Growing in Churches
Growing in Churches
Juan and Maria sought to make their home the ideal place in which Manuel could grow to maturity. They wanted him to have happy, memorable growing-up experiences. They knew that one day their son must accept the responsibilities of an adult. The time would come when he would choose a vocation, select a marriage partner, rear children, and become active in community affairs. They were delighted that his growth and development involved healthy activities and interests which would reflect more mature behavior.
In a similar way, our heavenly Father wants His children to identify with a fellowship of believers, the church, so that they can be nurtured toward spiritual maturity and be equipped for active involvement in Christian service. Churches provide both training for Christian growth and maturity and equipping for ministry.
In the final lesson of this course, you will study an overview of the church’s nurturing ministry. As you study this lesson, you will discover how fellowship with a church can help you grow toward spiritual maturity and how it will help equip you to assist others in growing spiritually.
The Church: A Place for Nurture
In the broadest sense, the church includes all believers who have received new life in Jesus. When you were born again, you received Jesus’ life and were spiritually joined to Him and to all others who share His life. You thus became part of a spiritual body, the church. When we refer to the church in the New Testament sense, we think of those who have been called together to follow Jesus. This body of Christ’s followers is referred to correctly as the church.
There are two aspects of Christ’s church: the universal and the local. The universal aspect refers to the term church in the broad sense. It is composed of all who share the life of Jesus by virtue of the new birth. It is universal because it includes all Christian believers from all places throughout church history. The local church refers to the local assembly or congregation. The local church is the manifestation of the universal church in a particular place. Without the local church, the universal church could have no specific expression. Thus, the local church is the fellowship of redeemed people who unite themselves together in a given place to carry out the purposes and mission of the universal church. It is the body of Christ in a specific place.
Christ, the head of the church, expresses himself on earth through the church. The mission of the church is thus an extension of the mission of Jesus. He has challenged the church to continue the work He began (Matthew 28:19–20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46–49). Local churches as part of the universal church, share responsibility for accomplishing this mission. Every believer is a part of it and has a part to play in it! People who are joined to Christ by the new birth should be brought into His body by their affiliation with a local congregation of believers. Here their spiritual life can be nurtured toward Christlikeness and they find opportunities to contribute to the spiritual development of other Christians. These two ideas can be summed up by saying, “Churches are places where Christian nurture should take place.”
This brief introduction to the nature of the church calls attention to two major facts: 1) every Christian is a part of the universal body of Christ and should therefore identify with the life, witness, and fellowship of a local body of believers, and 2) Christ’s mission is also our mission. His purpose is to redeem from every people a body of believers and transform them into His own likeness. As part of His body, we have been challenged to carry out His mission. We can be more effective in this mission as we grow in the knowledge of His Word and use the spiritual gifts He has given. Spiritual growth, which involves insight into the application of God’s Word to everyday situations, also comes about through witnessing to unbelievers and sharing with those less mature than ourselves. To be as effective as possible in Christ’s work, we need to grow toward spiritual maturity.
Some of the material you have studied in this course pertains more to the universal aspect of the church, but this lesson focuses on the local expression of the church. Part of the task of local churches is to nurture spiritual life toward maturity. In and through the ministry of the local church, you will find the help you need to grow spiritually. You will also find abundant opportunities to help others mature toward Christlikeness.
As the people of God in the local church work together harmoniously, the growth needs of the body are met and the unconverted are attracted to Christ. Moreover, the believers who make up the body of Christ are nurtured and equipped for meaningful involvement in serving others.
The ministry of God’s Word in churches serves two essential purposes: 1) it calls the unconverted to faith in Christ, and 2) it nurtures the faith of believers, teaching them to live lives that please and glorify God. While this ministry may express itself in many forms, such as teaching, encouraging, admonishing, and correcting, its purposes remain the same. In the matter of nurturing the spiritual life of believers, two concerns come into focus: 1) training for maturity, and 2) equipping for involvement in service. These are the results of the church’s ministry of God’s Word.
Everyone recognizes that instruction and training are vital to helping a child grow to maturity. A child must be taught to clothe and feed himself, to read, to relate properly to others, and to control his emotions, among other important responsibilities. Parents and teachers cooperate to help children make these changes. In a similar way, the church offers ministry opportunities which are designed to provide spiritual growth and development toward spiritual maturity.
