The Growth of the Church
At the farewell gathering of the 7th
World Delegates Conference held at Telok Kurau Church, Singapore, in 1997, both delegates
and local members enjoyed Christian fellowship as they presented hymns and
worshipped the Lord together.
With the meetings over, everyone
felt happy and relaxed. But I remember sitting through the service with mixed
feelings. By the grace of God, the True Jesus Church has been in existence
since 1917, and since then, the complete gospel of Salvation has reached many
countries. She now claims to have over 83,000 members and also with an
estimated of between 1 to 2 million members in Mainland China.
Delegates from many of these countries were present that night. But is this the
best we can do? Many have sowed and watered, many have been added to the Lord’s
fold. The number of church buildings has also increased. Yet again, is this the
best we can do?
We may reply that we have already
achieved much and, given our limited resources, have done our best. We have preached
and taken care of our brothers whenever possible. But is this really the case?
Can we think of a friend that we have yet to preach to? What about our family
members? Our relatives? Examples from the early church have shown us that the
salvation grace of God is not aimed only at individuals; rather, through these
individuals, the blessing is to reach their families. Look at Cornelius (Acts
10) and the jailer (Act 16:29-33). And what about Andrew who immediately rushed
to share his wonderful discovery with his brother Peter (I Jn
1:40-41)? Today, if we lack such eagerness to share our faith with others, we
cannot claim that we have done our best. The early workers of the church were
loyal and faithful servants of the Lord. They have laboured
to pioneer the gospel and upheld the faith. It is now our turn to take up the
baton. We need to grow but how do we do so?
Grow in the Knowledge of God
In order for us to grow, first and
foremost, we must establish a personal relationship with God. Like Paul, we
need to know whom we have believed (2 Tim 1:12). Only then can we successfully
weather the storms of life which inevitably dog our Christian journey and reach
the goal of our faith, eternal life.
From then on, we have to walk
along the path we have chosen. We cannot just stand still. As each day passes,
so must we progress on our Christian journey. We must
grow up spiritually, out of the infancy of our faith. Initially we may only
seek God’s material blessings but gradually we must be determined to know God
himself. We may start with needing to receive the love and concern of our
brethren but eventually want to give of ourselves to serve our brethren.
For us to know God, we have to
understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. He has exchanged for us
eternal condemnation with eternal life in His kingdom (Eph 2). Through Him, we
have become fellow citizens in His kingdom. When death knocks on our door, we
face it without fear, because we have the hope of eternal life. This is all
familiar teaching from the pulpit, but many a time, we fail to reflect upon its
significance. We have heard it so often, does it still
touch a chord in our hearts?
At every funeral service that we
attend, we should ask ourselves – where has the soul of the deceased gone? When
is it my turn to lay in this coffin, where will my
soul go? We are given only one chance to journey through this life of faith. It
will be such a pity if we muddle through it, never growing in spiritual
maturity, always receiving never giving.
We need to progress in our
knowledge of God such that we truly believe that in all things, He works for
those who love Him and call upon His name (Rom 8:28). Our faith has to reach
the stage where even when we cannot feel God’s presence, we know that He is
watching over us. And when facing the trials and tribulations of life, we
understand His higher will for us. Perhaps He wants us to reflect on our ways
(Eccl 7:14); perhaps He’s refining us (Job 23:10), building up our spiritual
fortitude. Such assurance that Jesus is always with us can only come through a
close personal relationship with Him.
Prophet Hosea warned the people of
his time that they had fallen away for lack of knowledge (Hos
4:6). This warning is very relevant to believers of the end time. Knowing that
his time is short, Satan will strive very hard to lead the whole world astray (Rev 12:9) and to deceive even us, the Elect (Matt
24:24, Rev 13:13-14). We have to be very careful that we do not fall pretty to
his devious ploys. We cannot under-estimate his craftiness. Do not think that
his tools are merely the typical vices of gambling, drinking and womanizing. He
may even deploy innocent activities like gold games, our academic or career
pursuits and even our own families to occupy so much of our time that we are
unable to spend time in daily prayers and Bible reading, let alone attend
church services and participate in the ministry. Our spiritual life soon
becomes stagnant, and unwittingly, we have allowed Satan to draw us away from
Grow in Pastoral Care
The second aspect of Christian growth is
pastoral care – looking after the spiritual as well as physical welfare of our
brethren. In this respect, we need to follow God’s footsteps to “… seek the lost, … bring back the strayed, … bind up the crippled, and
… strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong … watch over” (Eze 34:16).
We may have heard it said, or even
complained ourselves, that the church lacks love; that her members are
uncaring. This is a sweeping statement. If we were a little more observant, we
would realize that the church does have many members who actually go out of
their way to care for their brethren. I know of those who took turns to cook
“confinement food” for new mothers who were away from their own families. Some
have stayed 24 hours with their bedridden brethren; others have extended their
homes to overseas students during weekends and term holidays, offering these
struggling students warmth and care sincerely and unreservedly. These are
members who practice the axiom that it is more blessed to give than to receive
and they do this quietly, unknown to many. Nevertheless, the church does need
more of her members to live by this axiom.
