Roughly 15 years ago I was big into reading about church growth techniques.
Sure, somebody could have told me to just read scriptures and then see how God does it in His own time and His own way and developing a science about it is like looking to bottle brilliance and sell it as a perfume. (Available from all good perfume places for just £149.99.) I don’t dismiss the efforts of writers in looking to share their experience and understanding of scripture as applied in their own lives. I don’t dismiss it, but I’m a bit more wary to believe, as I am with a lot of areas of following Jesus, that it’s something easily condensed into 5 Steps To Your Perfect Life Now.
Looking at Exodus 1 this morning, however, got me also thinking about how the early church grew. Namely the two vital ingredients mentioned in this blog entry’s title. Bad times lead to good times as far as growth was concerned. As much as the Egyptians looked to apply population control to those pesky descendants of Jacob they kept on popping up almost as though the oppression and cruelty was a spur to them continuing with the population growth.
Meanwhile a spate of persecutions in the early days of the church with significant church leaders killed for their faith in other circumstances would have lead to a gradual decline in interest and the death of a movement. Indeed remembering Gamaliel’s appeal with his colleagues in Acts 5:35-39, whenever key people from uprisings and movements had been killed before, the movement died with them. Yet whatever the form of persecution, the church just seemed to take that as the spur to spread themselves and the message in their hearts and more and more people came to believe.
What kind of advert would that make in today’s society, though? Declining church numbers? Folks just not being added?? Then get today your free immense rapid growth in your local church by being Oppressed and Persecuted Today!!!! Watch as people are added to your church as Brother Green is arrested and disappears for the name of Jesus! Marvel as people are added to the church because the entire Everett family including pregnant Sister Martha are butchered on LIVE television for not renouncing their faith in the risen Messiah!!!
It’s glib, I know, and yet the reality in some places on this planet is that churches – whether gathering underground, in huts, in shelters and elsewhere genuinely do experience growth not just numerically but in maturity of depth of faith exactly through these trying circumstances. Meanwhile in other areas of the globe the status of the church appears so fat and complacent its almost inert. As though all they can do is pleasure themselves with entertainment and minor squabbles on matters of little to no difference to the lives of those who remain in their pews as well as the watching world around them.
This is not an entry about easy answers at all. It’s not a straightforward message about how we should go looking for persecution or we’re not the real church. It’s certainly not an addition to the plethora of church growth methods guaranteed to boost those numbers.
It’s an entry in wonderment at how on (at least) two occasions recorded in scripture God’s people experienced growth through trying times. Maybe that’s a hint. Maybe not.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden