When we talk about growing a church, people often mean numbers. For example, the church has grown from 50 to 150 people in the last 5 years. That’s a kind of growth, and if it’s due to lots of people believing in Jesus, then that’s really exciting.
But it’s not the only kind of church growth out there. If you follow the blog, you’ll know that as a new church, we’ve been studying the Bible together to find out what it means to be a local church. One of the passages we’ve looked at is Ephesians 4:1-16, which talks about this different kind of growth. Here it’s about growing up or maturing.
Within that passage, we see how the issues of unity and gifts are important (Ephesians 4:1-10). But I wanted to look at vv.11-16 which help us understand how a church grows to maturity.
Word Gifts for Equipping
In v.13 we read about some of the specific gifts Jesus has given to the church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” The common feature of these gifts is that they are people who can explain and proclaim the word of God to people. The apostles were clearly foundational to this work. There’s a bit of debate about who “the prophets” are referring to. They could be foundational too (see Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). Either way we have the word of God now in the Bible and we still have to explain and proclaim it within the local church. Furthermore we have pastors (shepherd/teachers) and evangelists with a special responsibility to do that explanation and proclamation.
What’s interesting is that these are not the people who do all the work of ministry. It’s not the sole responsibility of these people to build up the church. Their part of the responsibility is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). With that equipping, we are all responsible to build the church to unity, maturity and security (Ephesians 4:13-14).
This is a radical spreading of the responsibility for growth. It is a responsibility that belongs to every church member, based on the teaching of the Bible, explained and proclaimed by those with gifts to do so.
Speaking the Truth in Love
So not everybody is an evangelist or pastor. We might get how evangelists and pastors are to build the church up. But how am I supposed to do it, if that’s not me. Well Ephesians 4:15 tells us that we can all take part in “speaking the truth in love” and that this enables the local church “grow up in every way…into Christ.”
This is the call to godly, biblical, strengthening conversations between all church members. It’s the discussion at the Bible study group, or that chat on the phone about an issue or circumstance someone is facing. It’s the conversation on the way home from church about the message and the Bible passage that day and it’s innumerable other ways of speaking biblical truth into each others’ lives.
But notice the two aspects of what we speak. On the one hand it is truth. The challenge is that we must not shy away from telling brothers and sisters in Christ the truth. Of course there can be times when this is hard. Some truth we don’t want to hear. But how will we grow if nobody will tell it to us!
On the other hand, we are to tell people the truth “in love.” Our motivation is that we love God and we love his people and we therefore want the best for them. We want to see them transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus by the truth of the Bible. We are not trying to make a point or win an argument. We are trying to build up a brother or sister in their faith.
We want to be a growing church. We want to grow in number. We want more people to come to know Jesus. But we also want to grow up. We want to be mature and united in our faith, so that it is tough for people to come in and destroy the church with lies (Ephesians 4:14) and so that we are like a fit and healthy body living effectively for Jesus under his authority (Ephesians 4:16). God has provided what we need to do that: His word in the Bible; faithful teachers and each other.