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Marks of a Maturing Church

3: A Joint Effort

June 23, 2019 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: The Marks of a Maturing Church - Redux #3 # Introduction Life would be different if God had no goals. Life would be different if we had no goals as well, but God Himself has a perfect *telos*, an aim, a glory point. Unlike ours, God's goals are not uncertain; He always accomplishes His intentions. So just as His ways are higher than our ways, so His sovereign goals are more sure than ours. God clearly loves getting toward those goals via patient process rather than immediate accomplishment. It doesn't take too much looking around to see that He enjoys the process of smaller becoming larger, of fewer becoming many, of weaker becoming stronger, of immature becoming mature. We are born babies who grow into adults. We are spiritually born as babies, too, and must grow into the fulness of the stature of Christ. God has goals for each of His kids: to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). God has goals for the Bride of Christ, all the family considered collectively: mature manhood and the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). So it is not man's idea for a church to be growing. It is not a standard of modernity that says we must be maturing. God reveals where He wants us to go and we can see some of the benchmarks along the way that help us to know if we are maturing. You can tell if a church is maturing by looking at how they look at different things. So far in our series on the marks of a maturing church redux we've considered that a maturing church looks at her leaders with high expectations for ongoing and obvious progress. A maturing church looks at God in worship with humble expectations of blessing. A maturing church looks at Scripture with a submissive hunger. A maturing church looks at the responsibility of each individual member, especially when it comes to take responsibility for sin. There are three more marks to mention today. # How a church looks at herself as a body is the fifth mark of maturing. We spent a lot of time going through 1 Corinthians 12-14 a few months ago. It has been a theme that I've tried to emphasize since last September: *you are the body of Christ*. It is inescapable, not a whether or not question, but how so? Together we are a local body and each believer is a part, are we a maturing body or not? Each part is different, but we each must do our part. No part can say to another part, "I don't need you." Likewise, no part can say to another part, "You don't need me." More specifically, one part ought not be envious of another part, as if the foot threw a fit because it's not a hand (1 Corinthians 12:15); that’s just another face of pride. And no part ought to exalt itself over another part, as if the eye could hear or hold our coffee or walk for us. We are connected, like it or not. You can pick your friends but you can't pick your eternal family. It's why we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), because in a spiritual sense we are joined together. "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is not just how God has arranged us, which is true. It is also how God arranged for our growth. > Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16). My wife has a genetic defect known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. It affects the collagen in her joints (along with other connective tissues in the body) and keeps the joints from doing their part to hold the other parts together. When a person with EDS is younger they often don't have pain symptoms, they are just overly flexible, hyper-mobile. The muscles are strong and can compensate at the joints. But if there is an extended time of sickness, or an accident, that causes the muscles to weaken, things really start to get out of joint, and the whole body suffers. In the body of Christ, He not only makes us different parts, but He makes it so that when we do our part we are helping to hold the body together: "joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped." And our getting stronger, our maturing toward "mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (verse 13) depends on *a joint effort*. It depends on each of you. We have more in common than we don’t. We are the people who live by grace, who eat God's promises like food for sustenance, who pray to Him because we have to give thanks and because we know we can't do it on our own. We do not all do the same things, and we certainly do not do them the same ways. Some are more quiet, some can't hold much in at all. Some are faster, some are more nervous but hang on for the ride. Some are more awkward yet connected, some are socially smooth and yet more disconnected. None of this surprises, and thankfulness should color all of it. A church will not be maturing if she is made up of isolated believers, like bricks on the floor rather than mortared together in a wall. The world will know that we are disciples by our love for one another, and that witness depends on seeing ourselves as one body. # How a church looks at her neighbors is the sixth mark of maturing. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said that if you took the Old Testament laws and summarized them, you could boil them all down to love Goa and love your neighbor as yourself. > “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40) The parable of the Good Samaritan is entirely about identifying who your neighbor is because what we don't like is needing to love the person we see right in front of us. This is another way of saying that we must love our people, and that our people are the ones who are probably annoying us the most. We are less likely to have trouble "loving" those who don't get on our nerves. We don't have arguments with them, we don't want the same things as them, or at least we're not competing over those things in the same space. They aren’t leaving their trash for us to pick up, they aren't making us a mess for us to clean up, they aren't watching us in our worst moments. "Oh, I wish I could help you but I live five time-zones away." Here is where an offer is not as good as a body. It's why wisdom says that a friend who is near is better than a brother who isn't (“Better is a neighbor who is near / than a brother who is far away” Proverbs 27:10). Loving our neighbors means putting pants on our ideals. It may mean washing the dishes. ("Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes." —P.J. O'Rourke) The word "neighbor" is an ambiguous word, meaning that it has a number of definitions. It's part of the reason that a lawyer could ask (“desiring to justify himself, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29). Jesus stipulated the definition in such a way as to keep us on the hook. You have neighbors who live in the house next to your house, neighbors who live in the other houses on your street, neighbors who live in your city, neighbors who live in your county, and even to some extent neighbors who live in your state and country. But the principle starts with loving the person who can see who is right in front of you, which means that your first neighbor is your spouse, and also your kids/grandkids. Love the ones you’re with. Love them in truth, love them in sacrifice, love them in helping them to grow. Love your wife. Love your daughters. Love your sons. Love your city. # How a church looks at the world is the seventh mark of maturing. The last part of our mission statement is that we would have worshipping, maturing disciples “who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over all the world.” This is easier said than understood. > The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
 the world and those who dwell therein,