From a biblical point of view, the ultimate goal of spiritual growth is Christlikeness. As we grow spiritually, we move progressively toward spiritual maturity. One measure of expression of spiritual maturity is Christian service. Our desire to be Christlike will lead us to serve as He served and
to be involved in the spiritual development of others. Another expression of Christian maturity is the development of sound spiritual insight, judgment, and character.
Review what you studied in Lesson 2 in the section entitled Six Need Levels. Carefully observe the progression from spiritual infancy toward spiritual maturity. Notice, also, that the development is toward involvement in Christian service. Christian life is more than hearing; it is also doing (James
1:22). Ephesians 4:11–16 indicates that all of God’s people are to do works of Christian service. These verses also teach that church leaders are to equip God’s people to do their service for Him. In addition, verse 16 suggests that a Christian demonstrate his maturity in Christ by properly taking his place in the body of Christ, drawing strength from the body, and giving his strengths and gifts to the welfare and development of others.
Thus, the body of Christ develops and matures as each member performs his service. This is accomplished as the church, through its members and leaders, nurtures the spiritual lives of its members and equips them for effective Christian service. The church, through its nurturing ministry, informs its members of their responsibilities, encourages them to use their skills and talents for God’s glory, and provides opportunities for service.
The Development of Ministry Structures
To help promote their evangelism and outreach services, local churches develop ministry programs. These programs are based on Christian service principles like those you have studied in this course. The programs local churches develop are an attempt to put Christian beliefs into practice in ways that will achieve their ministry goals.
In the attempt to build meaningful ministry programs, local churches seek to meet the spiritual development needs of all persons, regardless of their stage of spiritual development or age level. In providing opportunities for service, local churches enable maturing believers to apply what they have learned in helping others. This ministry outlet supplies help for new believers and exercise for the emerging talents and skills of developing believers, as well as growth in Christlikeness and Christian maturity. Because of the varied needs of new and mature Christians, local churches seek to offer programs that are balanced, graded, and organized.
A local church’s nurturing ministry is balanced when it offers the full range of opportunities needed to assist people in developing spiritually in every area of their lives. The New Testament church emphasized evangelism, teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer (Acts 2:41–42). All of these
activities are essential to full spiritual development. Thus, local churches should examine their ministry programs to ensure that they are offering balanced opportunities in each of these five areas. A local church should design activities which address each of these ministry areas. It should also offer a balanced program that will provide opportunities for everyone in the fellowship to take advantage of these services.
Since congregations are made up of a full range of people, from small children to aged adults, a balanced program should include ministry which addresses all five of these areas for all ages. This brings us to the need for a graded program. That training should be graded is a well-understood fact. School children, for example, are graded because of their ages and learning differences. College students are graded on the basis of their previous learning experience and achievements. Churches, operating on the same principle, offer learning opportunities for children, others for youth, and still others for adults. Also, some churches find it necessary to group their learners in other ways to accommodate different levels of academic achievement, interest concerns, and stages of spiritual development. Obviously, the needs of two young men, one a college graduate from a large metropolitan city and the other a farmer with little formal schooling and no experience outside his remote rural village, will be very different. These differences will affect their learning experiences. Likewise, two adults who are of similar age may have very different family situations. If the
one were married and had children at a rather young age, he might be involved in parent-teen relations. The other person of the same age, however, might be involved in rearing infants or very small children. Their needs and interests, therefore, would be different. To meet the needs of all of its members, a church should structure learning opportunities on a graded basis. A graded program, then, refers to the development of a program
of educational opportunities for groups of learners who have similar characteristics that will affect their learning. Graded programs have been found to promote effective learning; therefore, to help its members learn and grow toward spiritual maturity, a church should develop graded programs.
A program that has many activities and features needs to be organized. Research indicates that large tasks can be accomplished best when they are divided systematically into a number of smaller tasks. This is the nature of organization. Organization aids efficiency by grouping similar tasks together and putting each task under the supervision of an individual who can specialize in one aspect of the total work. An organizational system provides the framework within which activities can occur. It connects the various parts of a program into a unified whole and provides coordination of the various parts. An organizational plan also provides communication between the different groups and their leaders and defines the relationships between the parts. Moreover, it establishes the scope of responsibilities and the patterns of authority and accountability.
Churches, whose nurturing programs include a variety of activities, need to organize their efforts to ensure that they achieve the things they want to accomplish: that their programs achieve their intended goals. They also need to organize to help avoid unnecessary overlap in important areas.
