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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Paul's Great Passion and Deep Discontent

A Missed Opportunity
A few years ago I attended a pastor's get-together where the invited speaker told us that God's new agenda in England was big churches. He himself was already a member of an exclusive group of pastors of 600+ churches and he believed that this was what God was up to in our day.

I was screaming inside but like The Scream, some stupid fear silenced me. Where, O where, I cry, is one half verse of holy writ to support such foolish and ignorant baloney?

As you will know congregation numbers are rare in the NT; thus, when mentioned they are pregnant with significance. We read that the church in Acts grew from 3000 to 5000 - why? To show us the dramatic powerful nothing-but-Godness of the church. After these dramatic numbers we hear virtually nothing about numbers..... We have not a  clue how large the churches of the NT were. And not one church is rebuked for being small.

The real problem with 600+ club mentality is plain and simple worldliness; they are taking their cue from Fortune, not Scripture.

When we come to Scripture we see an altogether different set of priorities. Take Paul for example: his priority was Christlikeness.

The great heart of the apostle Paul
I have often read Paul's passionate letters and wish I loved like he did. I wish I loved Christ the way he did, and I wish I loved  people as Paul did. His heart beat - and often burst - with divine love.

But consider one little verse, Galatians 4:19. Paul has been astounded at the desertion of his Christian friends from the Gospel of grace to a no-gospel of works. (I once heard Stuart Olyott describe the 'strange mathematics' the Gospel obeyed: add to or subtract anything from the Gospel and it turns to zero - mathematicians work out a Gospel algorithm if you can!).

In his distress over them Paul says to his dear children "I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you."

Mother in labour love
What an amazing expression! Paul thought of himself as a mother in labour who must suffer pain to see her child brought to independent life. In the same way Paul struggled and worked painfully to see these young believers come through to real new life, which he describes as Christ being formed in them.

The challenge to Pastors and Leaders
Two challenges emerge from Paul's example. First, the sheer amount of hard work, toil, pain, suffering and energy he exerted to see them grow in Christ. This cleverly crafted letter is one example of that energy, which came from God.

The other challenge is the the end for which Paul worked: Christlikeness.

He was deeply unsatisfied with mere "churchanity" "profession" "numbers" or however we might describe believers merely gathered on a Sunday morning. He wanted to see Jesus formed in them; he wanted to see Christ likeness emerge in their character and obedience in their lives. He was discontent with mere profession, unhappy with mile-wideness which was inch deep.

In sum he had caught the spirit of his Master who commanded the church to make disciples of all nations baptising and teaching them to obey everything he had commanded.

In our age of numberitis we do well to return to spiritual priorities like these.

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