(Psalm 24:1) We are *stewards*. God created the world, and all things in it. Not anything that was created was not made by Him (John 1:3). From the beginning He kept calling it, and continues to sustain it, *good*. When He made mankind He gave them a mandate to receive His gifts with thanks and then to do something with His gifts. This economy of gifts, this management of resources, is His assignment. But we are also *soldiers*. Because Adam and Eve fell, we who fear the Lord are in a global and spiritual battle against the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Everything that God made, while good in itself, can be abused and used against God. The love of the world, identified not as loving ice cream but as loving the flesh (1 John 2:15-17), is opposed to Him, and so we must be vigilant to guard our hearts. And we are also *sojourners*. This world is not our final resting place (1 Peter 2:11). We are in our seed-body forms, and will be raised to glorified, powerful, imperishable bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Creation will be delivered from its bondage to futility and groaning (Romans 8:20-22), a new heaven and a new earth will be made (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), and we will have new capabilities and work and responsibilities. That does not make what we're doing now worthless. We are learning how to live and how to not lose heart that eternal things are around us but not always the countable, measurable things. > For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14) A maturing church will not try to be the boss of the world, but will recognize that the world is gift, that the world is full of sinners, and that Jesus will return to Lord over all of it and we will reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6). # Conclusion The final three marks of a maturing church seem especially profitable for us as salt and light in the world. A loving body = witness (they will know we are disciples of Jesus by our love for one another, John 13:35). Happy families = witness (in both Ephesians and Colossians the sections on interacting with outsiders come after the sections on family). Blessed workers = witness (the fruit of our hands, as blessed by God in Deuteronomic and Psalmic ways makes the Jews jealous). You can tell a church is maturing by how they: 1. Look at Leaders 2. Look at God in worship 3. Look at God’s Word 4. Look at Personal Responsibility 5. Look at the Body 6. Look at Their Neighbors 7. Look at the World By God’s great grace, TEC is a maturing church. May we excel still more and more. > Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1, NASB)

2: The Glory of Growth

June 16, 2019 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: The Marks of a Maturing Church - Redux #2 # Introduction I taught a series on The Marks of a Maturing Church in the first summer of our existence as a local body, so that means it's been almost eight years since considering what makes for a healthy, growing flock. While I am not embarrassed by those marks, I do think that we've been growing as a church, and even my understanding of the characteristics of a maturing church have matured. Whereas there were nine marks then, I've summarized them into seven for this Redux series. Since seven is the number of perfection, it must be the ideal list (or something like that). Today we'll consider the 2nd-4th marks and then finish, Lord willing, the final three marks next Sunday. You can tell if a church is maturing by looking at how they look at different things. First, you can tell a church is maturing by how they look at leaders. Leaders go first, leaders are examples of consistent godliness and also in making progress. Leaders don't "arrive," and they shouldn't be or build a ceiling for growth. It may seem, especially when we consider the second mark, like the order is wrong. Maybe leaders should come second, or maybe even third. But I think godly and growing leaders takes the top spot for a couple reasons. When God wants to lead and serve and teach and bless others, He sends *people*. The work of the ministry contains propositional content, but even in the original context God revealed truth through apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. The “faith once for all delivered to the saints” is a thing, but men delivered it. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” We have our own written copies of God's Word now, and that is a blessing, but it doesn't change that God gives the gifts of *men*, and they protect and feed and lead the sheep. How a church looks at her leaders, with high expectations for their godliness and their visible progress is the first mark. # How a church looks at God in worship is the second mark of maturing. “New creations who enjoy corporate and transforming worship God” was the sixth mark in my list eight years ago. Though we were following the five capital Cs in our liturgy (Call, Confession, Consecration, Communion, and Commissioning), I hadn't yet taught through it. Every January since we've taken two or more messages of reminders about the priority and power of worship, and that's why it moves up in my redux list. In order for a church to mature she must be worshipping God together, every week, with intention and expectation. > And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18) The only principle more important than this in the universe may be: love bestows loveliness (which is most visible in the gospel of grace). Right after that is: *we become like who (or what) we worship*. God made us to reflect Him as image-bearers. This is our identity, and He made it so that we learn about our identity and grow in glory as we look at Him. This beholding doesn't happen only when the church assembles, but it starts here. He is great and greatly to be praised (Psalm 145:3). He is sovereign and good, His steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:1). He is our life (Colossians 3:4). And we need reminding all the time. It is very tempting to forget the forest for the trees. There are a lot of trees: health, family, bills, work, food, cleaning, et cetera. Any relationship and any responsibility can become an idol; we can start to act like that person or that duty is our life. It's one of the things I say frequently about school, for students and especially for teachers. School is *part* of life, it can be a big part, but it cannot be someone's entire life. Worship of God reminds us to get up at the higher level and see our lives from His perspective. Worship of God as an assembly each week also reminds us that we do not make the world go around. We stop from our normal labors and trust Him to bless us and bless the work of our hands. We fear Him, submitting to His sovereignty and His holiness. We rejoice in His forgiveness and learn to extend it to others, boasting in the good news of His mercy. We grasp that He wants fellowship with us; this is the goal of the Trinity. He shares His fullness with us of both love and joy. He lavishes us with His favor, full of grace and blessing as we return to work. So our worship ought to be with rejoicing reverence, and reverent rejoicing. Worship reminds us about reality and how to respond to it in God’s ways. God has many responses in His arsenal, and we learn how to response by beholding Him. # How a church looks at the Word is the third mark of maturing. “Believers who crave and live God’s Word” was the second mark in the previous list. We cannot grow without food and God's Word is the food. We must do so much more than merely read it. We must *receive* it as God's Word (1 Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:21), we must *crave* it (1 Peter 2:2), and then we must *do* it (John 13:17). The Bible is the ultimate authority. God reveals in the Bible that He has established various authorities, but none of them outrank His Word. We cannot be a maturing church without a firm foundation. The Scriptures are not the word of men, but the inspired words of God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21). > And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13) His Word is without error, and it is therefore the final authority. This is part of why we are Reformed; we do not trust the Pope, we do not take the word of Councils or confessions (even if we benefit from their help as they are faithful in pointing to the Word). The State is not the boss. Even the pulpit itself, and things said from it, do not automatically have authority apart from Scripture. And, as is perhaps the premier danger in our day, we also do not take our *feelings* as the arbiter of truth. So we are to crave the Word. "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). We are to delight in it. As for the blessed man: > his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he mediates day and night. (Psalm 1:2) The word is like water that causes the tree to "yield fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither" (Psalm 1:3); this is the growth and maturation of the tree. We know that the Word revives the soul, it makes wise the simple, it rejoices the heart and enlightens the eyes. His revelation is more to be desired than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:7-10). We must look at the Word as divine, as desirable, and then we must obey it. > But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25) Our Life to Life groups are not what Christians typically call “Bible Studies,” they are Bible Doings support groups. Hearing (Scripture in sermons or personal time in the Word) without obeying is dangerous. Observation and interpretation of God's Word without application is not blessed (James 1:25; John 13:17). Paul said to the Ephesians, "Now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). Scripture opens and closes and directs our corporate service, and Scripture must dwell in us richly as God’s chosen ones (Colossians 3:16). # How a church looks at the responsibility of each member is the fourth mark of maturing. This is similar to a mark that I mentioned in the first series, “saints who pursue maturity and purity,” but it is a little more specific, and it is also bumped up higher in the list (from fifth). A church will not be maturing unless each member (each believer) is doing her or her own part. This is not necessarily about spiritual giftedness in and for the body; that will be a later point. What I mean is that a church won't be maturing if any part of the church refuses to take responsibility for confessing the truth and confessing sin. Any person who does not confess that Jesus is Lord cannot be saved (Romans 10:9). This is an individual responsibility, even if a church is made up of all the individuals who make the confession. And any person who does not confess that he is a sinner makes God a liar, which could get to such a serious point that he demonstrates that he isn't saved. This is 1 John. We must walk in the light if we're going to have fellowship (1 John 1:7). Each part affects the assembly, the particulars make up the whole. We confess that we sin, we confess that God forgives, we confess that Jesus is our advocate (1 John 1:9-10). Walking in the light is not necessarily walking in perfection, though we do see to walk in Christ’s ways (1 John 2:6), it is walking in honesty and humility, which includes confessing and trusting our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). In John’s Gospel he compares walking in darkness to doing what is true. “Whoever does want is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:21). This has consequences for the church, and then by extension the other units we belong to. It means that we cannot blame others for our sin. It means that hiding from our sin doesn't work, even if you keep the person next to you from knowing about it, you are still affecting that person. You are affecting all of us. There are very few conditional commands given by God. When has He said, "Only if the other person obeys, then you must obey." He does not provide many qualifications. "Someone may sin against you, so at that point you are fully excused to sin, either anger or bitterness or slander back, but you may only choose two of the three." Any time that we are with other people, especially with people that we are around a lot, we are tempted to think that it is their fault. They may have their own fault, but sin comes from within, not from without. Jesus is the example of committing no sin when He was sinned against, and this is “an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21-22). A maturing church is made up of disciples who are independently dependent on Christ. Such focus on oneself is not narcissistic; I’m not encouraging a focus on self that causes us to admire ourselves or think of ourselves as more important than others. Yet when Paul told the Philippians to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, he didn't mean don't think about yourself. It belongs with "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). This is the anti-victim, anti-therapy, virtually-impossible-to-offend approach. Getting help if necessary is a part of it. Grumbling that no one is helping is not a mark of maturity. # Conclusion You can tell a church is maturing by how they: 1. Look at Leaders 2. Look at God in worship 3. Look at God’s Word 4. Look at Personal Responsibility We are being transformed from one degree of glory to another, this is the glory of growth, the Lord’s own glory settling on His people. Walking in the light and is the way of true liberty, and fellowship, and maturity. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

1: Have a Care

June 9, 2019 • Sean Higgins

Acts 20:28 and 1 Timothy 4:15-16 Series: The Marks of a Maturing Church - Redux #1 # Introduction If you were here at the graduation ceremony last Sunday evening you heard this quote from swiss-born philosopher Alain de Botton: > "Anyone who isn't embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn't learning enough." “Embarrassed” might not be the best word, but all Christians should be able to see progress in their spiritual lives. Peter commanded his readers to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ“ (2 Peter 3:18). Paul told Timothy to let his progress be evident to all (1 Timothy 4:15). The author to the Hebrews criticized his readers for still be immature when they should have grown up, at least some (Hebrews 5:11-13). The Christian life is one of growth in Christlikeness (Colossians 1:28), of growing up in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2). The apostle Paul himself said the "one thing" he didn't do was think that he had arrived, but he pressed on toward the goal (Philippians 3:12-14). What is true for individuals should also be true of the whole body. We are collectively to be built up “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children” (Ephesians 4:13-14). As a local church we have as a tag line on our website: “Reformed and still reforming.” This is a theological statement, but it is also a reminder that we're not finished. The name of our men’s meeting: “Men to Men” and of our small groups: “Life to Life” have double meaning, that men meet with men but that each man is becoming more of a man, that we have life and are coming to have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Our church mission statement says that “we are laboring in joy to cultivate a Trinitarian community of worshipping, *maturing* disciples….” In August of 2011 I preached a short series on the marks of a maturing church. Mark Dever has an entire ministry called 9 Marks based on his teaching on the 9 marks of a healthy church. Those marks are good, but with a hat tip to his work I put forward a different set of marks with a different emphasis. It's almost eight years later, and though I'm not octagonally embarrassed by that list, I think it's time for both a refresher and a refining. This is Marks of a Maturing Church *Redux*. Some of you weren't around in 2011. Some of you who were don't remember the marks. And all of that is fine. But the first mark is still applicable, the one that is above all and most basic. **A maturing church has leaders who are godly and growing.