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. 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 aimed not only at individuals, rather, it is through these individuals that the blessing is to reach their families. Look at Cornelius (Acts 10) and the jailer (Acts 16:29-33). And what about Andrew who immediately rushed to share his wonderful discovery with his brother Peter? (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 labored 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 that 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 we would want to give ourselves to serving 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??
For every funeral service that we attend, we should ask ourselves ?where has the soul of the deceased gone? When it is my turn to lie 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 and 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 upon 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 to lead the whole world astray (Rev 12:9) and to deceive even us, the elect (Mt 24:24; Rev 13:13-14). We have to be very careful that we do not fall prey to his devious ploys. We cannot underestimate 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 golf 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 God.?
Grow in Pastoral Care
The second aspect of Christian growth is pastoral care¡Xlooking 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 and bring back the strayed, bind up the crippled and strengthen the weak" (Ezek 34:16).?
We may have heard it being said, or even complained amongst 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 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 innkeeper. 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 he did, he showed them 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 help may not be appreciative, 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 one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mt 25:40). Let us not write the person off as soon as we encounter difficulties.
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 inevitably cause them to be reluctant in turning 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 a part of our daily activities, something that we do as naturally as eating and sleeping.
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 (Mt 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, or religious education teacher, 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 train 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 to 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. 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 ideas on the youths indiscriminately. Authoritative paternalism will only 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. While these are necessary for members to congregate and worship, it is the 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.