Growth strategies. That’s been part of the modern church’s lexicon for as long as I’ve been a believer. So we ask ourselves, what do we need to do as a body of believers to become a bigger body of believers? Everything from visitor experience to member ministries is programmed so that people come and people stay. 80% full, if only 20% fully committed. (80% because more than that, so went the prevailing wisdom, and you’re going to lose people because there’s “nowhere” to sit — so make sure you’re building is always expanding too).
Not wanting to be overly simplistic. Not wanting to be critical either. After all, going and making disciples implies growing even as we’re equipping disciples. But something I read this morning in Acts caught my eye, and my attention, as it relates to growing churches. All our strategies, all our programming, really won’t amount to a hill of beans (or our targeted mountain of beings) if they are not sown in the context of some authentic spiritual dynamics. This morning, I’m chewing on fear and freedom.
So the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
(Acts 9:31 CSB)
The early church grew. It’s “strategy”? Fear the Lord and foster freedom for the Spirit.
Sure, they were doing a lot of stuff. A lot of spiritual stuff like gathering together, learning together, and praying together. And they were doing a lot of practical stuff too, like sharing what they had with one another and caring equitably for the widows in their midst. But that wasn’t part of their strategy in order to meet their targets. It wasn’t part of their “plan” in order to promote their “brand.” It wasn’t a means towards an end. Growing in the things of God while loving the people of God was the end. And it happened as they feared and as there was freedom. They feared the Lord and there was freedom for the Spirit to work.
The fear they knew wasn’t some somber, holy dread of stepping out of line. Rather, as Michael Reeves explains in his book, Rejoice and Tremble, the fear of the Lord they lived in was more of “an ecstasy of love and joy that senses how overwhelmingly kind and magnificent, good and true God is, and that therefore leans on him in staggered praise and faith” (p. 67). It wasn’t the fear experienced by the people at the foot of Sinai, where the Law was given, which caused them to flee. Rather, it was the fear they experienced at the foot of the cross, where they heard afresh the words of Christ, “Come to Me” which drew them to respond boldly by approaching heaven’s throne of grace. As Reeves quotes John Bunyan, “Godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness of God. Nothing can lay a stronger obligation upon the heart of God than a sense of, or hope in, mercy” (p. 50). The early church grew because there was in their midst a prevailing fear of God — they were so captivated by the love of God that they wholly submitted themselves to living for God.
But more than just a fear factor in their midst, there was also a freedom factor. They were encouraged by the Holy Spirit. They were called, exhorted, admonished, and persuaded by the One Jesus sent to live in them as individuals and bind them together as a body. Far from quenching the Spirit, they fostered the Spirit. They opened the Scriptures, giving the Spirit “material” with which to transform them by the renewing of their minds. They closed the door on unconfessed, un-dealt with sin, as they repented of their sin and forgave each other as God in Christ had forgiven them. They knew it was not by their might, nor their power that Jesus’s church would grow, but by the Spirit’s active work within them.
Fear of the Lord, freedom for the Spirit. And the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was strengthened and increased in numbers.
How’s that for a growth strategy?
By His grace. For His glory.
That’s a terrific growth strategy. And for a purpose. What stood out in my morning meal… “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.””
Matthew 9:35-38 NIV
By grace for His glory😉