** Two preliminary details before the guts: First, *leaders* is plural. There is only one Head of the Church: the Lord Jesus. Under Christ there were multiple apostles, plural evangelists, and many pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). References to elders in a church assume more than one (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5), likewise, with deacons (1 Timothy 3:8). Even if only one leader exists for a time, a *maturing* church will increase the number of leaders. Second, leaders includes *more than elders*. I mean this mark to apply *first* to elders/pastors/shepherds/overseers, but not only to that group of men. Elders should be the primary example and we'll see some of the specific requirements addressed to them. But the example is meant to be followed. Deacons too have requirements. So the mark of godly and growing leaders *starts* with the elders, but it branches out through every man, husband and father, who leads his home. A maturing church will have a plurality of men, from the elders up, godly and growing. Let's consider the adjectives *godly* and *growing*. # Leaders who are *godly*. "Godly" can be a word of pretense, but it is a fine descriptor used numerous times in the New Testament. To be godly, in its simplest meaning, is to be God-like. To the degree that one bears God's image he is God-like. The closer one becomes to being complete/perfect in Christ, the more God-like he is. Followers should be able to look at their leaders (whether father, teacher, elder) as an example of the godliness they pursue. Leadership offices in the church require a certain *character*. Deacons must be dignified, not double-tongued, sober, not greedy, with great faith and integrity, taking care of things at home first (1 Timothy 3:8-12). Teachers must be disciplined in tongue, meaning they must be disciplined in heart, since the mouth speaks the heart's contents (James 3:1-5; Matthew 12:34). Each elder, in particular, "must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money." He needs to be a good leader at home first. He shouldn't be a recent convert, meaning that a pattern of maturity should already exist even so that those outside the church think well of him. (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7; see also Titus 1:7-9) Though not called an elder, Paul told Timothy to "set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). Earlier in the chapter he told him to "train [himself] for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Timothy 4:7-8). In terms of character, not one of the requirements for deacons, teachers, elders, leaders, is anything more than *Christian* character. Leaders are to be those who live like Christ in a distinct and dependable way. They are not Level-2 Christians, they are consistent Christians. They live in such a way that you expect to see God reflected. That also means that to be truly godly, leaders must reflect more than one side of God's attributes. A God-like leader reflects a God of truth and love, diligence and patience, clarity and compassion, authority and self-sacrifice. When God took on flesh and dwelt among us He turned over tables in the temple and took up a cross for others. He came not to be served but to serve. God-like leading requires gospel-illustrating-dying. So said Jesus to His disciples (Mark 8:34). So said Paul to husbands (Ephesians 5:25). Being a godly leader brings life by its dying (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-12). It also requires serving with God-like gladness, working with others *for* their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24), not *fearing* their joy. # Leaders who are *growing*. Especially for elders, there must be a recognized *pattern* of godly character. And especially for elders, there must be a recognized *progress* in godly character. With every fiber of my being I believe that nothing discourages a person from growing in Christ more than a stagnant spiritual “leader” or a board who to all intents and purposes create a ceiling for growth. Doesn't the word "lead" imply forward movement? We can't lead others by staying in the same place. Leading is pulling not pushing. "Follow me" means I'm going somewhere so come along. Any leader who barks at his followers, who requires them to go out front, or who thinks he's so far ahead that he can stop will frustrate his followers and is likely to find his ministry unfruitful. The Christian life is one of more and more maturing. Leaders are to be model Christians. So leaders must model a Christian life of more and more maturing. Peter urged all of his readers, because God already gave them everything pertaining to life and godliness: > For this very reason, *make every effort to supplement* your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities *are yours and are increasing*, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) One of the most compelling passages is 1 Timothy 4:15-16. Specifically addressed to Timothy so he would "know how [he] ought to behave in the household of God" (1 Timothy 2:15), it has leadership application for sake of a church's maturing. > Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:15-16) Paul begins to wrap up in 15, **practice these things, immerse yourself in them**. He is to "take pains...be absorbed in them" (NAS), "give [himself] entirely to them" (NKJV), "occupy [himself]...be wholly in them" (DRBY). And what **things**? Scripture reading, exhorting and teaching, yes, *and also* modeling (verse 12)! His *life* mattered, not merely his mouth. His devotion was to be obvious in such a way **so that all may see [his] progress**, "progress may be evident to all" (NAS). He needed manifest godliness and maturing godliness. Godly leaders cannot say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” We should decide to take that our of our response arsenal altogether. They say, “Grow as I grow. Watch me grow.” So Paul continues, **Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this** double duty, "pay close attention" (NAS) making sure your heart is alighted rightly, not only that you divide the Word rightly. Leaders cannot rest on yesterday's dying, they must die again today and then again later today. A Christian's love, like his batting average, will be judged on today's at bat, no matter how many enemies he loved last week. Those are the instructions, but note the promise: **for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers**. This subordinate clause is staggering. **Save** must be an exaggeration, hyperbole, right? It must be a translation difficulty; certainly the Greek removes this man-centered sounding confusion. No. σώσεις = (future active indicative) "save”; it’s the same word used for deliver (from sin); make like Christ; bring to the Father through the Son; have eternal life. This can’t contradict other clear statements in Scripture. A leader cannot save himself by himself, let alone save others by himself. Instead, every leader and every follower is saved *by grace* through faith, not their own doing (Ephesians 2:8). So how does that fit with 1 Timothy 4:16? *A godly and growing leader is a God-appointed means of grace to others.* If we are saved by grace, and if we are saved by leaders with right hearts and right teaching, then one way growing grace gets to people is through God's use of growing people. Yes, God has spoken through an ass (Numbers 22:28); sometimes He still does. Paul was able to find something to give thanks for even when men preached Christ insincerely (Philippians 1:15-17). But in 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul’s saying that a man who pays attention to himself and to his teaching is *POTENT*. God uses changing hearts to change hearts. That's why a mark of a maturing church is leaders who are living as Christians. Maturing hearts are a means of maturing other hearts by God's grace. It's more than a picture of what could be, it's a powerful (and inescapable) principle. It's deeper than enthusiasm being contagious, but not less than that. A growing church must have growing people following growing leaders. That same principle is true at home, dads (and teachers, bosses, coaches, et cetera). You set the tone. You are leading, your heart is affecting the heart of your wife and kids. The question is, what affect are you having? What kind of hearts is your heart creating? # Conclusion Take heed. Have a care. > Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) Do you want to eat food that a cook won’t enjoy, or even eat for herself? Would you listen to a personal trainer who demanded daily payments of a dozen donuts? You might if the cook worked to *acquire* a taste, and if the trainer had previously been a donut-glutton but had since learned self-control and put off some weight. You’d eat and exercise following those who were maturing. So with leaders who are afflicted, despairing of life, who are comforted by God to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1). God can use you to change another person's life in at least two ways. He can use make you a conduit of grace to someone who needs it or make you an object lesson of someone who needs it.

