Did the early church have a plan to grow? Since I have been writing some about the growth of early Christianity (you can find a summation of the articles here), I find it to be an important question.
As I began to think about it, I came across a post by Ray Ortland that grabbed my attention.
I remember hearing Michael Green at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. He asked us, Why don’t we see anywhere in the book of Acts a man-made strategic plan for evangelizing the world? His answer: They didn’t have one.
What then did they have? Two things, for starters: the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
In the fear of the Lord, they were teachable, they were humble, they were listening to the gospel, they were open and grateful and easily bendable. They did not have a spirit of self-assurance. They were eager to learn and grow and change in any way the Lord wanted them to.
In the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were gladdened, they felt forgiven, they were reconciled to God and reconciling with one another. They saw their sins and failures, but they also saw the far greater reality of Jesus crucified for them. To put it in a secular way, they couldn’t believe their luck.
Openness in a know-it-all world, comfort in an angry world – that ancient world simply could not resist these heaven-sent powers. So the church didn’t just grow, it multiplied.
Those early churches had no master plan for their future. But they were walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and it worked.
Church growth takes planning. Let’s do it. But church multiplication takes a miracle. Let’s be open to what only God can do.
When I look at church growth, I have come to the conclusion that there is only so much we can do. Consider what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. He writes:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
According to Paul, it is only God that gives the growth. This does not mean that we do not have a part as we “water” and “plant,” but as bad as we want to, we can’t make it grow. Only God can!!
I’m not necessarily against church growth books or strategies (well, I am against a few of them), but we need to be careful not to forget to walk “in the fear of the Lord” and in the “comfort of the Holy Spirit.”
If I have learned anything from looking at the early church and their growth, I have learned that God had to have made it happen. True, God used his people, but as Paul writes, we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7).