Church Growth and the Sovereignty of God
by Burk Parsons
It seems that every time I meet a pastor from another church, he asks me the common, unsolicited, ecclesiastical question of the twenty-first-century: “How big is your church?” Most pastors are usually a bit confounded when I respond: “I don’t know.” It’s only when I am pressed for an answer that I provide him with the number of families in our congregation. But if I am in a good mood I may simply explain that our church consists of people of every color and language and is as big as the world-wide church of Christ. It is my hope that in some, small way I might help other pastors obtain a better perspective on the size, growth, and health of the church, locally and globally.
Just this past week I had the opportunity to assist in a Lord’s Day service at Saint Andrew’s Church in Mzuzu, Malawi, in the southern part of Africa. At the beginning of the service nearly 200 were present, but before the two-hour service had concluded, more than 2,000 Malawian worshipers filled the sanctuary. Many walking from miles away in the dense, early morning fog, they dressed in their finest clothes and carried their tattered Bibles — if they were fortunate enough to own a Bible. I could not help but smile throughout the entire service except for a moment when I was brought to tears as they sang the classic hymn of the former slave trader John Newton: “Amazing Grace.”
At the end of the first verse, when the congregation sang the familiar stanza that I have sang more than a thousand times — “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”— it was at that exact moment I remembered that our sovereign God has already settled the entire matter of church growth. God will seek and save those who are lost by the very means He has appointed in His inspired Word. He is the sovereign Lord of all creation, and He certainly does not need to rely upon the cleverly-devised, cultic tactics and trendy, “seeker–sensitive” techniques of Madison Avenue to woo those who are blind to His Gospel. In fact, when such carefully-contrived tactics are used, the blind are usually led by the blind who lead them not to the God of the Bible but to the god of some romantic biography in which that god will do anything he must to win the affections of those he has helplessly lost. May it never be. Rather, may God continue to use the clear, unvarnished preaching of His Word by His people to seek and save the lost so that they may see His glory and live coram Deo, before His face forevermore.