But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. – John 12:23-25
Church growth starts with death. It is our death. In one way it is the fact that we are born dead in sin and incapable of loving or obeying God. In another sense it is that we are called by the first word of the gospel to repent, to die to self. It may also be noted that the growth of the body is possible in the first place because of the death of Christ on the cross. So any way we look at it, true growth starts with death.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3
Then from death comes life. This is the new birth, being “born again”, regenerated, brought to life, raised from the dead. It is entering into life eternal. The Spirit accomplishes this as He wishes when He wishes for His purposes. Without the new birth there is no life and no salvation and therefore no growth. That which remains dead does not grow or bear fruit, it is useless and will only be gathered and burned in the judgment.
Hunger & Thirst
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. – Matt. 5:6
One thing we know about a newborn is that it takes them no time at all to learn how to express themselves when they are hungry or thirsty, and one mark that Jesus gives us that demonstrates our new life after being born again is that we hunger and thirst after righteousness. In the Be-Attitudes this “blessed are” means that if we are spiritually alive and have been saved then we will have a basic need, a craving in fact, for being right with God. It is like hungering and thirsting. It is basic. It is fundamental to life. For without hunger and thirst we would surely die a quick death.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! – Matt. 7:7-11
A result of hunger and thirst, when the need is met, is that we are satisfied. The term in Matthew 5:6 is that when we hunger and thirst after righteousness we will be filled and the word filled means literally satisfied. Our need will be met. So part of what proves we are alive and growing is hunger and thirst that is fulfilled and satisfied.
As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” – John 6:35-58
As we hunger and thirst and are filled and satisfied we gain nourishment for growth. We have energy to burn and we burn it is bearing fruit. We must note that a dead body cannot be hungry, fed, satisfied, or nourished for a dead body does not even know what hunger is. As we are alive in Christ, a new creation in Him, we do hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are filled, we are satisfied, and we are nourished. We benefit from partaking of the Word of God.
A malnourished Christian is a believer who is starving to death while sitting at a full to overflowing banquet table. It is there for the taking. The trouble is, too many pastors are failing to feed the flock. They are giving them cotton candy – pretty fluff that is worthless when it comes to true nourishment. These pastors should instead be feeding the flock on the milk and meat of the Word of God.
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. – John 15:1-17
Growth, bearing fruit, maturing – this is a part of life, it is living. If we do not grow, we are dead. If we do not bear fruit, we are dead. If we are not hungry or thirsty, we are dead. The seed that falls on good ground sprouts into plants that bear measurable and useful fruit.
Think of it this way – as those God has called and equipped fulfill their role and equip the saints for service to God and each other then we grow. And as we grow the church is built. This is why we can say with assurance that church growth is not church expansion. For adding more people to the roll proves nothing about the growth of the church. The church is not being built if people are not growing. And if people are not being equipped to serve then they are not growing. A “church” full of dead, stagnant, lukewarm, backslidden professors is not really a church at all is it?