Marks of a Maturing Church (Pt 3)

August 21, 2011 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Marks of a Maturing Church #3 # Introduction God is our Father and we want to please Him. His Son is our Brother (per Romans 8:29), the Head of the Church, and we want to follow His lead. He promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18), to sanctify His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). To this end He provides the church with shepherds to serve her, Scripture to strengthen her, and His Spirit to secure her. We're considering criteria from His Word to help us evaluate our own maturating process as a congregation. So far we've surveyed that a maturing church has: 1. **godly and growing leaders**. 2. **believers who crave and live God's Word**. 3. **Christians who speak and exhibit the gospel**. 4. **disciples who make disciples with passion and purpose**. We'll try to cover the remaining five this morning. A maturing church has, fifth, # Saints who pursue maturity and purity. It may seem redundant to say that a maturing church pursues maturity. It may also seem redundant to say that a runner must run. But runners who make nachos instead of making strides won't finish the race. Likewise, even though progress takes time, we must keep putting one foot in front of the other. I already made the case that leaders in the church should be models of pursuing maturity. A maturing church will be full of saints taking steps. On one hand, we are presently called "saints" (for examples see Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2, etc.; the substantival use of the adjective, ἅγιος), those who are the set apart ones, the *holy* people. Already "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence...having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire" (2 Peter 1:3, 4). On the other hand, we must make every effort to be more who we are. Peter urged all of his readers, because God already gave them everything pertaining to life and *godliness*: > For this very reason, *make every effort to supplement* your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities *are yours and are increasing*, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) The author of Hebrews commands the pursuit of saintliness: > Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14) We must "strive for" (ESV), "pursue" (NAS), "make every effort" (NIV), hunt, run down, move decisively toward (peace with everyone and) holiness. It takes Spirit-driven decision and desire. We must crave the Word so that we may "grow." We must speak the truth in love so that we grow up in every way into Him who is the head (Ephesians 4:15). Maturity and purity meet in holiness, and holiness in the whole body must be pursued. Individually, the Lord disciplines us as sons because He loves us and so "that we may share his holiness" (Hebrews 12:7-11, especially verse 10). That's part of the reason for church discipline as well. A little poison poisons the whole glass (see the power of leaven in 1 Corinthians 15:6) and impurity in one part of the body will affect the whole. While Paul's instructions for discipline had benefits for the person--to cause them to realize their need for Christ--it also protected the people. Paul explained to the Corinthians: > I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:9–13) We're all connected, for suffering and rejoicing (see 1 Corinthians 12:26). So those who are spiritual "should restore...[one] caught in any transgression...in a spirit of gentleness" (Galatians 6:1). "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). (See also Matthew 18:15-20) The saints must love holiness and they must help one another to it. We pursue Christlikeness together, and a maturing church will do this in a Christlike manner including patience and gentleness and forgiveness as well as clarity and hatred of evil. A maturing church has, sixth: # New creations who enjoy corporate and transforming worship. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ "died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:15). As new creations, we live for Christ and we worship Christ. District meetings of new creations are also known as churches, geographical assemblies and expressions of Christ's Body. When these congregations gather on the Lord's day, they must enjoy worship. When I say "*enjoy* corporate worship" I mean it two ways. We enjoy it as in we *possess the benefit* of it and we enjoy it as in we *receive pleasure* from it. Corporate, cooperating worship isn't (by definition) performed by some for others to watch; it is an act of the assembly. A woman is no less a dancer because she's not the lead. She makes the dance a dance. And if the two know what they're doing they get great enjoyment from it. This time is for the church to collect and harmonize her voices before God, not merely to get instructions for worshipping Him some other time. We share fellowship with God together and can't ever be the same. True worship transforms us. The culture of our congregation grows out of the soil of our corporate worship; group exultation in God orients our week. > And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18) We become what we behold. That's why it's so important that "the old has passed away" and that we no longer live for ourselves. Then we were idolators, worshipping false gods all the time and becoming more deaf, dumb, and blind in soul by the bow. Now, by the Spirit's omnipotent writing in our hearts, we live and are being changed more and more into the glory of the glorious One. Our corporate time together will transform us to the degree we contemplate deep and long on the God of overwhelming greatness. We're working hard through regular and fresh liturgy to make every Lord's day a fat kid that spins the merry-go-round of your week; but that's everyone's enjoyment. Spasmodic assembly and careless participation will retard our growth. A maturing church has, seventh: # Image-bearers who work diligently and fellowship deeply. A church's maturity will be visible when her members meet *and* when they disperse. God made seven days in a week and, while the full body unites to offer praises on one of those days, the individual parts reflect God all the other days on the calendar, too. God made men to bear His image, to reflect His Trinitarian likeness. At the least that means that He created them for responsibility and relationship (I recently preached a couple sermons on this topic, so I'm not going to exposit Genesis 1:26-28 right now). We are multi-faceted beings, not truth-tubes and not biped Bible brains. We are persons who plant trees and plow fields, who harvest fruits and vegetables, who market our produce, or cook meals, or serve meals, or eat meals with friends. If you're somewhere in that process, do your part with God-glorifying gusto. Life with both windows down is not worldly if it is done to reflect God who made the world and commanded men to subdue it and have dominion over every living thing. Bible studies are fine so far as they contribute to life, but so is writing books and riding bikes and painting fences and balancing your checkbook. [Our breed of churches doesn't father well-rounded image-bearers very well. We either produce thoroughbred idolators, those who love the flesh and world all the time, or we are half-bred idolators, those who serve the flesh and the world because they want to eat, who feel guilty about it most of the time. We need to grow up into living by the Spirit in the flesh. Grown-ups know that nothing is wrong with cake, that cake can be good. They also know not to eat the whole cake. That's why we let adults use knives and divvy portions. That's not an argument for "all things in moderation," that's an argument for getting wisdom.] We work hard with people. We're connected even when we're only with a few others. Fellowship is not a verb in English, but it is in Greek (κοινωνέω). The early church was devoted to the fellowship (Acts 2:42). A maturing church will have more and more members who do *ALL* that they do--whether they eat or drink or go to school or work or camping or do pull weeds or go to birthday parties or weddings or neighborhood barbecues--not as their god, but because they love God who made all these things. Make a point about God EVERY place. A maturing church has, eighth: # Sojourners who cultivate distinct families and community. This world is not our final home. Our citizenship is in heaven, we are exiles and strangers here, a peculiar people. *And* God doesn't rapture us to heaven immediately after professing faith in Christ. Why? Evangelism, yes, but not evangelism in passing out tracts only. I love the tension of sojourners with roots. We're exiles in homes. Pilgrim made progress, but he stayed in the same place. We get married because God made male and female and said it wasn't good for the male image-bearer to be alone. The marriage commitment may be romantic and it is reflective of Christ and His Bride. A Christian marriage is distinct. Viewing children as a blessing, rather than disruptions of noise and smell and immaturities, stands out radically in a me-first world. Parenting is the first place we show the gospel, dying to bring life. Talk about evangelism opportunities and then teaching them to observe all things Christ commanded. A happy and holy family is a sight to behold, a city on a hill, a light hard to extinguish. Family isn't what keeps us from ministry, it is part of what makes a maturing church. Think Colossians 3:18-4:1, Ephesians 5:22-6:9, 1 Peter 3:1-7. That extends into our communities as well. We have to love righteousness persuasively. We have to defend the defenseless, vote for marriage (when we're able), honor good authority and submit to unjust authority, pay our bills, and honor our contracts. We work hard and educate kids so that they can image-bear well, in distinct ways. Consider Paul's instructions in the early part of Titus 2 for various persons in the church and then the distinct community of people God is making in the world: > For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14) A maturing church has, ninth: # Soldiers who pray vigilantly and thankfully. We cannot mature by natural means. We will not marry, parent, work, study, witness, or worship without grace and Spirit. We will lose the battle against spiritual forces if we fight independently and in our own power. We need God, we must depend on Him to work, believe that He will, and ask Him to do so. We must be devoted to pray for spiritual things, even as the early church was devoted to prayer (Acts 2:42). Prayer is particularly important for Christian's engaged in the spiritual battle. After listing the spiritual armor, Paul told the Ephesian church to pray in all things: > [be] praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:18) Note in particular Paul says, "to that end keep alert," be vigilant, stay on the lookout, be on your toes. Peter similarly said, > The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7) Making disciples, pursuing maturity, working with integrity, parenting with gospel consistency, worshipping, those are no little things to the enemy and he will aim all his fiery darts to extinguish our faith. So we must pray. Our influence for Christ individually and corporately depends on our praying. > Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2) Our prayers are battle, calling God to our aid. Our attitude in all this is *gratitude*. Mature people are thankful people. Immature people are selfish and whiny. It takes a grown-up to see how many good things God has given. It takes a grown-up to be thankful in war, war against unrighteousness, against the evil one, against immaturity. A maturing church will be a thankful church, starting in her prayers. # Conclusion I tried not to throw in the kitchen sink to this series, and yet these points still miss things such as being Spirit-filled, stewarding spiritual giftedness, caring for the needy (James 1:27), practicing forgiveness. But that's alright because God doesn't mind taking His time to make His point. A maturing church has leaders who model growing maturity, believers who love God's Word and live by it, Christians who believe the gospel into practice, disciples who intentionally make disciples as they go, saints who pursue holiness all around, new creations who worship God, image-bearers busy doing and doing with, sojourners who grow families, and spiritual soldiers who pray hard with the thankful switch in the On position. Thankfulness is a great point to finish with, because we have every reason to be thankful that Christ matures His church even when we see all the ways she needs to, that *we* need to, grow up. We have work to do, no doubt, and we fight forward with thanksgiving.

