True Church Growth Often Means Getting Smaller
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1John 2:18-19)
Our church is quite small in number. We live in a small town that hasn’t seen numerical growth in over 20 years, but that is not the only reason we do not see many new people join us. We welcome visitors. We pray the Lord will send us 1) people He is drawing to Himself and need to hear the gospel, or 2) people who are His true sheep and who desire to be in fellowship with real Christians. Only those two categories.
When I was in seminary “church growth” was the craze. Pastors were supposed to “cast a vision” and “grow their church.” The thing was all bogus of course. It is Christ who grows His church. We plant. Another waters. But God gives the increase. Man can definitely implement his own gimmicks to get bodies in the pews, but no human can effect genuine conversion. What was never said in seminary was that “some of you are not going to see numerical growth in your churches. Some of you are going to be run out of town, falsely accused, hated and berated by Pharisees and wolves in wool. In fact, if you are a true shepherd of Christ, these things WILL happen to you.” Nope, no mention of that. None. Yet the Bible has much to say about such experiences. Christ says that these things are the NORM for those who follow Him.
And if you become wise about evil, if a pastor and His flock “get it” and teach about how wickedness hides in the church, church “growth” will be evidenced by the wicked leaving! No domestic abuser who has been hiding and disguised as a fine Christian church member should EVER be able to continue that facade comfortably. As the truth about evil, as the mentality and tactics of abuse are brought to light and exposed by the Word of God, suddenly the flatterer ceases his praise. He goes silent or he begins to criticize and accuse. What is really going on? He does not want his victim to hear these things. He is squirming. And eventually he leaves, claiming some injustice done to him or other such excuse.
If a church takes this path, there will probably be a diminishing number of people in the pews, but those who remain will have a much better chance to become mature believers. They will actually grow. They will grow in their faith, becoming more wise, more practised in discerning good from evil. They will be more able to devote themselves to the work of the Lord. And they will enjoy deeper fellowship, unity and love with one other. Because they will not have their time and energies taken up by hypocrites sowing discord and and false teaching into the mix. They will not have to be on guard with others in the pews. They will not have to stuff their thoughts and intuitions/Holy Spirit promptings, because they do have to routinely share the church building with wicked people masquerading as sheep — people who delight in covertly maligning true believers and spreading false ideas that mislead immature believers.
In some cases the abuser is the one standing in the pulpit. I mean, what better occupation to select if you are a silver-tongued deceiver, than that of the pastorate! In that case it will be the real sheep who are oppressed and who, hopefully, will be able to depart from such abuse.
But do you see then that light and darkness simply cannot and will not co-exist? Someone is going to leave. And in either case, there is a reduction in the number of people coming on the Lord’s day, not an increase. Is this not the very pattern we see in the Scriptures?
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:63-71)
That is true preaching. That is genuine church growth. This is the kind of environment that an abuser simply cannot tolerate very long.