“We must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)
When we think about Christians and churches growing up into Christ, there are at least four dimensions to that growth.
Each individual believer should be growing UPWARDS to maturity – spiritual Growth
Each fellowship should be growing TOGETHER in community – Organic Growth
But then we should also all be growing OUTWARDS in service and evangelism – Incarnational Growth
And when believers and churches are all growing upwards, together and outwards, then by God’s grace the church will also be growing MORE in numbers – Numerical Growth
Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 King James Version) Christians cannot build God’s church. Only Jesus can build his church. But there are things Christians can do to cooperate with God and other things which we do which can get in God’s way. So what can we be doing to grow as individual Christians and as a church?
In 1517 a German monk called Martin Luther wrote 95 Theses – 95 statements he believed to be true and important because they summed up the gospel. Luther pinned his 95 Theses on the door of his church and they were the start of the church revolution we call the Reformation which was the beginning of Protestant Christianity. This morning I want to give you just 10 theses – 10 statements about church life which if we take them seriously will revolutionise our church life. 10 things which I believe are vitally important as we think about growing up into Christ individually as Christians and together as a church in discipleship and outreach and pastoral care.
1. Outreach and pastoral care are activities for every Christian.
We miss the point completely if we consider “outreach” or “pastoral care” as as activities which only the minister, or only the Deacons, or only some members of the church are involved in! Outreach and pastoral care should be part of “the normal Christian life” for EVERY believer, just as much as worship and prayer are.
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
We talked about these verses last year. It is NOT the case that the apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor-teachers should do all the works of service themselves! The role even of evangelists and especially of pastor-teachers, those who pastor the flock by teaching them, is to prepare and equip ALL God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up!
2. Our principal witness to the world should be our transformed lives
“Evangelism is the overflow of our joyful faith.” (Bishop Lesslie Newbigin)
Our Christian witness is simply our victorious Christian living! Our lives showing the life of Christ shining through us into the darkness. The difference Jesus makes to the things we do and the way we talk and the ways we think about things. That IS our Christian witness. That is our outreach.
Sometimes we think of “witnessing” as some desperately challenging and difficult task. But if we are living our lives according to the Scriptures, if we are living for God instead of for ourselves, then people around us WILL see the difference and WILL want to know about Jesus for themselves.
Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount ,
Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
In other words, the way we live is our witness to the world. The difference Jesus makes IS our witness – we just need to have the answers ready when people start asking the questions. We thought about this last week from the Book of Acts. God worked in powerful ways, people around asked questions and the first Christians simply replied, “God did that!” “What’s happening?” “What’s all this praising God?” “How was this man healed?” “How did that arch-enemy of the Christians Saul become the apostle to the Gentiles Paul?” “How CAN Jesus be alive again?” Prayers answered. Enemies forgiven. Courageous preaching in the face of cruel persecution. “How is all this possible?” The answer was the same every time. “God did that!”
We may sometimes feel our evangelism is not as successful as we would like. But outreach and witnessing are not impossibly difficult activities which need special “methods” or “techniques”. Outreach is simply living our Christian lives as the light of the world. Witnessing is nothing more than letting our light so shine before men that they give praise to our Father in heaven. “Evangelism is the overflow of our joyful faith.”
3. Pastoral care should be the natural spontaneous expression of our love for each other.
But love for each other comes in obedience to Christ’s command, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
Just like witnessing, pastoral care isn’t some incredibly difficult activity which only certain special Christians can do! Pastoral care isn’t something that only the Pastor can do. Pastoral care is what happens when Christians love each other with God’s kind of love. When we care for each other. When we share our everyday lives with each other. When we bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil Christ’s new commandment. Loving each other is his command for EVERY Christian.
1 John 3:14 ¶ We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
John is very clear. Somebody who doesn’t love their fellow Christians doesn’t have eternal life!
1 John 4:20 … anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
4. The love Christians have for each other is also our witness to the world.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
So pastoral care and outreach aren’t separate activities. Nobody can say “I’m no good at outreach – I’ll stick to pastoral care.” Nobody can say “I’m better at sharing my faith with folk who aren’t Christians than I am at helping other Christians.” Because pastoral care and outreach are two sides of the same coin – they are both simply expressions of God’s love in action. And that love is the church’s witness to the world.
5. We ALL need to become more effective in living out our faith in our everyday lives.
That means in the community and in our workplace, not just in church on Sunday! Church isn’t about running programmes for pastoral care or programmes for outreach. The church’s task is to equip EVERY CHRISTIAN to play their part in loving each other and sharing their faith every moment of every day, wherever we are, whoever we are with. Sermons can help us. Home Groups and Bible studies can help. Christian books and videos and tapes can help.
Every Christian needs to learn express and share their faith in our everyday lives, in our places of work, in our community, with our neighbours. As WE grow in our faith, then outreach and pastoral care will follow naturally. If our church is weak in outreach or in pastoral care, it may be because some believers are not growing up into Christ as much as they could be!