Marks of a Maturing Church (Pt 2)

August 14, 2011 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Marks of a Maturing Church #2 Last week we began a brief series on the Marks of a Maturing Church. Our first leaders' retreat starts next weekend and we want to have some criteria in place for reflection and evaluation of our church health. In particular, we want to make sure that our vine is growing and growing in the best direction. These marks are intended to inform our expectations and help us assess the maturing process. The first mark is that a maturing church has **leaders who are godly and growing**. God has always given men to His people and to the church He "gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain...to mature manhood" (Ephesians 4:11-13). Shepherds/elders must demonstrate distinct and dependable Christian character in order to be effective conduits of grace as God grows His people. The application extends to every leader in the church and in each Christian family. A maturing church will have mature and ever-more-maturing men to lead. A maturing church has, second: # Believers who crave and live God's Word. This mark could be listed first since Scripture is the ultimate authority, not men. However, for most of the church's history, she has not had members with their own copies; she depended on God using men to reveal and read and explain His Word. The early church devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching (Acts 2:42) and, while we are privileged to have our own Bible's today, God still uses men who provide example of obedience to His Word not merely expository messages. Scripture is particularly powerful and necessary for a church's maturing. The "living and abiding word of God" causes new birth (1 Peter 1:23-25), and new birth is an obvious prerequisite to growth. After regeneration "the word of His grace" (a.k.a., "the whole counsel of God") "is able to build you up" (Acts 20:32). In other words, the Bible yields regenerating and sanctifying fruit (see Isaiah 55:11). That's why Peter wrote: > Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1–3, NAS) In order to "grow up into salvation," in order to mature, a believer must "long for," "crave" (NIV), desire the "pure milk of the word" (NAS). God never commands individual believers to *read* the Bible, partly because copies were limited (and incomplete), but mostly because reading is only part of what's necessary. *Crave* it, *want* it! That's the command. Maturing believers have a healthy appetite for Scripture, they don't just have a good reading plan on their plate. For that matter, craving the Word is not enough either. We must be *doing* the Word, too. > But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22–25) We're commanded to crave it. We're obligated to *obey* it. Notice the danger: those who hear and don't do *deceive themselves*. About what? They deceive themselves that *hearing equals doing*. Many deceived religious people love the Bible; they enjoy preaching or hearing verse by verse sermons. All that truth-loving without truth-living is smoke and forgotten mirrors. Jesus said "everyone who hears these words of mind and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand...and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:26-27). "The sacred writings...make [one] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God...that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:15-17). God's Word makes mature, and a maturing church will crave it, in her corporate meetings and in daily delight and meditation (see Psalm 1:1-3; Joshua 1:8). A maturing church has, third: # Christians who speak and exhibit the gospel. God's Word reveals the amazing story of redemption from beginning to end. Immediately after Adam's fall God promised a seed who would crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). The rest of the Old Testament prophesied more about the seed of the woman, the Messiah, a suffering servant who would be a perfect, sinless, substitutionary sacrifice to bear the iniquities of His people. The New Testament identifies the seed as Jesus of Nazareth and documents His life, death, and resurrection. All those who believe in Him are accounted righteous before God and have eternal life in His name. This is the gospel, the good news, the evangel. > Now I would remind you, brothers, of the εὐαγγέλιον I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) The gospel is our salvation, our story, our song. "There is only one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ" (1 Timothy 2:15); "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The good news is the "imperishable seed" that causes new birth (1 Peter 1:23-25) and tells us how to grow up in righteousness (Romans 6:1-23). We preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). No church will mature without proclaiming the gospel because there are no Christians without it. Speaking the gospel, however, is not the end. Toddlers can parrot an outline. We who believe it must also incarnate it. We don't proclaim ourselves, "but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5). We take on a servant's life like our Lord (Philippians 2:5-11), and that imitative life includes dying to bring life. > But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7–12) Our lives must exhibit the gospel, put it on display, give feet to it. All our lives must be dying for life, sacrificing ourselves "so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 4:15). Our death isn't redemptive; we can't pay for anyone's sins because we have our own sins. But as those redeemed by Christ, our daily dying illustrates the gospel and sloshes grace onto others. We need grace to grow. We preach the gospel from grace and we exhibit it. A maturing church requires consistency between, and commitment to, our gospel content and our conduct. A maturing church has, fourth: # Disciples who make disciples with passion and purpose. Starting with the leaders, a maturing church does not consist of truth tubes being filled higher and higher. God's Word, the gospel, is forming certain sorts of *persons* not merely sentences on pages. We believe and we speak and we follow. We imitate our Master, follow in His steps and imitate those who follow Him. That is what it means to be a disciple: follow Christ and help others follow Christ. There are three developmental phases of discipleship and the maturation process should be apparent. ## Evangelism When Jesus commissioned His disciples, He gave a large directive: "make disciples of *all nations*." He explained that the Holy Spirit would empower their witness "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). That means they were starting from scratch. Even worse that scratch, they were starting with spiritually dead people. Evangelism involves speaking and living the gospel so that others would believe it, be born again, begin the pilgrim's progress following Christ toward the Celestial City. We pray that God would cause more to be born again, which is another way of saying that a maturing church will be full of immature disciples. ## Edification Profession of faith isn't the fished line; nor do we drop off the new, immature disciple at the starting line to fend for himself. As we follow Christ we help others follow Him more closely, "teaching them to observe *all* that He commanded" (Matthew 28:20). I'm not sure which "all" is more consuming: *all* nations or *all* He commanded. Edification is the process of helping another move from milk to meat, of helping the disciple become independently dependent on Christ, working to present them complete in Christ. To edify means to strengthen and build. All disciples need ongoing edification until we're with Christ. Edification is *not* a responsibility left to a particular group, but a work for everyone: "when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16). ## Equipping The third phase involves training a disciple