Growing Mature Disciples
Years ago, I heard Dr. Howard Hendricks make this statement. “The day you stop growing is the day you start dying.” Don’t we all want to grow? The alternative doesn’t sound so appealing, does it! But what does personal growth look like? What does spiritual growth look like? How do we define genuine growth?
- Does growth mean that we know more?
- Does growth mean that we do more?
- Is a mature Christian one that has been around a long time?
- Is a mature Christian one that shows up all the time?
- Is a growing church one that is adding people to the pews?
- Is a growing church one that is expanding its facilities or programs?
I think we have to make a connection here. Healthy, growing disciples produce healthy, growing churches. And when you have a healthy, growing church it will naturally produce healthy, growing disciples. But which comes first?
Look at the prototype, the first century church in the book of Acts.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” —Acts 2:42-47
Here in Acts 2, we see a community of growing believers, and what’s the result?
Sonlife’s Foundations Seminar focuses on the initial 18-21 months of Jesus’ ministry and six foundational priorities that Jesus both modeled for and established with His disciples. When we look in Acts 2:42-47, I believe we see all six of these priorities forming the foundation of the early church.
HOLY SPIRIT DEPENDENCE
God has given us a secret weapon, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells us, fills us, empowers us, guides us, anoints us, grows us. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, living the Christian life would be an exercise in futility. How do I know? Because I’ve tried. It’s like trying to use a cell phone with a dead battery. No power.
We read of “many wonders and signs performed by the apostles” in the early church. This is clear evidence of dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit, without whom this would not be possible.
We can really tell how dependent we are upon the Holy Spirit by how much time we spend praying. Does the effectiveness and impact of our ministry depend upon God’s power or upon our dedicated effort? Another way of looking at this is, do we put prayer in a glass box with a little hammer dangling below the sign, BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. Is prayer used as a last resort? “Well, we’ve done everything else. Nothing has worked. Maybe we should pray.” It’s time we make prayer the engine and not the caboose in our lives and ministries.
These new believers “devoted themselves… to prayer.” This conveys a sense of gathering together to pray, and to say that they were “devoted” to this kind of prayer means it was a hallmark of their fellowship. They spent a lot of time praying together. You would have to think that this kind of devotion also carried over into their families and their private lives.
Just as prayer is a key indicator on how dependent we are upon the Holy Spirit, obedience also serves as a key indicator on how much we’re experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s power accompanies each step of obedience we take. For far too long, churches in North America have taught truth with no expectation of obedience. We offer good suggestions, helpful hints, wise counsel. Jesus gave commands, and then He said, “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Instead of acting surprised when someone obeys and celebrating their obedience as exceptional, shouldn’t we be surprised when people fail to obey. What are we expecting? And then, are we willing to inspect what we expect? We have to ask the hard questions and hold others accountable to obedient living.
In the early church, the people “sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Obviously, they felt prompted by the Spirit of God to make dramatic sacrifices. They followed through. The early church was marked by radical obedience.
When we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit, He will use the Word of God to shape our character, sharpen our gifts, and steer our decisions. God’s Word is the Spirit’s primary tool for accomplishing the Father’s work and the Father’s will in our lives. There are five primary ways that we consume God’s Word. READ IT. STUDY IT. MEDITATE ON IT. MEMORIZE IT. LISTEN TO IT. Growing believers learn how to feed themselves and aren’t solely dependent upon their pastor or favorite Bible teacher to spoon feed them God’s Word.
These new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” They were hungry for truth. They were committed to hearing and obeying the Word of God.
EXALTING THE FATHER
Jesus continually said that He wanted to bring the Father glory. Even as a twelve year old, we read that Jesus “grew… in favor with God.” Jesus didn’t take credit for the miracles He performed. He deflected men’s praise, telling them it was really His Father at work. In John 15, Jesus told the Twelve that if they lived as true disciples, that would bring the Father glory. Jesus exalted the Father both privately and publicly. He said the Father was looking for true worshipers, those who would worship in both Spirit and truth.
These believers were “devoted to… the breaking of bread,” the celebration of the Lord’s Supper together. They were also “filled with awe” and “continued to meet together in the Temple courts” with “glad and sincere hearts, praising God….” Worship was a priority, but it was more than merely singing songs. Worship was a way of life as they continually exalted the Father for who He was and what He had done.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH INTEGRITY AND TRUST
The Christian life is lived out in the context of relationships. Ultimately, our dependence upon the Holy Spirit is reflected through prayerful guidance and governed by God’s Word, which we must obediently follow so that the Father is exalted. And when we exalt the Father through our obedience, where do we see the immediate impact of that? You guessed it. Our relationships. We grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. When we’re growing in all of those areas, it will have a dramatic effect on the way we treat people.
These new believers were “devoted to… fellowship.” “All the believers were together and had everything in common…” “They continued to meet together…” “They broke bread in their homes and ate together….” The early church described in Acts 2 was one where the people really loved one another. They wanted to be together. They knew one another’s families. They shared meals together. I imagine there was a lot of laughter, a lot of tears, a lot of grace and a lot of encouragement.
All six of these foundational priorities are found in Jesus’ life. He modeled them, so it’s no surprise that His disciples would also practice these same six priorities in their own lives and in the early church. When we read Acts 2:42-47, we see a growing community of believers. They were growing individually. They were growing corporately. And what was the result?
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The church wasn’t just growing by numbers as people left one church to go to another. That would be Transfer Growth. The early church was growing because people were being saved. That’s what we call New Conversion Growth.
We need to look at growth differently. Is our ministry growing because our people are growing spiritually? Is our ministry growing because lost people are being saved? The two are connected. Healthy things grow.
For Further Consideration:
1 – How do you define spiritual growth? I’ve listed out six foundational priorities that are a part of spiritual growth. If you had to list five or six qualities present in a person’s life who is growing spiritually, what would they be?
2 – Is the “Lord adding to your number those who are being saved?” What is your ministry’s New Conversion Growth Rate? (Calculate NCGR by dividing the number of new believers added to your ministry in the past twelve months against your average attendance) Sonlife suggests that a healthy ministry will have 10% New Conversion Growth Rate. What does your New Conversion Growth Rate suggest about the health of your ministry?
3 – Of the six Foundational Priorities we’ve outlined from Jesus’ ministry and Acts 2, which do you personally need to give the most attention to so that you experience significant personal growth? Which does your ministry need to give the most attention to so that your ministry is strengthened and your impact is deepened?
By Doug Holliday of Sonlife