Overflowing Faith

Here's my next magazine article.  I'm currently reading and enjoying David Jackman's Understanding the Church, which it appears is now out of print.  That's a shame, because it's very helpful and is providing the stimulus for my current articles for the magazine for the churches I serve.

See what you think if the next article.

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On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:37-38 NIV)

It seems that everyone has a strategy, or a plan, or a technique for getting churches to grow. Yet many individual churches are in fact declining and the overall picture in the UK is a picture of decline. I suspect the underlying issue is not that church leaders are using the wrong techniques or strategies (however useful some may be!). I suspect the problem is spiritual.

It's interesting to see how the early church grew in the book of Acts. It's important, of course, to see that it did grow. The normal dynamic of a healthy church is that it is growing. After Peter's first sermon at Pentecost, around three thousand were saved. From that point on “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b NIV) And it kept happening (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 13:49).

When we look at Acts, we rightly tend to think of the great exploits of the apostles Peter and Paul. However, that wasn't the only way the church grew. We find that it wasn't just the apostles who were preaching. After Stephen is martyred and Saul starts to persecute the church, we might expect the average church member to go into hiding. Instead we read: Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:4 NIV) Again in Acts 11:19-20 we find Christians going across the world sharing the good news of Jesus, first with other Jewish people and then to Greeks as well.

In last month's magazine article I quoted Matthew 28:16-20, often known as the Great Commission, where Jesus instructs his disciples to do just this. He tells them to go into the world making more disciples and that he is with them to enable them to complete the mission. It must have been incredibly exciting, even in the persecution, to see the mission being fulfilled.

So why is it that today's church situation seems so remote? Instead of the great expansion of the early church, we see decline. As I said above, I think the heart of the problem is spiritual and that leads us to those two verse from John 7 above. I think the Christians in Acts had drunk deeply of the living water from Jesus (the Spirit). In fact they had drunk so much that they overflowed and the streams of living water simply flowed out of them. You simply couldn't stop the good news about Jesus coming out of them.

So what is our problem in the UK? Let me quote preacher and author David Jackman: “The church [in Acts] is growing because there are Christians who are drinking of the Lord Jesus to overflowing...and the church will not grow until Christians 'overflow' Jesus to other people and until it becomes natural for believer to share the good news with people to whom they build bridges of friendship in most ordinary ways.” I think our spiritual problem may be simply that we are not overflowing with Jesus.



So what about us in the churches of St Luke's and St Peter's. We certainly want to see both our churches grow. So there are some probing questions for us. Do we overflow with Jesus? Do we naturally share the good news with our friends, family and colleagues? If we are doing, let's pray that it leads to growth as those friends, family and colleagues put their trust in Christ. But if we're not, we need to ask the hard questions about the source of the problem. Is the reality that instead of drinking deeply of Jesus by his Spirit, we are actually spiritually dry? If so, will we prayerfully commit to seeking Jesus in reading the Bible, prayer and the fellowship of the church?

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