to make his own disciple(s). As in physical life, reproduction indicates a certain level of maturity. Every disciple needs strengthening and every disciple needs training in strengthening others. This is the work of the ministry: making disciples who mature in Christlikeness and leaders are to equip the saints for that work (Ephesians 4:12). A maturing church must be discipleship *obsessive*. Most churches default to distance learning--even if from the pulpit from the pew. While the air war can provide certain resources, the troops on the ground do the lion's share of discipling. Disciple-making requires passion and purpose, intensity and intentionality. Church history teaches us that the church is prone to distraction. The church deceives herself thinking that disciples are made via podcast. Discipleship proper will always be personal, life on life, day by day. A maturing church has disciples who make disciples. # Conclusion A maturing church has (in flowing bullet form): * **Leaders** who love God and live that love into others by grace * according to the life-giving and life-growing truth of **God's Word**. All believers will hunger for it and obey it * and tell the story of Christ and Him crucified. As Christians they will proclaim Him exclusively and picture His sacrifice for others that they may see the **gospel** in flesh. * That is the **disciple's** passion, their consuming and orienting desire, a life-on-life spilling of grace onto others, for salvation and then for sanctification. * The growing body of sanctified ones will pursue **maturity**, helping the immature parts and protecting the whole from the unrepentant. More next week.

Marks of a Maturing Church (Pt 1)

August 7, 2011 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Marks of a Maturing Church #1 # Introduction Our aim is to present every person complete in Christ. This is not, however, an individualistic goal. Individual members grow, but we are all members of one another. Parts of a body grow and the whole body must be built up in love. We're not done until "we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the fulness of the stature of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13, 16). The unity, knowledge, and maturity aren't only for the elbow. Much of our vocabulary and imagery communicates this desire. We tag-lined ourselves as Reformed and *still reforming*. We stand on the five-footed solas of the original Protestants and see how the five fingers of God's sovereign grace change everything they touch. But we recognize we have not arrived. We continue to reform and change in light of God's Word. We refer to the vine, we took a three-leafed vine as our logo that represents our commitment to organic life and a desire for full-bodied growth and fruitfulness. Our weekly shepherding groups are called Life to Life and, while that connects with more than one idea, it is not less than a desire to see abundant life abund. Similarly, Men to Men is not only men talking to men about man things, it is an emphasis on maturing manliness in each one of us. Maturity in Christ, as individuals and as a body, is our goal. How do we know if we are actually maturing? Are there benchmarks or reference points that would help us evaluate our progress? There are in physical life. After a baby is born there are regular check-ups with the doctor and there are certain tests and measurements taken at certain times. A child's growth can be compared to observed ranges of other children the same age and even compared to the child's last check-in. The younger the baby, the more appointments and evaluations. As the child matures there should still be regular exams, though not quite as frequent in occurrence. As a young-ish congregation, we would do well to think carefully about our progress. But what are the standards? How can we identify health and growth and maturing-ness? There are some resources I'd recommend to you such as Mark Dever's [Nine Marks of a Healthy Church][nine] as well as John MacArthur's Marks of an Effective Church [part 1][pt1] and [part 2][pt2]. Around 10 years ago I worked through those and created my own Marks of a Healthy Student Ministry. Especially in the first years, we spent more time considering and graded ourselves. [nine]: http://www.9marks.org/what-are-the-9marks/ [pt1]: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/1306_Marks-of-an-Effective-Church-Part-1?q=marks+of+an+effective+church [pt2]: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/1307_Marks-of-an-Effective-Church-Part-2?q=marks+of+an+effective+church As our first Trinity Leaders' retreat approaches in a couple weeks, and since we're still in the early development stages, I wanted to rethink the marks, talk through them with Jim and Dave, and then share them with everyone for the sake of examination--of the marks themselves and how our body is doing. I'm planning to take today and two more Sundays to work through them. Today I will only cover the first mark. It belongs at the beginning and I'm more passionate about it than ever based on more Scripture meditation and ministry observation. A maturing church has: # Leaders who are godly and growing. God's theater operates with leaders and followers. We see the dance of leading and following in families, government, businesses, and church. A maturing church will have certain kinds of leaders. Two preliminary details before the guts. First, *leaders* is plural. There is only one Head of the Church: the Lord Jesus. Under Christ there were multiple apostles, plural evangelists and pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). References to elders in a church assume more than one (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5), likewise, with deacons (1 Timothy 3:8). Even if there only one leader exists for a time, a *maturing* church will increase the number of leaders. Second, leaders includes *more than elders*. I mean this mark to apply *first* to elders/pastors/shepherds/myself, but not only to that group of men. Elders should be the primary example and we'll see some of the specific requirements addressed to them. But the example is meant to be followed. Deacons too have requirements. So again, the mark of godly and growing leaders *starts* with the elders, but it branches out through every man, husband and father, who leads his home. [Of course, this is a reason for inviting every man to read, consider, discuss, and work through a book on *Biblical Eldership*. It doesn't mean that every man will be an elder in office. It does mean that every man is some sort of leader somewhere, and he should consider what *kind* of leader he is, good or bad.] A maturing church will have a plurality of men, from the elders up, godly and growing. Let's consider the adjectives *godly* and *growing*. ## Leaders who are *godly*. "Godly" can be schmaltzyfied, but it is a fine descriptor used numerous times in the New Testament. To be godly, in its simplest meaning, is to be God-like. To the degree that one devoutly bears God's image he is God-like. The closer one becomes to being complete/perfect in Christ, the more God-like he is. Followers should be able to look at their leaders (whether father, teacher, elder) as an example of the godliness they pursue. Leadership offices in the church require a certain *CHARACTER*. Deacons must be dignified, not double-tongued, sober, not greedy, with great faith and integrity, taking care of things at home first (1 Timothy 3:8-12). Teachers must be disciplined in tongue meaning they must be disciplined in heart, since the mouth speaks the heart's contents (James 3:1-5; Matthew 12:34). Each elder, in particular, "must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money." He needs to be a good leader at home first. He shouldn't be a recent convert, meaning that a pattern of maturity should already exist even so that those outside the church think well of him. (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7; see