Posted by Andreas Köstenberger
As we live life on mission, how can we be part of God’s purpose to increase and reproduce? In short, we can identify: ask God whom he wants us to impact for Christ and identify such individuals in our lives. We can invest: get to know those people, spend time with them, share our faith, and bring them into our church community. We can invite: call people to individual discipleship and challenge them to be an active part of God’s mission. Finally, we can increase: help send out disciples to work in God’s harvest.
God Will Give Numerical Increase
Now in what follows, I’m going to presuppose that it is God who gives numerical increase, just as we read repeatedly in the book of Acts, “And the LORD added to their number ….” In other words, we don’t have to worry about growing in numbers. That’s not supposed to be our primary aim or purpose.
I once was part of a church that set numerical goals, such as having 2,000 people in the Easter service in the year 2,000. I’m not sure that’s a biblical approach. What if only 1,955 people show up? Has God not answered our prayer? Or was our prayer perhaps not in keeping with God’s will in the first place?
OK, then, you ask: if not seeking to increase in numbers, what is God’s purpose for us? What does the Bible say? In what follows, let’s take a brief look at some priorities from Paul’s mission.
Priorities from Paul’s Mission
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
The first thing we can do is enter into strategic partnerships with worthy individuals. The Philippians partnered with Paul financially in ministry and in prayer support: What a strategic partnership! In effect, the entire letter is a missionary thank-you note by the apostle Paul! Look how he closes out the letter in Philippians 4:15–20:
And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Let me ask you a question: What are some strategic partnerships we can enter? I recently entered into such a partnership with Mark and Diane Ellis, missionaries to Brazil. The other day, Mark told me: “It’ll be great to have you with us in Brazil.” For a brief moment, I was confused: Did he think I was physically going with him?
Then it dawned on me: even though I wasn’t literally joining Mark in Brazil, through my gift (and the Portuguese translation of some of my books) it was in a sense as if I was going with Mark! This is the value of strategic partnerships: we can strengthen the church’s mission by collaborating with and supporting others in the body of Christ.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
What was Paul’s purpose in ministry? We find his purpose statement in Col 1:28–29. His goal was to “present everyone mature in Christ.” Paul’s purpose was not merely to make converts, or even to make disciples, but to foster spiritual maturity in seasoned believers.
I once started a new Sunday School class. The first day of the class, the church provided some support and publicity and put the new class in the bulletin. After that, I was on my own. There was no additional support given, even though there were times when I struggled to keep the class growing.
Paul took a different approach. He planted churches and then moved on, but he continually followed up and occasionally paid a visit or sent one of his coworkers. He took a long view: his purpose was to “present everyone mature in Christ. This kind of approach takes great perseverance, faithfulness in ministry, and commitment.
One of my good friends has been in a Bible Study with four other men for the last ten years. That’s a great example of gospel community. Here, then, is my question: how can you and I help others mature spiritually and keep each other accountable? We can each mentor others and be ourselves mentored in the faith.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
What God wants is not just isolated mature individuals; he wants the whole church to grow up and be mature and strong. He wants us to increase in unity, to increase in our grasp of sound doctrine, and to exercise our spiritual gifts for the good of the body.
I once was (briefly) part of a church that was divided into two warring factions: the “truth party” and the “love party.” The “truth party” insisted that nothing was more important than doctrinal orthodoxy. The “love party” countered that all that was really needed was for believers to love one another. Who was right? The answer, of course, is both were right. It was a matter of both-and rather than either-or. We must speak the truth to one another in love.
Question: Are you and I exercising our spiritual gifts for the good of the body? Are we growing as part of the body of Christ? How about serving in the children’s ministry? Or in your LIFE class? How can we be increasingly integrated into our local church family? The challenge is not merely to grow in maturity as individuals but also to help the church increase in maturity as a community.
3 Ways to Increase
Here, then, are three ways for us to increase: (1) enter into strategic gospel partnerships; (2) help others mature spiritually in Christ; and (3) actively use our spiritual gifts in the context of our local church to strengthen the love and unity of believers for one another. This, in turn, will be a powerful witnessing tool as unbelievers see the love we have for one another and are attracted to our great God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believers in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).