6. Outreach and pastoral care flow from the spiritual life of the church.
If outreach and pastoral care are not as they should be in any church, these are symptoms of underlying spiritual problems. We all need to be putting God first in our lives, not letting ourselves get distracted by false like gods Money and Entertainment and Celebrity. When God is truly the most important thing for a Christian, that person’s life WILL be transformed in such a way that the world around WILL see the difference.
So the purpose us of gathering together in church is not to escape from the “real world” by a time of “worshipping God”. On the contrary, we meet with each other and with God so that he will equip and sustain us so that we may better worship and serve God throughout our daily lives.
7. We ALL need to move on to a richer experience of the reality of God and to deeper discipleship.
If we are going to grow as a church, then every individual Christian needs to be growing closer to God. None of us should be satisfied with our level of Christian experience. We should all want to grow up into Christ. None of us have got it all. None of us have arrived spiritually. We never will in this life. There’s always more. We’re not perfect yet!
We should all be continually hungering and thirsting for God, seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness. This is what being a disciple is all about, being a learner, keeping on learning from God and growing up into Christ. The church’s task is to help individuals in the whole pilgrimage of faith, to help us all to grow up to Christian maturity. But each of us needs to WANT to be a disciple! Each of us needs to want to grow up in Christ.
8. Vital factors in spiritual growth include Bible teaching, prayer, faith, making discipes and the working of the Holy Spirit.
Bringing believers to maturity is ultimately God’s work – not ours. It’s all his grace! But at the same time we have to WANT to grow up into Christ and give that challenge of discipleship the time and effort if deserves!
The heart of Victorious Christian Living is Scripture and Prayer.
Jesus said in John 15 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. … 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
We become more like Christ as we allow His words to take root in our hearts and transform us. One of the first sermons I preached here was called “Disciples are Learners.” In that I said, “Most evangelical Christians are educated beyond their obedience.” We know what the Bible says, but we don’t obey it! We don’t allow the Scriptures to shape our lives. We allow the Word of God to inform our minds but we don’t allow it to change our hearts. We need to step out in faith, to commit ourselves to being disciples of Jesus, and to depend on the strength of His Holy Spirit within us.
9. The heart of our church life is our relationships with each other.
The church is a family, not a business. The church is all about friendships, not meetings. That is why hospitality is so important – inviting folk round for a coffee or a lunch or even just for a chat.
The Bible says, 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. NIV
“Open up your homes to each other.” 1 Peter 4:9 NCV
We need to make the effort to get to make new friends and welcome newcomers. Learn each other’s names. And pray for each other.
And relationships with other people take TIME. Relationships take time. Outreach takes time. Pastoral care takes time. If we want to grow up into Christ this demands time! Each of us has exactly the same amount of time to use – 24 hours a day! The things we choose to spend that time doing reveal where our priorities lie, and what is truly important to us. Loving each other. Sharing our faith. Worship and prayer and fellowship and learning from the Bible. If these things are important to us we will want to give time to them!
10. Our relationships with each other spring from our relationships with God in prayer.
So we are back to talking about prayer! It’s God who helps us to love each other. It’s God who gives us the strength to love this needy world for which Christ died. We are so often scared of showing God’s kind of love, we are scared of being hurt, we are scared that other people will demand more of us than we have the capacity to give. And it’s God who loves us so much who helps us to love others as His perfect love casts out all our fears.
So all of our outreach and all of our pastoral care are rooted deep in God, nourished by His love for us and by His Spirit living in us. Our strength to love grows as our relationship with God grows, as we get to know God better through prayer. Learning to pray isn’t about learning how to make the kind of requests God will answer. Learning to pray is about deepening our relationship with God so we know Him and trust him more and more. Prayer isn’t a useful tool to help us in our Christian service. In Richard Foster’s words, “Prayer is nothing more than an ongoing and growing love relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Prayer is the most exciting adventure any of us can imagine. And if we want to grow up into Christ, prayer is the Key! Praying together at prayer meetings. Getting together to pray in twos and threes. Praying privately by ourselves. Starting next Sunday we are holding a week of Prayer and Fasting, with a morning of prayer here at the church the following Saturday. Because prayer is essential!
So there we are – 10 theses on Growing up into Christ – on Outreach and Pastoral care and prayer. 10 statements for you to reflect on and take to heart in this new year. 10 statements which God could use to revolutionise our lives and our church – if we let him!
1. Outreach and pastoral care are activities for every Christian
2. Our principal witness to the world should be our transformed lives:
“Evangelism is the overflow of our joyful faith.”
3. Pastoral care should be the natural spontaneous expression of our love for each other
4. The love Christians have for each other is also our witness to the world
5. We ALL need to become more effective in living out our faith in our everyday lives
6. Outreach and pastoral care flow from the spiritual life of the church
7. We ALL need to move on to a richer experience of the reality of God and to deeper discipleship
8. Vital factors in spiritual growth include Bible teaching, prayer, faith, making disciples and the working of the Holy Spirit
9. The heart of our church life is our relationships with each other
10. Our relationships with each other spring from our relationships with God in prayer