What does caring entail? Let’s
look at the parable of the good Samaritan. After
stopping to help the injured man, the Samaritan spent time to bandage his
wounds and took him to the inn. He even returned the next day to pay the
inn-keeper. In helping the injured man, the Samaritan had to disrupt his
journey and revise his original plan. This tells us that helping others often
demands sacrifices on our part. We have to offer our time and effort; we may be
greatly inconvenienced but this is usually part and parcel of helping others.
As Apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders, in
everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we “must help the
weak” (Acts 20:35). Helping the weak requires ‘hard work’. It is not always
easy, the person whom we may help may not be appreciative; worse, he may even
criticize us. But this doesn’t mean that we give up. Rather, we remember the
Lord’s assurance that “whatever you did for on of the least of these brothers
of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). Let us not write the person off as soon
as we encounter difficulties.
For us to be able to preserve and
continue to care, our motive in helping has to be correct. If we help others
solely out of Christian duty, it would be difficult to sustain our zeal.
Discouragement and giving up follow closely when we meet with problems. Instead
we ought to care for and look after our brethren because we understand the love
of Christ for us, the great price He paid so that we now have this hope of
eternal life. Our care for others has to be motivated by this love, expressed
through our compassion for them. As Jesus said, when the good
Samaritan saw the injured man, he “had compassion” (Lk 10:33). When we genuinely care for their welfare, we think little
of the time and effort we have to put in. we would not be impatient when they
fail to meet our expectations or heed our advice. We would not make them
reluctant to turn to us for help. As part of our Christian growth, we have to
go beyond helping others out of a sense of duty. Helping others has to become
part of our daily activities, something that we do as naturally as eating and
Grow in Service or Stewardship
When membership of the early
church grew, the apostles anointed deacons to take charge of the needs of the
congregation (Acts 6:1-7). Likewise, the True Jesus Church has set up
administrative structure to ensure the smooth running of the church activities.
But for the church to grow, we need to have the correct attitude in service. We
need to return to the very principle established by Jesus Himself. He said that
He came to the world to serve, not to be served (Matt 20:28). As workers
participating in the church ministry today, our role is also one of service to
the congregation. We need to fulfill the needs of the church, rather than wait
for the church to fulfill our needs.
We cannot run the affairs of the
church as if we were running a secular organization. In the house of God, it is
God who leads. In a sense, “leadership” at church is a misnomer. Every worker,
be it elder, deacon, preacher, RE teacher, etc., is merely a steward charged
with handling specific aspects of God’s household, the church. Our role is to
handle the matters under our charge faithfully, loyally and silently. When
praise is received for a job well done, we simply acknowledge that we are
merely unworthy servants discharging our duties (Lk
17:10). We do not expect any reward in return. The very fact that we can serve
in God’s household is reward in itself.
As the church approaches the new
millennium, on the one hand, it is vital that her leaders uphold the spiritual
and doctrinal assets received from God, and strive to preserve a purity of
faith not influenced by external factors (Jude 3-4). At the same time, we
cannot ignore the complexities of the world around us. In order to reach out to
other Christians and the unbelieving world at large, the church needs leaders
who regularly review the current status of the church, identify and admit to
her shortcomings, and have the courage to break through the status quo. This is
not easy. As time passes, there is the danger that the church may become
entrenched in man-made traditions and self-imposed principles. Her leaders
merely preserve the status quo, which is much easier, rather than take the
harder route of proactive, visionary leadership. This lack of foresight will
inevitably hinder the progress of the church.
If we study the workers of God
from the Bible, we would notice that many successful workers ensured that they
had successors. Look at Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha,
and Paul and Timothy. Today, every worker of the church has to ensure that the
church has worthy successors to take over the baton of the church ministry.
Every church leader has the responsibility to training capable youths. They
have to build up these youths’ biblical knowledge, as well as encourage, coach
and guide them in their service. Positive reinforcement rather than negative
criticism is important.
Apart from imparting the youths
the church’s biblical beliefs and modes of service, church leaders need to
encourage them to cultivate their faith within their own lifestyles. For
example, youths born and grown up in the States will be ‘American’ in their
outlook, regardless of their ethnic origins. This is perfectly acceptable
provided they do not go against the teachings of the Bible. If we belong to the
‘older’ generation, we may hold on to more traditional ideas and concepts. But
we have no right to impose these on the youths indiscriminately. Oriental
authoritative paternalism ought not exist in the
church. This will only serve to alienate the youths. Instead, we need to have
the heart of a parent, one who would lovingly nurture and cultivate his charge
until the young one grows into adulthood. Only then we can be assured that when
the Lord calls us home, we have left behind worthy successors.
When we talk about church growth,
it goes beyond establishing the infrastructure, or building more physical
church buildings. Whilst these are necessary for members to congregate and
worship, it is this spiritual growth of the membership that is imperative. So
when we assess the growth of the True Jesus Church, the benchmark has to be the
spiritual qualities of her members in terms of their knowledge of the truth,
their daily conduct towards their brethren and their attitude towards the
service of God. Individually, if we love the Lord, we must also seriously
examine ourselves to see where we stand in our spiritual growth.