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The True Measure of Church Growth

Facebook2The Thriving Church: The True Measure of Growth, will be released December 6. This interactive resource engages church members and leaders with the most detailed and complete biblical description of organic life in the church, Ephesians 4:1-16.

I invite you to work with me through this truth-packed passage of Scripture and find the answers to these questions:

      • What is church growth?
      • How is it defined?
      • Can it be measured?
      • How can you help your church thrive?

The first church I pastored experienced a steady increase in attendance, membership, financial resources, ministry pro­grams, pastoral staff, missionaries we supported, and facilities. People in the community were hearing the gospel, trusting Christ, and attending our church. Some who already knew the Lord were hungry for the Word and found their way to our fel­lowship.

Our auditorium was overflowing, so we started a sec­ond morning service, then a third. We rented classroom space in an office building across the street. Finally we relocated and moved into a newly constructed facility.

People in the commu­nity who knew about the church commented, “Your church is really growing!” Increase in the size and scope of ministry is one kind of growth. It’s the kind we usually desire, work for, and get excited about when it happens.

But is this the kind of growth Ephesians 4 is talking about?

The second church I pastored went through a period of in­creased attendance, financial abundance, and adding ministry initiatives. But the church also experienced periods of fluctu­ation in these usual markers of prosperity and growth.

If you were to look at the numbers from one year to the next during some of those times, you might not see tangible indicators of growth. Does this mean the church was not growing?

For our churches to fulfill God’s inten­tion, we must understand His template for growth and align our endeavors with it. In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul tells us the areas in which the church should be growing and the standards by which growth should be measured.

Let’s dig in together and learn about the growing body and how you can help your church thrive.

The Thriving Church will be available at JourneyForth.com starting December 6 and soon after on Christianbooks.com and Amazon.com.

Adapted from The Thriving Church: The True Measure of Growth, by Dean H. Taylor, published by JourneyForth.

The Story of Immanuel

What are you afraid of? Besides spiders in your bed.

Kids fear the dark, mean dogs, being kidnapped, and someone they love dying. Teens are afraid of test-taking, not being accepted by their peers, and the future. Common adult fears include money problems, making bad decisions, biopsy results, and aging.

I am afraid of rejection, being closed in (I can’t stand the window seat on flights), and of sinning so badly I ruin my testimony, my family, and my ministry.

Ahaz, king of Judah, was afraid of being conquered by invaders. With good cause.

The Assyrians aggressively expanded their empire during the 700’s BC. As they pushed westward, the little Mediterranean coastal countries were next up to have their armies slaughtered, their cities flattened, and their citizens enslaved. Judah was at the top of the Assyrians’ to-do list.

Ahaz’ two neighbors to the north had a bright idea. They asked Ahaz to join them in an alliance against the Assyrians. Ahaz refused. So those two kings turned against Ahaz. Their countries were Syria and the northern section of the divided Jewish nation, Israel.

Israel marched in from the north and the Syrians circled around from the south. Ahaz was surrounded. The prophet Isaiah described Ahaz’ fear: “So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). He was shaking like a leaf.

God takes care of His own. Isaiah delivered the promise of deliverance.

“Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah, . . . thus says the Lord God: ‘It shall not stand, Nor shall it come to pass’” (Isaiah 7:3, 7).

Don’t be afraid. Your enemies’ plan will fail.

Isaiah then warned Ahaz: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (v. 9). God wanted Ahaz to exercise faith rather than be controlled by fear.

He wants you and me to do the same thing. But reining in our fears isn’t easy.

God knew Ahaz would have this struggle. So He gave Ahaz an unusual opportunity. “What sign would you like God to do for you to help you trust Him to protect you against these armies?” (my paraphrase of Isaiah 7:11).

Ahaz’ answer sounded pious: “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test” (v. 12). But he was defying God’s instruction. Our unwillingness to adopt God’s way of handling our fears is stubborn resistance to His sovereign rule in our lives.

But God pushed His grand purpose forward. Isaiah proclaimed, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name, Immanuel.” (v. 14).

Likely a woman in Judah, unmarried at the time of this prophecy, would soon marry, give birth to a son, and name him Immanuel. After he was weaned from his mother, but before he reached the age of making moral choices, the kings of Syria and Israel – the nations Ahaz feared – would no longer be in power (vv. 15-16).

Did God’s merciful persistence change Ahaz’s mind?

It’s sad. What might have been. Instead of believing the promise God sent him, he messaged Tiglath-Peleser, king of Assyria, “I am your servant and your son.

Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me” (2 Kings 16:7).

Ahaz secured the alliance with gold and silver from the temple.

Tiglath-Peleser launched a strike against the Syrians and killed their king. Ahaz and the people of Judah escaped being conquered, but Ahaz adopted Assyrian idolatry. God kept His promise, but Ahaz missed the opportunity to glorify God.

What might have been for Ahaz came to pass with another king of Judah. When Hezekiah became king, he rescinded the agreement with Assyria (2 Kings 18:7). Instead of relying on alliances with pagans, “He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).

Long story, here’s the short version. The Assyrians came back against Judah, attacked, took some captives, mocked the Jews’ trust in Jehovah, and told them they would die under siege while consuming their own filth. You can read the details in 2 Kings 18 and 19.

Hezekiah messaged Isaiah requesting prayer, and Isaiah responded:  “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me’” (2 Kings 19:6). See it? “Do not be afraid.” Overcome fear with faith.

Hezekiah chose to trust God rather than lean on human strength. He prayed:

 “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 

Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God.

Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 

So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”

2 Kings 19:15-19

Answer? The angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian troops (2 Kings 19:35). Threat removed. Prayer answered. Trust in God rewarded. Promise fulfilled.

What does all this have to do with Immanuel? Do you remember the sign Isaiah told Ahaz about in Isaiah 7:14? The name Immanuel meant something. Do you know? In Hebrew, the language of the Jews, it means “God with us.” God. With. Us.

Isaiah had predicted the Assyrians’ defeat witnessed by Hezekiah. He pictured the Assyrian invasion as a river overflowing its banks and flooding the plain. “And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel. (Isaiah 8:7-8).

A clue emerges indicating Immanuel wasn’t just a little child, but the Sovereign of the land.

The flood of Assyrians was a dire threat to Hezekiah and his people, but they chose faith over fear. Isaiah’s prediction happened: “Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered; give ear, all you far countries; strap on your armor and be shattered; strap on your armor and be shattered. Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us” (Isaiah 8:9-10).

Do you see it? “For God is with us” translates the Hebrew “Immanuel!” Isaiah’s prophecy was God’s promise.

Ahaz feared enemies and trusted in alliances. Hezekiah faced the same enemies with trust in God. He saw firsthand the promise fulfilled: Immanuel. God with us.

God’s plan and promise reached far beyond 700 BC. He is establishing a kingdom now of people, not merely land – although one day He will reign with His people in Immanuel’s land.

The second fulfillment of Isaiah’s sign prophecy was recorded by an ex-tax collector named Matthew. But the messenger this time was an angel from heaven!

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Matthew 1:18-23

This time the baby was not just a boy his mom named Immanuel. This mom was Mary, who while still a virgin miraculously conceived a child who was the Son of God.

Creche on our mantel

Immanuel. God with us!

You have an archenemy named Satan. His fearsome weapons against you are sin and death. Jesus, God’s Son, conquered Satan, sin, and death once and forever when He died for your sins and rose again.

How can you escape the assault of Satan, the siege of sin, and the doom of death? The same way Ahaz could have been delivered from his enemies. The same way Hezekiah was protected by God. Refuse to be controlled by fear. Instead, place your faith in God. Trust in the promise of God, the promised Son who Himself is God who became a man – God with us.

If God neutralized the Assyrians’ power against Jerusalem, and if He has disarmed Satan’s power against you, don’t you think He can help you with all your fears? Losing your job, meeting the right person, serious health issues, money problems, aging, temptation?

If you are a Christian, He is with you because He is in you! You are indwelt by His Spirit.

God is with you. Trust in Him.

O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Public Domain

Emmanuel has come. What is holding you captive? Whatever it is will come to nothing. It will not stand, for God is with you.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

Why I Dedicated The Thriving Church to Marilyn Taylor

My 97-year-old mother has loved books as long as she can remember. This set was hers when she was young.

Mom was 40 when I was born. Can you imagine? My earliest memories include learning to read. Mom wanted me to enjoy the blessing of books like she did. Before I even started school, she taught me using McGuffey Readers. We still have them!

Through her lifetime, Mom’s love for God and for the church has been evident to everyone who knows her. She lives with my wife and me now, and she still faithfully goes to church with us.

Mom’s love for reading, for God, and for the church have shaped my life inestimably. I wished to acknowledge her influence in formulating The Thriving Church. So I dedicated it to her.

The Thriving Church will be available December 6, 2019 at JourneyForth.com, Amazon.com, Christianbooks.com, and the Faith Baptist Bible College Bookstore.