.

Paul courageously taught Christ’s Word: The Thessalonian Christians understood the cost of declaring the Word. For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

Paul refused to let opposition keep him from his responsibility to boldly declare God’s Word (gospel of Goddeclaration, v 3; speak the gospel, v 4; word of God, v 13). He uses the evocative Greek term hubrizospitefully treated, to characterize his suffering—to abuse, treat shamefully. “The word expresses insulting and outrageous treatment and especially treatment which is calculated to publicly insult and openly humiliate…” (Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, edited by Cleon Rogers, Regency, Grand Rapids, p. 588.)

You might think this is a given, that the opinions offered to Christians about Christ come from the Bible. Actually, the use of Scripture in context sets courageous leaders apart from all others. There are plenty of church leaders and theorists telling us what we should do and think and then attaching a verse to their message. The ones we should trust start with the Bible, ask us if we understand, and rely on the Spirit’s ability to sort it out—even when the plain meaning challenges strongly held convictions in our culture or even within the Christian community.

I remember being surprised that my Jesus Movement pastor, Ted Stone, was so unbothered by my report of attacks on him and his church. Now I understand why he shrugged off these ad hominem assaults. Now that I’ve lived on the receiving end of these criticisms I know that there’s simply a cost to be paid if I choose that the authority in my life will be God’s Word rather than entrenched values or popular and edgy trends.

As smoke follows fire, criticism follows authentic, Christ-centered and Scripture informed church leadership. When God’s grace touches lives, God’s enemy stirs. And as the Thessalonians knew, entrenched ecclesiastical authority is always ready for the devil’s lie that the Bible doesn’t mean what it ways, especially when what it says is uncomfortable or unpopular.

Question: Have you ever misjudged someone who was acting on their interpretation of God’s Word? What would have been a better response to their ideas or convictions?