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Which Churches Are Growing?

June 28, 2016

Growing churchFor the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,  but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NIV)

“Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Today we are invited to follow Christ, it means to walk with him and learn from him. And then start doing what he does. Last Sunday we read: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Lk 6:40) Jesus wants to be our teacher and teach us, but then we ourselves have to put into practice what he teaches.

And following Christ means obedience, not simply knowledge acquisition. Our churches of the Western world are full of knowledge, but are increasingly empty; but not all are empty, only those that emphasize knowledge but not obedience to Christ, and why is that?

I have read a lot about underground churches in China and other communist countries. There they congregate in secret to worship God and read the Bible; or perhaps the few portions of the Bible they can have. But that’s enough. Just the few pages they read from the Bible helps them to live Christ every day and to test His supernatural power doing miracles and the miracle of churches growing and divine intervention of God in their lives. Why? Because for them the most important thing is to obey Christ, to follow his example. So we must be alert ourselves. In the Gospel Christ says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 ) On the one hand we have a warning of how a church should follow, and on the other hand we have a promise. Why do those other churches grow? Because there is obedience to the word of God.

From childhood I always heard people comment: ‘How was church service today? ‘Oh, very good! The pastor preached very nice’. Or, ‘more or less the sermon was a little bit boring’. The most important thing is apparently the way in which the message was preached or anything outside surrounding the service, as if we had gone to the movies: ‘How was the movie’: ‘Good, or bad’. When churches become places where the congregation is an audience, then the church is declining. If I ask you today: what did I preach last Sunday, or two weeks ago, would you remember?
There are people who go to church on Sunday and Monday people ask them the question: ‘How was the service? O beautiful, very nice. And what did the pastor preach? ‘Eh, I do not really remember.’ What does this happen? This is because we only listen. “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at their face in a mirror and, after looking at themself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (Jam 1:23-24) We base our faith in the knowledge but not in obedience, not in the act. We need to pay attention in church to see what God wants us to do during the week and then we have to put it into practice. Every time we practice something we will not forget it.

Churches are not filled because we aren’t disciples. Jesus invites us to be followers and to make disciples and announce His heavenly power that often is considered to be foolishness by the world. But this foolishness of God is wiser even than all the wisdom of the world.

I like woodworking, it’s my hobby. I bought a book by a famous English artisan woodworker who works with almost no power tools that taught me to work as well as they did before the industrial era. And I like to read this book; I read it completely with passion once or twice. Then I have it in the living room and every time I want to remember something I go back again to a section and read it with pleasure. But you know what, after having read it I had to start working. I myself had to begin putting into practice each of the projects that was assigned to me. And the only way I learned to work is by working, that is, by putting it into practice. I go back there for some details that I have to remember, but I learned and remembered more when I started to put it into practice. The book, the knowledge, was very important, but even more important was putting it into practice.

In our churches we have much knowledge. There’s Sunday school for many years, confirmation for several years, Bible studies, Sunday sermons; and not to mention seminars, courses, meetings, etc. And the question is why do we not see fruits, miracles, and the healings of the New Testament church, why we do not see people becoming believers and filling the church, why we do not see the work of God in the church?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13: 8) We read this in the Bible. If this is true then the Holy Spirit is also the same, and miracles and healings still happen. Why do we not see it? Because we lack a very important part and this is the practice: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I am with you always, to the end of the world “(Mt 28:20) Who is Jesus speaking to? To pastors, preachers, theologians? No, to everyone who is considered a disciple, follower, Christian. Each of us who have believed in Christ and have been baptized we are called to be disciples, to talk about our experience with Jesus, to pray for others, to invite people to church, to heal and to preach the word. And why do we not do it? Because although we have much knowledge, we have little obedience.
If I tell my children: “Go clean your room” and soon they come back and say, ‘Dad we have already memorized what you told us.” And I ask them, but what did you do? ‘We memorized it Dad’. But I sent you to clean the room not to memorize what you had to do!

We need to start acting, however, with the faith that we do have. There is much fear in the churches to act with a lack of faith. When there is not enough faith there is fear. Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear is what paralyzes churches and paralyzes the human being. But we must begin to act with the faith that we do have, though with small steps.

If a carpenter who recently studied a book is called by a lady because her house door was broken and it has to be made anew, and even if that person has never made a door because all he did was read how to do it. What’s going on? That person is afraid. Until he makes it and verifies that he can do it, he will not stop being afraid. And if there is someone, a teacher, who guides and tells him how to make the door, that person will work more confidently and will stop being afraid.

The same happens in the church, we need to start putting into practice what Jesus asks of us, and if we have teachers that’s even better. We need to begin to follow Jesus, we need obedience to Him.

A good way to check if a sermon or service was good is to see what we were told to do for the week ahead and do it.
When we begin to obey God and put into practice what we hear, the Spirit of God, that is the power of God, that the non believer people of the world calls foolishness, begins to act and transform things, lives, churches, in the same way that today happens with other churches that grow incredibly, and it is because there is obedience to the word of God and not just love of teaching or knowledge.

Each of us is a disciple, each of us is a church. “For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 2:16). The church does not only happen on Sundays in the temple, the church is Monday, Tuesday and every day of the week, where we are, because we are witnesses of God. The church is just a building we need to meet together at least once a week to worship God and hold other gatherings.
People do not forget what was in the sermon last week if they have been put it into practice during the week. People do not forget what they experienced in their life, what they lived and what they are living. That’s what the church is all about, about experiencing, of living the gospel every day; it’s about obeying what God asks of us. We lack the miracles of God in our lives, families and churches; it is because today God is asking us to be obedient to his word, that we implement it. Jesus says: ‘go invite, make disciples, speak of me, heal, pray, show yourselves as Christians, if indeed you are.’

The only place where knowledge is more valued over experience and acts is in churches that generally do not grow. Growing churches that see miracles every day are churches where everyone is a disciple, a follower of Jesus, where everyone takes the Sunday sermon as a guide to implement during the week. With the faith we do have, although we may still be afraid, let us begin to be obedient to Jesus, and we’ll see changes in our lives and in our church. What changes lives is obedience to God, not traditions, customs, knowledge or religion. Following Christ in words and deeds is what produces miracles and God acts and transforms the foolishness of the world into the wisdom of God. Amen.

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