People in growing churches often talk about growing pains. More often than not, the pain comes from an inefficient process, or an existing process that can’t handle the new demands. Most of the time pain isn’t really tied to growth at all. In fact there are usually more growing pleasures than growing pains. The increased enthusiasm, energy, giftedness, resources, and positive expectation can be exhilarating if your attitude is right. The Lord is adding to the church Christians he has been preparing elsewhere for such a time as this. Others are coming in to the kingdom of God for the first time and experiencing life as one of God’s children. The pain is really changing pains. Every addition to a church brings new life, but also changes its composition. The more ingredients you add, the more the flavor of the soup changes. The body is given new parts and has to learn how to incorporate, embrace, and then use them to further the ministry. At the end of the day change is good. It is necessary for survival and enables the body to thrive. Given the choice, we’re better off with the pains of growing than shrinking.
Christianity is inherently counter-cultural. But Christianity is not about being different unless what makes you different also makes you Godly. You can stand out and still be ungodly and therefore just like everyone else. You can fit in and be godly that therefore radically different. You can even stand out and be godly. Those people really cause confusion, but they’re my personal favorite. These Christians, usually artists and musicians, glorify the Lord by reflecting his creative genius. False teachers on the other hand label certain music or clothing style a sin. The devil is in the beat. Nonsense. Stand out believers who are also upstanding Christians prove it’s not about your hair, or your music, or your look. It’s not about being clean cut, but about having a clean heart.
The Lord calls elders to shepherd the flock of God, lead them in humility, and love them enough to bring consistent correction where needed. Leaders are not called to regulate ministry. The Holy Spirit is living and active in all Christians, and by his power, and in response the preaching of the Word, individual believers will develop desires to use their spiritual gifts. Biblical leadership facilitates the fulfillment of the desire, and appreciates the diversity of expressions. Only immature or insecure leaders risk quenching the Spirit by forcing eager believers to fit a predefined outlet. The call to admonish (1 Thessalonians 5:12) is the guiding principle. Give enough room to warrant occasional correction. In the end the recipient is made wiser, the work is made wider, and the elder is more respected.
Ministry excellence is a relentless task. Working hard at preaching, leading, correcting, and defending can bring even strong men to the point of exhaustion. For those who want to do well though, there is no option. The alternative is to adopt a mediocrity bias. Average becomes morally superior. Unfortunately the only people that attitude attracts are like minded. It is not inspiring. It has no power to redirect someone from a quest to be remarkable for the glory of God. It’s like trying to convince a future Navy Seal with a day left of Hell Week that he’s being selfish to pursue the dream. It’s like telling that guy he has a pride problem for aiming so high. By that point nothing can break you. You’re just wearing down the clock, and you know you’re going to win. I heard one of those men say at that point in the training “Five days of pain for a lifetime of pride”. After pushing through the hard parts, excellent slaves are happy to say “A lifetime of pain for an eternity of reward”.
The English tradition of saying “what cheer!” when you met someone (presumably someone you like) is still with us. The Puritans brought it to America, taught it to the Indians, and made it a common toast. The English spread it around by colonizing and you’ll still get a hearty “Cheers!” from Commonwealth folks around the world. Christian friends cheer one another with the good news of how they’re doing in the Lord. Paul felt that way about the churches he served. Exchange of information was a key reason for dispatching his faithful coworkers. He knew it would yield a harvest of joy for the church and the Apostle. Notice it is not one way communication. Freely sharing evidences of grace is what brings real joy and community. Paul was confident in the Lord that good news will cheer his lonely condition. Christians have the capacity to bring great joy to those entrusted with their care. Likewise true servants of the Lord receive emotional stimulus from the flock. When they are doing well, he should have a sanctified pride in the power of the Word and Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. He sees them and thinks “what cheer!”
Working out your own salvation (Philippians 2:12) is like solving a 1,000,000 piece puzzle. The Lord saves you, gives you all the pieces you need, and a picture of what the finished product should look like, not to mention the desire to get it done. At first it’s pretty easy. The corners go down right away, followed by the edge pieces. Then you find a distinctive element in the picture and solve that. However, the further you progress, the more difficult it gets as you keep working to solve elements that lack definition. The open sky or sea resembles those grey areas of sanctification that require much discernment. Days or weeks drag on with momentary flashes of excitement when you find a piece that fits. In the end you die with the puzzle unfinished. Then the Lord completes it for you, brings it to life, and you realize it is the glorified you. This is how he sees you, and was the vision he had before the foundation of the world, when he wrote your name in the Book of Life.
There are some specific benefits to persistent holiness. Primarily, in the eyes of the Lord you will be blameless and innocent. Who wouldn’t want that? This is essentially the purpose behind the imperative in Philippians 2:14. This is the motivation for doing all things without grumbling and disputing, and for working out our salvation in all spheres of life. The rewarding result is being blameless (meaning no glaring fault can be found in us) and innocent (meaning our heart is free from guilt). Only unity in the body based on the humble example of Christ will yield the fruit of a congregation faultless before God, and comfortable with their own conscience.
Paul was a great example of leadership from both a faith bias and a bias toward planning. In every aspect of his ministry he moved into uncharted territory with the Gospel because he knew God was calling him there. There was a treasure of elect unbelievers waiting for the good news. That’s the faith bias. He also moved from place to place with deliberate, strategic consideration. Cities were passed over, or through, that didn’t meet the criteria. Even his departures were carefully orchestrated, with leaders in place, and an expectation that in the end the investment had a reasonably good chance of paying off. Paul had both faith and administrative skill. A bias toward one or the other cripples effective ministry.
There is nothing better than getting paid to own an asset. Certain equities will pay shareholders in the form of dividends, usually on a quarterly basis. Paul says Christians are partakers (shareholders) in the spread of the Gospel, but the dividend is suffering.
We are to be among (literally in the middle of) a crooked and twisted generation (Phil 2:15). There we are differentiated from the crooked and twisted generation by being light. However, the Lord calls us out of the world in a spiritual sense, not a physical sense. Christ send converts back into the darkness. He sent them back as (and with) lights. But beware. Being different than the world simply for the sake of being different does cut it. Relentlessly trying to escape the monotony of tradition can itself become monotonous. Being different is great – a sign of the creativity of God – but Christianity is not about being different, unless what makes you different also makes you like Christ.