As I look back over the last two years since Hills Bible Church was first established, it amazes me how God has both taught and humbled us as a congregation. We started with the passion to teach the gospel message to those who attend and to equip them to apply it to their lives and share it with others.
However, having a passion and conviction to see something happen is one thing… what actually happens can be another thing entirely.
A narrow-minded response to church growth
In starting up HBC, we tried to assess whether we were on the right track or not. Inevitably the size of our congregation was on our radar as a means by which we might discern whether God was blessing our church. How my narrow-minded thoughts have changed since then! Although our attendance has increased, it’s been a lot slower than some of us expected. In hindsight, one might say that God was testing our church’s resolve and conviction; whether we are faithful in the small matters before He trusts us with the large. Time will tell.
However, over the last two years I have appreciated much better the importance of honouring God, and not trying to just please people.
God blesses churches in many ways but I think it is ill-advised to look at a church’s attendance numbers as the sole measure of success. Quite the contrary, increasing numbers might have little or nothing to do with God’s blessing on a church.
A great irony in many of today’s churches
I was listening to a message by John Piper today whereby he spoke about one of the big ironies of today’s church in the western world. In trying to “attract” people, key biblical doctrine is ‘dumbed down’, sidestepped or overlooked all together. Ministers are happy to give general thoughts on passages but not teach what their convictions and thoughts are out of fear of offending those in the church. It’s as if we know what people need more than God! As a result, important and unfortunately controversial doctrine like “assurance of salvation” and “election” is not taught, because this society is so at odds with it. Yet the great irony is, this misleads people with “fine sounding” and “more attractive” teachings but does not teach the whole counsel of the Bible that is offensive to some. This leads people into a false understanding of who God is, what He has done for us in Christ and why He had to do it. They gain a false perception of what a Christian is. People are mislead into thinking they are Christians when they are not because they are acting on a false representation of the Gospel message.
That is not evangelism, but deception. It’s giving people false hope through “a distorted version” of what the Bible teaches. It may sound nice, pleasant or even right, but it’s not based on the full counsel of the Bible and will lead people astray from God’s truth.
God’s judgment will burn against the leader who leads the flock astray by fine-sounding teaching that tickles ears, but does not feed souls. (Hebrews 13:17)
You may think these are strong words. Well they are.
We are talking about people’s eternal destinations here. We are talking about people’s lives. People who come to church need to know clearly what the church teaches and what it does not. Church, by its very foundation and function, is different to the world. If we try to run church out of fear of persecution or to garner acceptance by this world, then we are missing the point! We are to be salt in the world (Matthew 5:13). Salt will sting when applied to a wound, but it also leads to healing.
Be a part of a Church with a clear and God-honouring vision
So it’s been a challenge not to succumb to the desire of wanting to see more people be a part of HBC by compromising in areas that caused us to begin the church in the first place. It’s important that when you go to church you know clearly what the heartbeat of that church is, what its primary passion and goal is, what drives everything you do. People should be under no illusions what the church stands for. If some people don’t agree with it, then that’s fine. They don’t have to stay. But when people choose to stay it’s more likely because they want to be a part of a unified body of people with a clear vision – to glorify Jesus and see people come to faith in, and mature in their relationship with Him.
We mustn’t fall to the temptation of tickling people’s ears or trying to think we know better what people need (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Rather, we are to teach the Bible and Gospel message faithfully (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2), honour God in our mercy and love towards one another (Rom 12:1-2, 9-21), and seek to glorify Jesus in all that we do (Colossians 1:15-18) . Then, if God does bless the church with increased numbers, we will know it’s more than likely by the work of the Holy Spirit and not our own manipulative and deceptive ways. If the church doesn’t grow in number, we are to just keep honouring God in all that that is done out of gratitude for what He has done for us, trusting that He will do what is best according to His good and pleasing will.
We might never see the work God is doing until it is complete!