As witnesses to the love of God in Christ Jesus and as bearers of the Word of God — the substance of which is the message of that love — Christ-believers can be nothing but optimistic.
In keeping with the Lord’s commission, as well as based on His promise sure, the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) declares its “single purpose to be a Christian church that proclaims the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible” (CLC Statement of Faith and Purpose, p. 5).
Surely our desire and prayer is that sinners who see their need will identify with and become part of our church family!
In connection with the great commission the Lord speaks of “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20).
The CLC takes this seriously. In our preaching and teaching we are bound to preach and teach all that is in Scripture, neither adding to it nor subtracting from it! How seriously a church takes the words of the Lord will determine how it carries out the great commission.
Taking the Savior’s commission seriously means that we preach law and gospel—the law in its unvarnished exposure of sin and condemnation on one hand, and on the other hand the glorious and unsurpassed message of forgiveness, justification, and eternal salvation through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus.
We will speak in love, bearing in mind the level of understanding of those to whom we speak. But we dare never speak less than the truth for fear that speaking it will cause people to walk away, as indeed many did because Jesus spoke the truth. The reaction of many to Jesus’ teaching was “This is a hard saying” (John 6:60), and many “went back and walked with Him no more” (v. 66).
Jesus sorrowed at their reaction, but the greater loss was not His. It was theirs. And so in our witnessing, we will likely suffer the same sorrow as our Lord did, for we will not tailor our preaching and teaching to appeal to human whim and desire to attract people to our church.
Surely our desire and prayer is that sinners who see their need will identify with and become part of our church family! However, as those who are committed to the whole counsel of God, our purpose is not to be driven by a desire to attract people to our church. The evidence is at hand that churches that see “attracting people” as their purpose ultimately give up preaching the whole counsel of God because the truth is not helpful to their purpose and understanding of “growing the church.” Such churches put their finger into the wind to determine what to teach. Rather than being teachers of God’s Word, they become advocates of societal whims and individual agendas! If that is a hard saying, so be it!
Only the Spirit Converts…
…churches that see… “attracting people” as their purpose ultimately give up preaching the whole counsel of God because the truth is not helpful to their purpose and understanding of “growing the church.”
Nor is it our responsibility to convert people. We cannot do that. Only the Spirit of God converts the heart. Our responsibility is to preach the truth of which the gospel of our Lord is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1: 16).
We are to preach the gospel, proclaim the truth, and trust that whether individuals join our membership or not, the Word of God will not return unto Him empty handed. He will add to His Church such as are being saved (Acts 2:47). Instead of fixating on visible results, the only question we should ask ourselves is whether or not we are faithful to the Lord in the exercise of our calling as well as faithful to His Word in what we are preaching.
Yes, we would like people to identify with us. However, as a confessional Lutheran church in a pseudo-religious world competing against the devil and “fun-and-games churches” or against those who bear the Lutheran name but have lost the Lutheran character, realistically it is not likely that we are going to see dramatic increases in our church body’s membership.
Some may see that judgment as pessimistic and defeatist. We prefer to see it as realism in a day when people with itching ears can easily find churches that will scratch their itch
(2 Timothy 4:3)!
We should be so busy studying the Word, teaching the Word, applying the Word — law and gospel — to the human condition and declaring the Word as our Lord has given it to us in the Scripture that we have no time to fret about “church growth.”
To Timothy Paul said, “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4: 2).
As we continue to minister in these last days, let us do so with confidence. As we preach the whole truth of God’s blessed Word, He will bring to pass through our preaching what He wills. He will gather His elect. We have His promise. Furthermore, it is enough for us that He knows them that are His even though we don’t. Let us consider it a privilege to be bearers of His Word, through which He gathers His flock.
To the extent that we feel a desire to make our church attractive to “outsiders,” let it be the attraction of truth and steadfastness, together with a life that is adorned with righteousness and joy in the Lord. Let our teaching — as well as our faith active in good works — be a magnet that draws the attention of people yearning for what they have not yet found.
Let them see and hear that we have found Jesus (John 1:45-46) so that, as they ask of the hope that is in us, we may say, “Come and see.”