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I work full time promoting church growth in a world where church
growth is a multi-million dollar industry and the church is not
I can’t help but contrast this world with the world of the
early church where, best I can tell, there was no church growth
industry. They didn’t have any church growth seminars or church
growth books or church growth consultants, and the church was
growing and growing rapidly. Not just one church. Not just a few
churches. Overall, there was a movement of church growth that was
rapidly advancing. (As it is in much of the world today.)
I believe the reason this is true is that the central message of
the church as we preach it is different from the central message
that the early church preached. It is not that the things we are
saying are not true; it is just not what occupied the constant agenda
of Christ and His early followers. We talk about, “How to go to
heaven when you die.” They talked about the kingdom of God.
What is the kingdom of God? It is everywhere where God is
acknowledged as king. What is it like when God is in charge? Love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
self-control. Does anyone want a life like that, or am I the only
Imagine you could take a pill that made you feel thoroughly
loved. It made you significantly more loving. It made you joyful. It
put your soul at peace. What would you pay for that pill?
The kingdom and commitment
It is this perspective that helps to explain a few more passages.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in
a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy
went and sold all he had and bought that field. Matthew 13:44 (NIV)
As a young minister I used these kind of verses to beat people up
from the pulpit: “He sold all he had; he paid the price. You need to
pay the price. You need to be committed. The problem today is that
church members are not committed.” Maybe not, but I doubt that kind
of preaching helps much.
And that kind of preaching is antithetical to the passage and to
life in the kingdom. I draw your attention to three words: “in his
joy.” Of course he sold everything. He was being offered something
infinitely more valuable: life in the kingdom-a life of love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and
self-control. What more do you want?
The kingdom and church growth
IHe told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a
mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it
is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the
largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of
the air come and perch in its branches.” He told them still another
parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and
mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the
dough.” Matthew 13:31-33 (NIV)
The kingdom naturally and always grows. If the faith we are
living is not growing it may be we are not living life in the
kingdom. We are living a different gospel. Perhaps it is the gospel
of rightly answering this question: What is the least, minimum
requirement for being assured that I can go to heaven when you die?
When you have answered that question in great theological accuracy,
you are still far from the kingdom. You have to ask the right
questions to get the right answers. We have brilliantly formulated
answers to questions no one is asking.
When people taste love, joy, peace, patience and so forth, they
naturally want to tell. Good news always travels fast. The problem
with the church today is not that we are not willing or able to tell
the good news; we have the wrong news. It is not an advertising
problem; it is a product problem.
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is
like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day,
whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he
does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain–first the
stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. Mark 4:26-28
I draw your attention to three words: all by itself.
He does not
know how it grows. He has no idea how it grows. It is not because of
this program or that. It is because that is how life is in the
There is joy and people want to come to where the joy is.
There is peace there and people want to come to where the peace is.
There is love there and people want to come to where the love is.
Let me misquote a verse. You see if you can catch me. The verse
is John 10.10, or part of it:
I have come so that you can know you will go to
heaven when you die.
Do you remember John 10.10?
The thief comes only to steal and kill and
destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the
full. John 10:10 (NIV)
That was the kerygma, the offer, the central message of the early
church: we offer you life! Abundant life! Life you can’t get
anywhere else! A life of love, and joy and peace! It is great! You
will love this life!
You can’t keep a church like that from growing.
The offer of the early church was an offer to find life. This was
Jesus offer–“I have come that you might have life!”
This is not biological life in the sense of your heart beating up
and down. This is life! The good life! This is life that is
better. . . well, its better than life in the beer commercials! We sometimes say, “This
is really living!” That is what the Christian faith
offers–really living. Life that is full of love. Life that is
marked by peace. Life that is full of joy.
Not merely the deep undercurrent of joy that no one can be sure if it
exists or not. The early church was so full of joy that when
outsiders came in people thought they were drunk. I long to be a
part of a church like that, don’t you?
We see this same dynamic in Paul’s preaching. Consider Acts
26.29, “Paul replied, ‘Short time or long–I pray God that not only
you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am,
except for these chains.'” (NIV)
Paul did not say, “Short time or long, I pray that you would have
the assurance that if you died tonight you would go to be with God
in heaven.” No he said he was living a life. A life so full of love,
so full of joy, so full of hope, so free of worry, anger,
resentment, bitterness, a life so rich and abundant and John 10.10
he just wants everyone to have that life?
Is it true of you? Do you live a life that is so John 10.10 that
you would want everyone to live your life? I have days that I do,
but I have not fully taken hold of that life. Neither had Paul. “Not
that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made
perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus
took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have
taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win
the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Phil 3:12-14 (NIV)
Paul had not fully taken hold of the life that is possible in
Christ, but he was far enough up the mountain of spiritual maturity
to be able to say to everyone in the valley, “Follow me as I follow
Christ.” It was a good life he was living and his offer to Felix and
anyone who would listen was to come and taste and see that God is
Pastor, that is your job: to stand before your people every week
and offer them life–life abundant
Teachers, that is your job: to show your group week by week how
they can lay hold of that life. Jesus spent three years with his
disciples talking about the kingdom and you sense they still didn’t
get it. It will take a while for you. You won’t be able to say it
just once. Say it over and over and over again.
Christian, this is your job: to tell whoever will listen to
you–Jesus offers you an incredible life! Come get that life! Come
Here is my final question for you–are you living life in the
kingdom? Are you becoming a little more loving, a little more
joyful, a little more at peace, a little less angry, a little less
worried, a little more kind?
You might be tempted to say, “I was saved when I was ten. I
walked the isle. I prayed the prayer. I did the deed.”
That is not the question. This is the question: is life getting a
little more loving, a little more joyful, a little more peaceful?
Are you getting less worried and less angry and more passionate
about life. That is how life is when you are living in the kingdom.
How do you live life in the kingdom? You can spend your whole
life studying that. Read the teaching of Jesus. Pay special
attention to the 161 references in the New Testament to the word
kingdom. Listen to the sermons of John Ortberg.
You will spend your whole life understanding the kingdom, but it
only takes a moment to enter: surrender to Him as king. Tell Him you
want to live in His kingdom. Tell Him you would gladly give up
everything to get that life. Tell Him you want the John 10.10 life.
Teach that life. Teach people to life the John 10.10 life, and
see if your group does not grow, “all by itself.”
I write four new Sunday School lessons a week that are written
from the perspective of, “How to live the John 10.10 life.” Check
them out at
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