The local assembly, then, makes possible the nurturing ministries of the church on a broad basis. Through its organizational structures, the local church can minister to the general growth needs of many believers in an efficient, meaningful way. By contrast, the small sharing group can meet
the needs of people of a given age, interest, job, or educational group in a very personal and informal way. Each ministry is complementary to the other.
The Training for Ministry
Leadership training is a vital part of a local church’s nurturing ministry. You have already discovered that every Christian is to be actively involved in Christian service. In the New Testament, the words service and ministry come from the same Greek word and carry the same meaning. It is unfortunate, indeed, that in the course of church history an artificial distinction has been drawn between ministers and laymen in the church. The misconception that only ordained church leaders are ministers is common, but this idea is foreign to the New Testament. According to the Scriptures, every believer is responsible to render Christian service.
God has placed certain leaders in His church and has given them the particular responsibility to train and equip the rest of the body for service. This is the clear teaching of Ephesians 4:11–12. The saints, all the people of God, are to do works of ministry, while the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor teachers are to prepare (train or equip) the saints to minister.
You may have experienced some degree of fear or feeling of inadequacy the first time you were introduced to this idea. Many Christians experience such feelings. What you experienced was an awareness of your need for training. You felt inadequate and poorly equipped for such a task. This is
why God provided leaders to help you. As you receive the instruction of more mature church leaders, you develop a desire to serve Christ and to help others come to Him and mature into His likeness.
God has taken care of the initial equipping of every Christian for ministry. Through the Holy Spirit He has given every member of the church the essential equipment for works of service. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the believer’s life empowers both for effective life and service. In addition, God has given every believer some spiritual gift (or gifts) to equip him for ministry within the body of Christ. Four New Testament passages indicate that every Christian has received such enablement for service: Romans 12:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:1–11; Ephesians 4:11–16; and 1 Peter 4:10– 11. While all members receive a gift or gifts, they do not all receive the same gifts. A variety of gifts has been distributed among the members of the body. Each gift complements the others. As all of them are exercised, the body is made complete.
A major part of the church’s responsibility in training its members for ministry involves helping people discover their gift(s). If a Christian is unaware of his gift, how can he be helped to discover what God wants him to do? A good beginning point is the desire to work for the Lord, to be fascinated with a certain aspect of service, to feel attracted or drawn to it. Sometimes this begins as one identifies with or experiences a sense of fulfillment as he
watches others serve the Lord in some capacity. Once a person feels drawn to a particular aspect of Christian service, he should look for opportunities to be involved in it. He should experience a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction as he performs this service, if it is truly God’s gift to him. In this process, Christians should also discover that God has not called them to certain tasks. This is a wholesome discovery. Perhaps one of the best indicators of a Christian’s gift of service is the recognition given to it by more mature believers. As they witness the use of the gift, the spirit in
which it is used, and the spiritual response that follows, they can often discern whether this is the beginning of a Spirit-anointed ministry or not. The Spirit within them bears witness to the genuineness of the gift. They can then encourage the individual to continue to develop the gift just as Paul encouraged Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6). A major part of training Christians for ministry, then, is helping them discover the gift God has given them.
It is not enough to discover one’s gift. Gifts come packaged in underdeveloped forms. They must be developed through practice and use. Even the most talented musicians find it necessary to practice long and hard hours to develop their potential gifts. This is why the church is involved in the nurturing ministry. Church leaders devote much of their time and energy to the task of training church members for spiritual service. By helping people develop the gifts God has given them, the church, through its leaders, trains Christians for ministry. It also provides opportunities for the application of the lessons learned.
The Personnel for Nurturing Ministries
For a local church to succeed in its nurturing ministry, it must have the leadership of competent and dedicated people. Each group within the program needs a dedicated leader. Therefore, each local church requires a number of people to staff its nurturing programs. Two particular classes of church nurturing leaders are mentioned in the Bible: 1) pastors and 2) teachers. Without minimizing the importance of other people, we will consider the roles of these two groups which are mentioned in the Scriptures.
Pastors are God’s special ministry gift to the church. Generally they have received special training to prepare them for their work. Often they commit all or a majority of their time to the church’s ministry. They are responsible for the spiritual leadership of all aspects of the church’s work. This includes both general and specific responsibilities for the church’s nurturing ministry.
As you read Ephesians 4:11–12 carefully once again, you will observe that pastors and teachers are closely related. In the original language of the New Testament (Greek), the grammar of the passage suggests that these two functions could be combined in the same person. These roles represent two
different but interrelated functions which were fulfilled in the church by the same persons. Because of this close relationship, this term is sometimes written pastors-teachers to show their close association.
