The Holy Spirit and church growth are intimately connected. We intuitively know that's true.
But the moment things get practical and the pressure is on, that relationship gets fuzzy pretty fast. So how is it supposed to work? Is there a "right" way?
How much of church growth is God's favor and how much of it is your leadership?
Is church growth completely dependent upon God's power? I have great friends and colleagues that would represent very different views.
Some would say it's all up to God. The power of the Holy Spirit is everything. We pray and do ministry, and growth is all about God's favor.
Others believe God has given gifts and abilities and that we are responsible for using those gifts, learning from others and working hard. Then God adds His favor to our leadership as we pray.
There are a dozen variations within this complex question.
Where do you stand on this issue? It's a weighty question, and knowing your answer is important because that shapes how you approach God's mission.
If you are not sure where you land, your ministry practices will give you a big hint.
Let's look at the extremes. Neither of these two extremes will represent you, but you'll quickly get the idea. And the extremes will give you an opportunity to think about where you land.
On one extreme there are leaders who "muscle" their church forward. They literally work so hard that they push the ball down the field by brute ministry force. They simply make it happen.
That can grow a church. The downside, however, is that the results don't usually last. The moment you let off the gas (who can keep that up for years and years?), the growth begins to fall off. And the big question is, how hard are we to work?
On the other extreme, there are leaders who "miracle" their church forward. They essentially spiritualize everything to the point that it doesn't seem to matter what is done by the leaders. God provides all the blessing, and that's it.
That can grow a church too. The downside is that there seems to be little equipping and development of leadership to utilize the gifts God has given. And the big question is now, when the church doesn't grow, is that God's fault? Or did God intend for that church not to grow?
Let's get a little closer to boots on the ground. You're in a meeting. What is your approach? Make a plan and ask God to bless it, or pray and ask God to help you make a plan? They both work. You will likely have a strong bias toward one and negative reaction to the other.
I certainly don't have the answers for how this all works, but hope to provide a helpful platform for meaningful conversation that will lead to a greater understanding and ultimately church growth.
3 Elements in the Relationship Between the Holy Spirit and Church Growth
1) God's Favor and Our Fervor
Nothing of eternal value happens without God's presence and power, but He chose us to carry out His kingdom plan.
The apostle Paul certainly didn't lack fervor, but he consistently acknowledged God's power.
The way you can know the presence of God's favor is when the kingdom outcome exceeds your leadership effort. You give it your all, but the results far exceed your human energy. This is the opposite of attempting to "muscle" your church forward.
Another way to say it is that Spirit energy exceeds sweat equity, but you need both.
God's favor incorporates his kindness, power and blessing.
The evidence of leadership fervor is demonstrated through your hard work, dedication and perseverance. Your passion fuels your calling.
God's power multiplies the outcome. "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
It is clear that the power comes from the Holy Spirit, not us. However, with that power, there is still much to do. That power was given to us for a reason. We are to be witnesses, both locally and globally, to lift up the name of Jesus.
2) Thy Kingdom and My Ownership
It's God's kingdom, but we are still accountable.
This does not indicate ownership like it belongs to us, but ownership regarding taking responsibility.
Most of us tend to either over-lead or under-lead.
Those who tend to exceed their authority over-lead. They can lean into their agenda. Not in a dark or ugly way, but in the heat of the battle it's just not that difficult to forget to whom the kingdom belongs.
Those who tend to under-lead fall short of their authority. They can lean into pleasing others. This isn't intentional, but under pressure, it's easy to forget God has granted authority for a reason and has called them to step up and lead.
We have been empowered with authority to engage in God's plan fully. We have been loaned kingdom authority (Jesus' name) to realize church growth (changed lives.)
So while nothing about the church "belongs" to us, we are entirely empowered to lead like owners. We are responsible for leading with love and passion, and to take ownership of our calling and responsibilities.
This kind of leadership is great kingdom stewardship and leads to church growth. "Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:9-10).
3) God's measurement and Our Contentment.
It took me a long time to get a grasp of the difference between being content and being satisfied.
Scripture calls me to be content, but I was never really satisfied as a leader because there was always more territory to be taken. That never made sense to me until I understood that content was internal and satisfied was external. I wrote an entire post about that here.
Both contentment and satisfaction are highly connected to how we measure. Even though one is internal and one is external, both are about how much is enough.
When it comes to church growth, measurement is an area that can mess us up in a big way. It's not only in comparison to other churches but within our church as well.
What you believe about church growth and God's part in this divine relationship can make the difference of whether or not you sleep well at night.
As for me, my New Testament theology shapes my belief that God intends for each local church to grow, but we don't get to decide how big it gets. I've believed that for a long time. The ultimate size of the church is up to God and His purpose.
Does attendance matter? Of course, it does, so let's not pretend we don't care. But God ultimately measures by one soul at a time; it's all about a changed life.
That's why Jesus died.
"The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:16-17).
- God's favor and our fervor.
- God's kingdom and our ownership.
- God's measurement and our contentment.
Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.
This article originally appeared at danreiland.com.
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