“The Church of Jesus is winning because we have deep fellowship!”
It infuriated me…and I’m not the type to get angry about much. I didn’t have a problem with “deep fellowship”—whatever that means. I like fellowship.
But the blog from a retired pastor implied the sharp decline of the American church is just a matter of perspective. Then he proceeded to explain all the ways we’re “winning”: deep fellowship, congregational care, and faithful Bible teaching.
While we could debate the quality of these three areas in each congregation to determine how well they’re doing them, it wasn’t the metric Jesus ever gave for His Church. The leading edge of the Church’s mission is reaching the lost for Him (cf. Matthew 28:16-20). If we’re not making disciples, we’re losing.
Consequently, instead of spurring younger pastors towards the goal Jesus established, the respected author simply moved the goalpost.
I believe the Apostle Paul would have agreed with us. He writes to his mentee, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:6…
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
1 Timothy 4:6
New International Version
In context, “these things” are the forced celibacy and asceticism from verses 1-5 of this same chapter. Paul reminds Timothy of the wisdom he is to pass along to the Ephesians and the consistency with what he has been taught and has faithfully obeyed. Timothy isn’t to tell them something he isn’t adhering to himself.
And therein lies a powerful leadership lesson: pass on what you have learned faithfully and accurately. Timothy was “nourished” by the “truths of the faith”. What a beautiful compliment to Timothy: he has grown up—he has matured—feasting on the truth of our faith in God the Father through Jesus!
Timothy has benefited from three sources of nourishment: the teaching of his mother and grandmother (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15), interaction with other Christians (cf. Acts 16:2) and the mentorship of Paul (especially evidenced by 1 and 2 Timothy).
But the goal of all this nourishment was not just to learn how to coddle the sheep of the Lord’s flocks. It was to make wins for the Kingdom—for the Great Shepherd, Jesus.
By correcting the theological errors of this group within the Ephesian congregations, Timothy was clarifying the “truths of the faith” and we possess these same truths in order to make more disciples. It was never about simple correction for the sake of conformity.
The Lord calls leaders of His congregation to lead His Church outward to those who need to know the forgiveness of sins and the life only Jesus offers. This is our razor-sharp focus from which we cannot deviate.
In the Ephesian congregations, the focus was becoming more about legalism in looking a certain way with less emphasis not only on reaching others but also the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit. They were imposing things on people the Lord never commanded.
Strange how when we go legalistic it’s not about plundering Hell to populate Heaven, but about us and how we interact with others in the congregation.
Changing the “win” introduces dangerous ideas to the Church, namely that it’s about making “us” happy (whatever that means). Whether it’s deep fellowship, congregational care, or faithful Bible teaching, moving the goalpost doesn’t mean we’re winning. It means we’re misleading congregations who are dying into thinking they are winning because they are “faithful” (Faithful to what is a different subject.).
Instead, we must continually push our congregations outward towards others because they are the point of why we are here. Making disciples for Jesus of all nations brings glory to God. And when we consistently and faithfully point out that to our brothers and sisters, we are good ministers of Christ Jesus.
Interested in more like this? Consider Joel’s book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs. Moving through a selection of verses from a chapter of Proverbs for every day of the month, Joel walks readers through a journey of spiritual formation applicable to everyday life. The goal? Knowing how to apply the wisdom of Scripture so we grow in our faith, become wiser, and show the world the life-changing power of Jesus.