How Big Is Big Enough?

August 5th, 2013

Which is better? A green and yellow John Deere Row-Crop Tractor with a sowing speed in the single digits or a silver Porsche Carrera S with a top speed of 188 mph?

It depends. The Carrera is useless in the middle of a freshly tilled wheat field. John Deere tractors, especially with implements behind them, don’t corner well.

The above conversation makes about as much sense as asking, “Which is better? A rural church of 35, a county seat church of 200, or an urban church of thousands?” I have been a part of each and loved them all! The bigger question is, “Do they do what they were created to do?” Each situation has its own set of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The fruit may look different, but with a love of and commitment to the communities in which God has placed us, fruit happens!

In the opening chapter of the Bible, God is creating systems of fruitfulness. We have the threefold admonition to “Be fruitful and multiply,” first with vegetation, then to animals, and finally to humankind which is commissioned to bring God’s rule on earth.

God created the world in such a way that birthing and multiplying happen naturally in healthy systems. It is normative for offspring to reproduce. The church is always only one generation away from extinction.

Even a quick study of this idea that “healthy things grow” will reveal skeptics and detractors. They will say things like, “Once any living thing reaches its maturity, it stops growing. It’s not a matter of health. It is a matter of God’s plan.” While true that a tree stops growing once mature; it is also true that the owner of an orchard has an expectation of fruit once the tree is mature. Our master, Jesus, speaks clearly concerning the harvest. Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words powerfully in The Message:

 “Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. ‘What a huge harvest!’ he said to his disciples. ‘How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!’” (Matt. 9:35-38, emphasis mine).

When is the last time your heart broke? When is the last time our hearts were broken not over the condition of our churches but broken with compassion for those who have yet to enter them? I must ask, “Am I good news?” “Am I more interested in painting the barn or bringing in the harvest?” We must be willing to have our hearts broken in order to reach the harvest.

In the gospels, Jesus chooses twelve others to spread the Kingdom of God. There is no “plan B.” The model is to teach and preach the Gospel and to serve and help and heal the people and to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for workers because the harvest is plentiful but it is the laborers who are few. In case any confusion existed in the minds of the disciples, the last act of the person of Jesus of Nazareth was to give the Great Commission.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-20, emphasis mine).

How big should a church be? The great church-planter, Paul, reminds us that it is God who gives the growth. It is the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This is not something we do alone but by God’s Spirit. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Earlier in John 15, Jesus says that his Father is the gardener who cuts off fruitless branches and prunes fruitful branches for even more fruit! “Prune me, Lord!” is a difficult prayer. I know I don’t pray it often enough.

On the back of our bulletin each week, we have two boxes. One box shows the worship attendance numbers year to year and we pray and work for that to go up. But, the more important box for us sits right next to it and says this:

“Current Population within five-mile radius of Acts 2 United Methodist Church = 96,905.  29% report no faith involvement = 28,102 without a church home.”

When that 28,102 number gets to zero, then we will know that God’s churches in our area are big enough. There is not a soul on this planet that we have ever locked eyes with that doesn’t matter deeply to Jesus.

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis mine).

A few years ago, our city started growing in the direction opposite our main campus. God guided us to invite 10 percent of our worshipping community to go start a daughter church seven miles east. Today, that daughter church is doing beautifully. Now, our area is growing rapidly again. So, we are expanding our facilities. As we make disciples who make disciples, the church will be immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine!

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