also Titus 1:7-9) Though not called an elder, Paul told Timothy to "set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). Earlier in the chapter he told him to "train [himself] for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (1 Timothy 4:7-8). In terms of character, not one of the requirements for deacons, teachers, elders, leaders, is anything more than *Christian* character. Leaders are to be those who live like Christ in a distinct and dependable way. They are not Level-2 Christians, they are consistent Christians. They live in such a way that you expect to see God reflected. That also means that to be truly godly, leaders must reflect more than one side of God's attributes. A God-like leader reflects a God of truth and love, diligence and patience, clarity and compassion, authority and self-sacrifice. Our God turned over tables in the temple and took up a cross for others. He came not to be served but to serve. God-like leading requires gospel illustrating dying. So said Jesus to His disciples (Mark 8:34). So said Paul to husbands (Ephesians 5:25). Being a godly leader brings life by its dying (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-12). It also requires serving with God-like gladness, working with others *for* their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24), not *fearing* their joy. ## Leaders who are *growing*. Especially for elders, there must be a recognized *pattern* of godly character. And especially for elders, there must be a recognized *progress* in godly character. With every fiber of my being I believe that nothing discourages a person more than a stagnant spiritual leader. Growth occurs more slowly in certain seasons, but there must be work anyway. Doesn't the word "lead" imply movement? We can't lead others by staying in the same place. Leading is pulling not pushing. "Follow me" means I'm going somewhere so come along. Any leader who barks at his followers, who requires them to go out front, or who thinks he's so far ahead that he can stop will frustrate his followers and is likely to find his ministry unfruitful. The Christian life is one of more and more maturing. Leaders are to be model Christians. So leaders must model a Christian life of more and more maturing. Peter urged all of his readers, because God already gave them everything pertaining to life and godliness: > For this very reason, *make every effort to supplement* your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities *are yours and are increasing*, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) Paul said about himself: > Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I *press on* to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and *straining forward* to what lies ahead, I *press on* toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:12-15) Then he urges the believers: "join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (verse 17). One of the clearest and most compelling passages is 1 Timothy 4:15-16. Specifically addressed to Timothy so he would "know how [he] ought to behave in the household of God" (1 Timothy 2:15), it has awesome leadership application for sake of a church's maturing. > Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:15-16) The paragraph (verses 11-16) gives imperatives for leading along with a promise. Timothy is to: 1. be an example 2. preach the Word Paul beings to wrap up in 15, **practice these things, immerse yourself in them**. He is to "take pains...be absorbed in them" (NAS), "give [himself] entirely to them" (NKJV), "occupy [himself]...be wholly in them" (DRBY). And what **things**? Scripture reading, exhorting and teaching, yes, *AND* modeling! His life mattered, not merely his mouth. His devotion was to be obvious in such a way **so that all may see [his] progress**, "progress may be evident to all" (NAS). He needed godliness and a growing godliness. Godly leaders cannot say, Do as I say, not as I do. They should not start with, *You* need to grow. They say, Grow as I grow. Watch me grow. Again, **Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this** double duty, "pay close attention" (NAS) making sure your heart is alighted rightly, not only that you divide the Word rightly. Leaders cannot rest on yesterday's dying, they must die again today and then again later today. A Christian's love, like his batting average, will be judged on today's at bat, no matter how many enemies he loved last week. Those are the instructions, but note the promise: **for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers**. I'm freshly staggered by this subordinate clause. **Save** must be an exaggeration, hyperbole, right? It must be a translation difficulty; certainly the Greek removes this man-centered sounding confusion. Nope. σώσεις = (future active indicative) "save," deliver (from sin), make like Christ, bring to the Father through the Son, have eternal life. We will not go so far as to say that this contradicts with other clear statements in Scripture. A leader cannot save himself by himself, let alone save others by himself. Instead, every leader and every follower is saved *by grace* through faith, not their own doing (see Ephesians 2:8). So how does that fit with 1 Timothy 4:16? A godly and growing leader is a God-appointed means of grace to others. If we are saved by grace, and if we are saved by leaders with right hearts and right teaching, then one way growing grace gets to people is through God's use of growing people. Attentiveness brings effectiveness. That's staggering. Yes, God has spoken through a donkey (Numbers 22:28). Paul was able to find something to give thanks for even when men preached Christ insincerely (Philippians 1:15-17). But here he's saying that a man who pays attention to himself and to his teaching is *POTENT*. God uses changing hearts to change hearts. That's why a mark of a maturing church is leaders who are living as Christians. Maturing hearts are a means of maturing other hearts by God's grace. It's more than a picture of what could be, it's a powerful. It's deeper than enthusiasm being contagious, but not less than that. We don't love the truth and you can take it or leave it. We love it into you. We love you into it. That's potent. A growing church must have growing people following growing leaders. That same is true at home, dads. You set the tone. You are leading, your heart is affecting the heart of your wife and kids. The question is, what affect are you having? What kind of hearts is your heart creating? # Conclusion One practical question is: Who decides if a leader or group of leaders are godly and growing? Who decides if an elder is above reproach? If a deacon has been tested enough? Certainly God decides ultimately and finally. It's also fair to recognize that, say, in the case of an elder, that other elders--those who have demonstrated mature Christian character--will be wise to consult. But is it not true that followers demonstrate the leaders' qualifications? Who should see progress? *All*. The hearers. And based on what we've said, won't we know if the leader is growing by seeing a pack of growing people around him? This series on marks of a maturing church should get everyone watching. If everyone can't see godly and growing leaders, we're going to be stagnant and will discourage and eventually lose those who want to grow. In summary, a maturing church is marked by leaders who are godly and growing because: 1. Godly growing leaders model the goal of maturing for those they lead. They call others to follow them as they follow Christ. 2. Godly growing leaders earn the trust of those they lead. They increase in influence, they grow in gravitational pull, as they make it more obviously safe and happy as their dying for others is proven. 3. Godly growing leaders communicate grace to those they lead. Their work is potent to salvation, effective for heart change as their own hearts change. Remember: "Attitude reflect leadership, captain."