In our prior feature lesson, we considered five things that do not necessarily constitute a strong church. In our lesson today, we will consider the positive side. What does constitute real strength in a church? We will consider seven elements that are imperative for real congregational strength.
WHAT DOES CONSTITUTE REAL SPIRITUAL STRENGTH?
1. Strong faith on the part of the members makes the church strong.
When we consider the church in Rome from the first century, we realize that there are many things we do not know. For example, we do not know what kind of structure they typically met in, we don't know the names of the elders, we don't know how much their contributions averaged, etc. None of those things were recorded for us, but we do know what Paul wrote about their faith - "Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Rom. 1:8). That means they were victorious (cf. I John 5:4). Truly, no church can be strong unless the members possess strong faith.
And what is strong faith, in practical terms? Strong faith is the quality of life that accepts God's word at face value. It is the attitude which says: "Lord, speak, and I will hear; command, and I will obey." When one believes God to the point that he has complete trust in Him, to the point that he is willing to turn his life over to Him, then he has strong faith.
Perhaps you've seen this bumper sticker before: "God said it and I believe it, so that settles it." That sounds good, but it sure is better if we say: "God said it and that settles it, so I will believe it." Can you imagine the strength of any congregation where all of the members had this kind of trust in God? That attitude, if put into practice, would eliminate all attendance problems, all money problems, and all personal relationship problems. That attitude would cause the entire church to be free of anxiety, fear, and tension.
2. A well-taught membership makes the church strong.
If the individual members are well-taught, then the congregation as a whole will be too. A lack of knowledge of God's word will destroy you (cf. Hosea 4:6)! Knowledge can strengthen, as Acts 20:32 teaches - "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Being taught and learning the word of God is necessary for growth. "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby" (I Pet. 2:2). To have a ready knowledge of the Scriptures helps one to resist sin. Jesus taught us how to put the devil to flight by saying - "It is written." The psalmist wrote - "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Psa. 119:11). John said - "These things I write to you, so that you may not sin" (1 John 2:1).
Timothy is a wonderful inspiration to us in this study. Consider all of the advantages that Timothy had:
Of course, to be spiritually strong, one needs more than a knowledge of the facts of the Bible. Yes, the facts must be known for one to understand the principles involved, but one also needs to know how to apply the great truths of God's word to his life. The Hebrews writer said - "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." There are some things that can be learned only by age and experience! Those mature judgments are needed for a church to be strong.
3. A truly converted membership makes the church strong.
Most congregations have names of people on their membership rolls who have not really been converted to Christ. They may be members by generation rather than by regeneration (in other words, they attend and worship at a church of Christ simply because their parents or grandparents did). These folks have gone through the necessary steps to obey the gospel but perhaps lack sincere desire and devotion. Perhaps their interest is in the social blessings of a group of good people and not upon developing spiritual strength. Perhaps they have chosen to be members of the church for business, political, or family reasons. Perhaps they desire to be a Christian in name only. Whatever the cause, it weakens the church to have people in its membership who have not really been converted to Jesus Christ. Such people may have a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof (cf. II Tim. 3:5).
Jesus Christ is truly a personal Savior. He loved us and lived and died for us. Without Him we all would be hopelessly lost forever. A proper response to Him is for one to totally trust Him. That kind of trust, or faith, will cause one to repent of his sins and be baptized for the remission of them (cf. Acts 2:38). As long as one quibbles about obeying God's commands, his faith is not strong enough to save him! Galatians 5:6 teaches - "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." When one realizes his total dependence on Jesus Christ, he then becomes a better worker for Him.
4. An efficient leadership strengthens the church.
No congregation will rise above its leadership. This is true of the church as a whole and also of each facet of its work. It is difficult to have good singing without a good song leader. It is difficult to have a good Bible class without a good teacher. It is difficult to have a good, strong flock without good, strong shepherds!
Let it not be overlooked, however, that congregations with strong leadership also have a need for strong "followship." In many congregations today, the leaders are doing a better job leading than the followers are of following. Elders spend long hours grieving over the sins and weaknesses of the members while the members spend much energy criticizing the elders. Preachers study hard and work diligently while members complain and criticize, making their work harder. Deacons plan projects for congregational activity and outreach, only to find many in the congregation standing still. All in all, we need to improve our "followship" as surely as we do our leadership.
5. A united membership makes a church strong.
It is still true that a "house divided against itself cannot stand" (Matt. 12:25). Division has been a greater hindrance to church growth and church strength than anything else. When a congregation has a large split, it may take two or three generations to get over it--and sometimes it does not recover at all. God wants His children to "all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Cor. 1:10). Bad attitudes, ugly dispositions, and arrogant appearances can all make it difficult to maintain congregational unity. But, we must strive with all lowliness, gentleness, and longsuffering to bear with one another in love (cf. Eph. 4:2,3).
There is another consideration of unity that is also necessary--the unity of work. Even though there may be no hint of division or an approaching church fuss, often members are not united in the work of the congregation. In other words, those who ignore or even boycott certain efforts of the local church are not encouraging unity. It is the duty of every member to help a project or effort succeed (to the best of his or her ability) once it has been planned and put into motion. What would happen in your congregation if every member did his or her best to make every activity and program of the church succeed? Dream about that for awhile! And why shouldn't such be a reality?
6. A worshipping membership is essential to church strength.
This is especially important in the twenty-first century. We are living in an age where we expect to be entertained. We feed ourselves on professionalism. It's easy to watch a 30-minute TV program and not realize that it is the very best of many hours of filming! After professional editing and polishing, the final result is an almost flawless presentation designed to stimulate and entertain. And, of course, if the program does not measure up to what one expects, just get that remote clicking because there are plenty of other channels with other choices! After this kind of conditioning, is it any wonder that many are bored or disappointed in our assemblies? Having grown accustomed to more refinement (through TV and movies), the hearer is often disappointed and loses interest in less than perfect singing, unskilled prayers being led, and a serious sermon that requires concentration and intellectual effort to benefit from. The problem here is not the worship itself but the expectation that many bring. Worship is to be about God and giving Him what He wants. If we think it is about us, we will be tempted to make unauthorized changes to try to make it "better" or we may just lose interest altogether.
I'm sorry to say it, but many Christians simply don't assemble to worship God. They go to be entertained or to pursue a spiritual high. It should feel good to worship God in spirit and in truth, but our feelings are not the central reason for worship! Worship is something we do, not something we receive. We worship to give, not to get! The worshipper is the actor on the stage, and God is the audience. With that concept in mind, one is ready to express his homage and adoration to God, but without that understanding the church will not be strong.
7. A "clean" membership is essential to a strong church.
Sin has always weakened God's people. When Achan sinned, the army was defeated (cf. Josh. 6,7). When the church was cleansed, the church grew (cf. Acts 5:1-14; 19:11-20). The early church was sensitive to its problems. When a murmuring arose, steps were taken to correct the problem (e.g., Acts 6:1-7). Sin on the part of the members will destroy the church. The congregation must be kept clean. Pure religion includes keeping oneself "unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). When Jesus comes for the church, it will be presented to Him without "spot or wrinkle"; it will be "holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:26,27).
Perhaps you have noticed by now that those things which make the church strong are things which must be found in, or done by, the individuals who make up the church. That means that each individual member of a congregation helps determine the strength or weakness of that group. Isn't it obvious that a better church begins with you and me? It begins with all of us on an individual level. The stronger we are as individuals, the stronger the church will be as a whole. There's quite a bit of truth to the saying: "You're only as strong as your weakest link."
Dear friends, as we conclude this study, reflect upon these personal questions and make changes where necessary:
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.