The pastoral function refers to the task of caring for the flock. It is compared to a shepherd who watches and cares for a flock of sheep. The teaching function involves nurturing, training, and developing the people to whom he ministers. The two ideas are really not far apart. The shepherd leads the sheep into pastures where there is an abundance of good food and cool water. The teacher instructs in the Word of God, which is spiritual food, and points people to Jesus, who is the water of life. The pastor-teacher is responsible to watch over and care for the congregation and to teach and train the members for effective service and ultimate maturity. Teaching is an essential part of the pastoral office.
Christians look to their pastor for teaching. They should receive and value his counsel and instructions. Many of his sermons will be instructive. Since he spends much of his time preparing to teach the people, they should respect and protect his study time. This is a very important part of his work and ministry.
The pastor’s work involves the oversight of all ministries of the church. One of the general areas under his oversight is that of the nurturing program. He may delegate the specific supervision of the various parts of the program to others, but he gives guidance to the general direction of all ministry programs. In this role, he should function as the main teacher among a team of fellow teachers. In this capacity, he will give oversight to the total nurturing program, and on many occasions he will teach.
According to the passage in Ephesians, pastors are given the very specific responsibility of teaching to prepare God’s people for works of service. They are particularly responsible to equip others so that the body of Christ may be built up in knowledge, unity in the faith, and maturity in Christ. Leadership training and ministry development are an important part of the pastor’s total responsibility for the church’s ministry. He should
function as the senior minister in a body of ministers. His particular task is to recognize and develop leadership potential and to train and equip the people of God to minister. This task includes helping people to discover places of service where they can develop and exercise their gifts for God’s glory and the upbuilding of the body. In fact, this is a pastor’s most challenging task. To develop human potential under God and to equip people for involvement in Christian service is both an awesome responsibility and a great opportunity. Jesus selected special ones from the masses of people who followed Him. From the multitudes He chose to train the Twelve. Paul likewise selected special persons that he could train for leadership in the
ministry. Timothy is a prime example of this pattern. This is the specific task of the pastor-teacher.
While the pastor is the main teacher of the church, he should not be the only teacher. The varied aspects of the nurturing program require that many people assume teaching responsibilities, and God has prepared for this need by giving teachers to the church. Local churches should make every
effort to select those to teach whom God has gifted to be teachers. Teaching is an important ministry that carries great responsibility (James 3:1). Teachers should recognize the importance of their task, for they have a great opportunity to influence the eternal destiny of many people.
Many of the people who teach in the church’s nurturing programs will not have the formal educational training which is usual for teachers in public schools. Nor does it seem necessary for them to have such training; however, they do need the qualifications necessary to communicate the truth effectively to their students. Since a major part of teaching in the church is helping people to grow spiritually, church teachers must be alive and growing Christians themselves who know the teachings of Scripture. In addition to their new birth experience, they must have a dynamic, growing relationship with Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Their behavior should reflect the quality of life Jesus offers, for they are to be models of the
Dedicated teachers are characterized by their response to the biblical exhortations to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18) and to develop facility in communicating gospel truth (2 Timothy 2:15). They have keen and growing appetites for the Word of God and Christian ministry. This does not mean that church teachers must know all there is to know in these areas. Probably no one does know all that can be known. It does mean that they should have mastered certain basic biblical teachings. It also means that they should be developing critical insights into the teachings of God’s Word and their applications in one’s daily life. Moreover, these church teachers should have some understanding of human nature and of the psychological
makeup of their pupils. They should also understand certain basic facts concerning the teaching-learning process and how to apply their knowledge in teaching situations. Paul taught Timothy that Christian workers should be faithful persons who should have the ability to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).
Perhaps you are considering a teaching ministry in your local church. You may feel that God has given you a teaching gift. If so, you should seek to develop and exercise that gift whenever the opportunity presents itself. You can prepare yourself for more effective service by learning more in
the areas we discussed in the foregoing paragraph. I have sought to suggest in this course many of the things that have helped others develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become productive in the nurturing ministry. I trust that these suggestions will give direction to your efforts now and increasingly in the future as you continue to develop your God given talents.
The very fact that you have completed this course indicates that you have acquired many of the basic skills needed for this sacred and exciting ministry. I now encourage you to use what you have learned so that you will grow spiritually and help others grow toward Christlikeness.