Why aren’t we growing? That is one of the questions I get most frequently as a leader of the church. It is a great question to ask of ourselves. However, I think the impetus behind such a question is far too often mistaken. We look at numbers. It is what we are trained to do. We really struggle to quantify growth any other way. How else should we quantify growth? Let’s think about that for a few moments and look at a few ways we can generate growth.
Get out of your echo chamber.
We tend to surround ourselves with people that think much like we do. That is not always a bad thing, but if that is all we hear, we can never grow. If the only voices that we have responding to us in conversation, then all we do is entrench what we already know. Have conversations with people who think differently from you. Listen. Listen closely. Listen as objectively as possible. Listen with the intent to understand. Strive to hear past the words that are being said and into the heart of the person saying the words. Hear their experience and their passion. And once you have listened, ask questions that promote better understanding of new ideas. Then, when you understand, offer your own contributions.
Don’t fear being stretched.
I hate stretching. I can’t touch my toes – never could. My flexibility kept me from obtaining the Presidential Physical Award my entire middle and high school years. Just because I wasn’t flexible didn’t mean my coach exempted me from stretching before practices and games. Stretching is uncomfortable and often painful physically and spiritually, so we often avoid it. It is uncomfortable to be confronted with change. Don’t fear being stretched. The path to growth always involves stretching and a measure of discomfort.
Let “I don’t know” simmer and motivate your study.
Those words give me the willies… especially as a minister, father, and husband. I often feel like I have to know the answer to questions that are posed of me. “I don’t know” is a sign of a heart ready to grow and mature. Paul was always content physically but never content spiritually. He was always seeking to learn more. More about the grace and sufficiency of God. More about the One he met on the Damascus road. More about the way of the cross. More. If you don’t know, say so. Let that soak in your soul and in your heart. Let “I don’t know” motivate you to learn from the people around you and from the Word.
Pray deeply. Pray in silence. Move past the prayers you typically pray. Spend time allowing the Spirit of God to move in your heart cultivating it and preparing it to be transformed. Don’t hedge your prayers as a means of protecting yourself from receiving an answer you don’t want or understand. Pray boldly and persistently and trust that what comes back from God is what is in his will, and that might not look like what I have in mind.
I believe that if we hope to see the church grow in numbers, we have to first generate growth within ourselves. As the Spirit of God becomes a more effective influence in our own maturity, we will foster within our communities a genuineness that will be a testimony for itself. The Gospel is a transforming presence. We claim that is true, and I think we really believe it is true. Let that truth come to fulfillment in us so that our witness will be a testimony to that transforming power we find in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Press on, fellow soldier. Let us continue to fight against the evil present around us. Let us not be content with where we are, but always seek new opportunities to be stretched in our understanding of God’s Word and his will for his church.
Joshua Fowler, minister at Goodwood Blvd. church of Christ in Baton Rouge, LA.