by Keith Stevens
The first church was birthed in the fiery flames of Pentecost on the day of Pentecost. These flames of fire and power quickly spread and the church grew exponentially. We see that on that day, there were added 3,000 souls to the church (Acts 2:41). It didn’t stop there either! We read just a few verses later (Acts 2:47) that the Lord added numbers to the church every single day! The Lord also gave them favor with all the people. (Acts 2:47).
It wasn’t long, though, before they fell out of favor—at least with the religious leaders! We read in Acts 3 the story of the lame man receiving his healing at the hands of Peter (Acts 3:3-7; 4:1-4) This, in my opinion, is when a spirit of religious persecution began to manifest! The elders and rulers of the temple were “grieved” at this teaching and manifestation. So they did what they felt needed to be done to stop this preaching. We know, however, that the efforts of man can never quench the power of the living God! But we do see that although the church was birthed in flames of fire, the flames of persecution were alive and well trying to quench this Holy Ghost fire! Looking back in history, we see that this persecution only fanned the flames of growth! It also set a precedent for us that if we want to see true spiritual growth (in both depth and numbers) we must learn to rely on the Holy Spirit!
What I find most interesting in reading the story of the first church is that the majority of the opposition came from the religious leaders! You see, when you start preaching in the power of the Spirit and not just the wisdom of man, the Kingdom of God begins to manifest itself and wonderful things will happen! However, there are two sides to every story, and we know that when the Kingdom of God begins to manifest, the devil raises his ugly head and the kingdom of darkness also begins to manifest! Is there a solution for this? Will this battle of kingdom versus kingdom cease? Well, yes and no. Yes there is a solution and no, the battle will never cease!
What does this have to do with growth you may ask? Well, everything really. You see, when Paul went to Corinth, he went in the power of the Spirit so that their faith could stand in the power of God rather than the wisdom of man. This alone, sets a precedent for how we must govern and grow our churches and ministries. Every pastor that I know (including pastors of large and mega churches) want to see their church grow. So, what has happened? Why are there so many churches in America with so many empty seats? It’s not like there are no lost people in the city! It’s not because we don’t love them! So, what’s the answer to all the empty pews?
Many pastors and ministry leaders call in special teams, special groups and use special programs in order to entice people to come to church. Others go out to evangelize their neighborhoods and schools. They knock on doors, make phone calls, and use whatever tool they can think of to fill the pews of their church. Are they successful? Yes! Often times a special band or singing group will attract many people. There is almost always success in loving your neighbor and inviting them to church to meet Jesus! However, the first church didn’t have many of these tools, and they grew quickly! Was there a secret to their growth? What did they have or what did they do that made them so successful in growing their body? The answer is found in First Corinthians chapter two, verses one through five.
Simply put, we must teach our people that their faith must rest in the power of God, not in the wisdom of man. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in making full use of every tool that is out there in order to grow our churches and ministries. As previously stated, these programs have shown to be very successful. We advertise special meetings, church socials, community dinners and etc. I wonder though, when is the last time miracles, signs and wonders were advertised? Once people see that in your church blind eyes became opened, deaf ears became unstopped, the lame began to walk, people got up out of sick beds and people’s lives were turned around, your city will begin to get curious and want to check it out!
So, use programs and special events as your drawing card, but also begin to preach and teach the full Gospel of Jesus Christ and your church will begin to stand in the power of God and not the wisdom (or programs of man)! If all we do is use special programs to draw people in, we find that our front door is large, but our back door is larger! The powerful display of the Kingdom of God will embed itself in the hearts of the people, and they will want to stay—even if it’s just to see what will happen next!
Of course, this begs the question of follow up and in house ministries designed to minister to the hearts and souls of our new converts. You will find that without programs in place to minister to the entire man—body, soul and spirit—that people will not want to stay long. However, when you can help them to change their lives, break addictions, regain peace in their marriage, etc. you have gained not just a convert but a disciple! Once you have a disciple, you are beginning to fulfill the great commission. Without making disciples (as commanded to us in Matthew 28:19-20) we are failing to fulfill the essence of that commission! So, what is a disciple? Simply put, a disciple is a disciplined follower of Jesus!
We begin to find that bringing a person from a convert to a disciple is hard work! You see, this is where the power of God comes in. The flames of fire and power must be displayed in every small group, every youth group, every women’s group, every men’s group—well, you get the picture! The power of God must be displayed everywhere we go and in every department of the church! We need to teach our youth and our children the power of God. Yes, even a little child can receive an infilling of power!
Often times, life can be cruel even to a child. They need to know that whatever situation they face Jesus is right there with them. The same would be said for every other department of the church. God wants to display not just His saving power, He wants to display His keeping power!
So, I would encourage you—Use special programs to draw the unsaved in, but teach them at every level to walk in the power of God! Use programs, preach the Kingdom power, and go forth in the might and power of the Spirit! Enjoy the growth of the Gospel!
Keith Stevens received a degree in Pastoral Theology in 1977 from Zion Bible Institute (now Northpoint college). He is now entering his 37th year of ministry. He has served as youth pastor, pastor, evangelist and church planter. You may reach him by phone at 254-421-8034 or by email at [email protected]