A Parable on Growth
Three years after the new church launched, the founding pastor left to pursue an advanced degree, and a young pastor was installed in his place, in the new First Church of Springfield. He brought with him a grand vision for reaching the community around them, bringing healing, restoration, and spiritual revival. A team had studied the local culture, the growth and direction of the city, and the current needs, pains, and problems singles and families were experiencing. Everyone was praying fervently and excited about the new direction. All except a few people on the Board and a few Community Group leaders, all of whom maintained a close relationship with the founding pastor.
As the church began to grow, people came into New Life with Jesus, many were baptized, and people were experiencing total life renewal as they lived obediently to God’s Word. And while most everyone thought things were great, the few did not see it that way. There were a couple of pet doctrinal disagreements they had with their new pastor, and they did not like his style and choices of techniques. Every time there was a problem, these few influencers would magnify the problem. With little to no relational equity, the pastor was never successful in winning these over. He grew increasingly frustrated as his ability to lead was lessened as these few would privately share their disagreements with others and point to what they thought was wrong with the church. Soon pockets of members were no longer on mission, and the young pastor and his wife determined life was too short to spend it fighting. When he announced his resignation the congregation was shocked. Soon after he left, the growth stopped, rumors abounded, people argued, and within two more years the church was decimated leaving only a small group of well-healed individuals who could keep the lights on. This parable on growth is a common story of Disunity.
Why Train on Healthy Growth?
Because we’re sinners. Some people wonder why–if someone becomes a Christian–they need to be taught how to relate to God, re-relate to people, fight fair, make peace, seek justice God’s way, forgive, be married, parent children, be a good neighbor, and love people. The Gospel gives us the answer by describing us as helpless, hopeless, fragile humans who–while at one time were magnificent–are now broken to different degrees, dysfunctional, and unable to fix ourselves. The Gospel reformats our understanding of God, ourselves, our past, our future, our present, and how we relate to Him and the world until its end. For a short explanation of these things, go to www.missionchurchsa.org, “Be Our Guest,” and click “The Story.”
If you already know the Bible’s grand storyline, then you will know that our main problem is our own sin, working in conjunction with the world’s thinking and systems of living, and exacerbated by temptation, lies, and condemnation coming from evil spirits. If you are on the journey of Life with Jesus, then your sin is no longer your master, but it is still present, and along with the sin of others is usually the culprit of your discord and problems. It’s really simple: Jesus is inviting people into a “new process” of Life with Him, where by their faith can belong to Him, receive new benefits from Him, and receive a new power to “grow” in a life-long process of leaving wrong desiring, wrong believing, and wrong relating. A Total Life with Jesus grows you up into a joyful and peaceful unity–with Him and with His people–centered around His mission until He returns.
If you as a person are going to experience healthy growth, if a church is going to experience healthy growth, then we soon discover we must start with Unity.
Start With Unity
Why start with unity? Because the Bible does. When Paul wanted to circulate instruction to all new churches, he wrote a general letter we know as Ephesians. This general letter spends the first half of its words on the Gospel of Jesus (Ch. 1-3) and the second half on how to obey Jesus, or be a follower of Jesus (Ch. 4-6). And the very first issue he brings up is “Unity” (4:1-6). Why did Paul, why do we, start with Unity? Because if a group is not unified, the group cannot together pursue obedience in anything else. Since Christianity was designed by Him to be lived out only in a group, then practically, Unity must come first. And as in our story above, attention must be given to the groups within the larger group. Boards. Pastor/Elder teams. Staff teams. Diaconates. Committees. Volunteer teams. Community Groups and Bible Groups. Clarity and simplicity on what Unity means is essential for Church Health.
What Unity is Not
Unity does not mean Uniformity. Among the 12 disciples, Jesus chose those on the far political right (Simon the Zealot) and those on the far political left (Levi the tax collector), and probably made them roommates. Inside the Roman church’s congregation, there were Jewish Christians who meticulously observed certain religious practices and non-Jewish Christians who did not–Paul exhorted them to co-exist in love and peace and unity as family (Rom 14:1-15:7). Unity is not Uniformity. At Mission, we have white, hispanic, black, asian, and mutt like me. We have blonde hair, brown hair, black hair, white hair, and… purple hair. We come from skeptical and open backgrounds. We come from high church, low church, and no church religious traditions. We have Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and Greens. We have differences, and we don’t fight over them but rather respect and honor one another in the Lord. With Romans 14:1-15:7 as our guide, we trust Jesus to sort it all out at His coming, while we now learn to be obedient to the Scriptures and learn the art of following the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
I like what Martin Luther said, “In the essentials Unity. In the non-essentials Liberty. And in all things Charity.” This is the maxim I live by and recommend for all followers of Jesus–especially leaders. But are there differences that are not OK, that are worth fighting over? Yes.
What Unity Is
No all differences are OK. Being Unified means “being one.” So, we need the Bible to help us understand what we WILL and WILL NOT fight over, where we must have “oneness.” Being clear, and making Unity simple, helps new followers, renewed followers, stagnant followers, fast-growing followers, and seasoned followers all stay on the same page, growing, loving, advancing Jesus’ mission and doing life together.
There are many passages on Unity like Ephesians 4:1-6, but Larry Osborne in Sticky Teamshelps us summarize them in helpful categories. These he writes are irreducible minimums:
- Doctrinal Unity (agreement on a set of biblical truths)
- Respect and Friendship
- Philosophical Unity (agreement on the church’s practices)
We’ll explore each of these in the posts that follow.
Unity is Worth the Cost
The Bible casts a vision for those who would pursue Unity as first priority.
“The church leaders will be able equip the members for the work of ministry, for growing the church deep and wide, until its members attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of Jesus–leading to Christian maturity–unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Jesus. And no longer will the members be tossed here and there by the ups-and-downs of life, by weird new beliefs, by the latest fads and philosophies, and by schemes that deceive. Instead, they will speak biblical truth to one another in the most loving manner, which God will use to grow the members to look more and more like Jesus–their Senior Pastor–so that they can serve each other with their spiritual gifts, properly, resulting in obedience and maturity which produces love” (Ephesians 4:11-16, author’s paraphrase).
Now that is vision around which to unify.
The following blogs on Healthy Growth in young churches come from reflections on Scripture and excerpts from Larry Osborne’s book Sticky Teams. These blogs are being written for prospective and current planters, pastor teams, deacons and staff teams, volunteers who lead people, and those in leadership at Mission Church (www.missionchurchsa.org).