Which is more important – Church Health or Church Growth?

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Dear friends, the Bible is clear:  One of the sure marks a person has become a true believer in Jesus Christ is that he will be suddenly and genuinely concerned for the lost [Matthew 4:19]. Having often rehearsed in his own heart the amazing grace that he himself received from God, the Christian is ready to disperse the gospel of free grace, whenever, wherever, to whomever, and however he is able [1 Peter 3:15]. 

Yes, realizing that he freely received the righteousness of Jesus Christ on the day of his salvation [Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21], he becomes convinced that it is his God-given responsibility to freely distribute the gospel of our Lord Jesus to all who are in his daily sphere of influence [Matthew 10:8]. Oh, he may feel quite fearful to do so. He may feel totally unprepared and inadequate to present the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to a lost world. Yet, by God’s grace, he has been made very willing to receive the necessary training, and is leaning on God to carry out this ministry [Psalm 51:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:20]. At this juncture, those who have been appointed by God to teach God’s people, instruct him about the simplicity and reality of personal evangelism. In so doing, God’s people will be taught the following four facts about Biblical evangelism: (1) Biblical evangelism flows out of a heart close to God [Psalm 51:10-13]; (2) Biblical evangelism is wholly dependent upon intercessory prayer, because it is God alone who opens the hearts of lost men [Acts 16:14; 26:18]; (3) Biblical evangelism is equivalent to speaking for God to the spiritually-dead who live daily in a spiritual graveyard…and he knows that he is one-hundred percent dependent upon God who raises the dead! [Ezekiel 37:1-14; 2 Corinthians 1:9; Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13]; and lastly, (4) Biblical evangelism requires the patience of a farmer after he has sown his seed [Mark 4:26-29; John 6:44]. However, note well that fact (4) is the most important one, practically-speaking, for apart from a true time of revival, most of the evangelistic encounters we experience will be seed-sowing and gardening (or watering) efforts [1 Corinthians 3:6-7:  “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth”]. Very few of our evangelistic encounters will be reaping situations [John 6:63-66]. Therefore, it is with this God-centered and Word-centered mindset that we must approach or respond to the lost.  Any other perspective, however well-meaning, is void of Scriptural support. Please know that our understanding of evangelism will affect our method in evangelism. So then, we conclude that God is not pleased with the prevalent man-centered method of decisioning (i.e., pressuring) people to Christ (most of whom later fall away). Instead, we understand that He is pleased with the God-centered approach of making disciples that will last [Matthew 28:19]. So today, we must choose between adopting the commonly–accepted decisionistic evangelistic method of Charles Finney (the popular 19th-century evangelist who created the altar-call), and adopting the disciple-making evangelistic method of Asahel Nettleton (the relatively unknown but very fruitful 19th-century evangelist). Following Finney’s method, you will be led to tolerate inactive church membership rolls (or to discard them altogether) where 1 out of 3 members still attend church; while following Nettleton’s method, you will be led toward building spiritually-healthy imperfect churches where the vast majority of its converts and members are still with you (and growing) thirty years later. I leave you with the following words of Asahel Nettleton (1783-1843):  “When God takes away the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh – that is regeneration.… Then, God grants repentance. A new heart is a penitent heart. Regeneration is necessary because sinners have hard, unrepentant hearts.” Oh Jesus, give us hearts for the lost around us and passion to speak the gospel, and prayerful patience to trust You to raise the dead…for Your glory alone!

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