June 14, 2015
There’s a panic that is going on Reports that the number of people who consider themselves to be Christians is on the decline. This kind of thing is not new. There’s always talk about the ups and downs and church attendance and the Christian character of society. There’s many conclusions and ideas and theories as to why and what to do about it all.
We like our numbers. We put in our bulletin each week how many people attend church or Bible study or Sunday School. It’s easy to compare this to previous years, do we have as many, or less.
But my favorite question of all is this one I heard last week, “Is your church growing?” We’ve all heard that question, maybe even asked it a time or two. What we really mean is do we have more people in pews on Sunday morning, or in Sunday School, or enrolled at Zion Christian School, or our Daycare.
What causes growth in the church, and what does that growth look like? Those are the deeper questions. We try to come up with new programs, new things to do, new ways to attract the culture. As if treating the church like a business, where if we just change the logo, get a catchy slogan, that’ll appeal to more people There’s a danger when we feel like we need to be relevant to the culture. This is a major motivations sometime behind changing worship service styles, music, instruments. Change the way the church talks, using language that the culture will understand better.
The church is not relevant to the unbelieving world. There is no faith there, and where there is no faith then the words of the Lord, the Gospel has no meaning. At best it is a nice story, a moral.
The parable of the mustard seed shows us the great wonder of the working of God through His means of grace. Though it seems small and lowly to the world, irrelevant to the felt needs of the culture, this is how God works in the world. We do not always know how or why, just that it is. Sometimes it happens overnight, other times over a lifetime, or even longer.
Whenever we try to make the church grow by our own efforts, it frankly won’t work. It is God who grows the church, not us. Remember in Matt 16 when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus responds "on this rock, on this confession that is confessed, I will build My church and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” Growth of the Church centers on the Grower of the Church. It is Jesus who builds the Church, it is Jesus who plants the seeds of faith, it is Jesus who makes the Church grow, it is Jesus who harvests the Church, it is Jesus who dies for His Church, it is Jesus who is raised from the dead for His Church, it is Jesus who forgives your sins, it is all about Jesus.
How can my faith be stronger, how can it be larger. First, this is the wrong question. This question is focused on us. Our focus needs to be on Jesus. Where does Jesus feed and water us? Where does Jesus cause our faith to grow? Growth comes from the Word and from the Sacraments. Our job then is not to cause growth, but to simply throw the seeds of the Gospel throughout the world by speaking the Word, water with Baptism, to feed with the Sacrament of the Altar. These are the marks of the church, and where these take place, the church is because where these take place Jesus is.
Go to church, for it is here that God works on you. Be in the Word at home, daily devotions and regular prayer. Do this with your family, or your friends. Do we want our numbers to grow? Of course we do! We want our pews filled. We want our School and Daycare filled. We want the Kingdom of God filled with poor miserable sinners, who are brought in and grown in the faith of Jesus.
God’s kingdom grows mysteriously of itself, at its own pace, and through the power of the Word. This reality often causes frustration among those who eagerly long for a rapid expansion of the Kingdom, and all the more as we only have a short-term view of things. But God’s kingdom grows according to His plan and timetable. And it is a great blessing that things ultimately depend on Him and not us, for only He is able to bring home a great harvest for life eternal.
Jesus’ parables reassure believers that over time the kingdom of God will grow incredibly large, far beyond its unassuming beginnings. Pray that God continues to make that happen here. Precisely because the Kingdom grows so slowly and its Lord is so patient, believers tend to become discouraged and its enemies are emboldened. But in the end, the Kingdom alone will stand, and everything else will be overthrown. Fear not, for the kingdom of God is headed towards a goal, the consummation of the age, the final judgment with Christ’s return, the salvation of all who believe in Him, the growth of the Church.