Church growth and building up the body are not necessarily the same things. In other words, church growth doesn’t build up the body; but building up the body will cause church growth. This may sound over-simplified, but I believe that if you equip and build up the people you have, the body will naturally begin to build itself up and each part will grow with a growth that is from God.
“And he (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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 4:11-16 (ESV)
“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:18-20 (ESV)
All Natural Church Growth Plan
Ephesians 4:15 says we are to grow up in every way, not just in one way. As leaders, that requires allowing the people we have been entrusted with (Eph. 4:16; those with which we have been equipped) to have the freedom to become who they are in Christ instead of who we want or need them to be. If the feet and the hands are being pressured to look and act like an ear all the time, we’ll end up with a monster that has identity issues.
I understand that this passage is speaking of the body of Christ as a whole, but local churches are made up of people who are individually differing parts of the body of Christ, so I will relate it on the local church level. If we think of it in this way, consider the implications of the fact that God arranges (literally, appoints or sets in place) members of the body (1Cor. 12:18).
I believe that God often assigns certain people to specific places in the body of Christ, including the church or group of believers they fellowship with. One aspect of the purpose of the fivefold ministry is to build up all believers so that when each is working properly (in the way that God designed for them to function within the body), it makes the body grow so that it builds itself up (Eph 4:16).
I would contend that you cannot grow up in every way as a local church if those among you, especially those assigned to you by God, cannot grow up into who they are individually. Not only do they need to grow to the point that they work properly themselves, but as they do, they cause the body to begin to grow in a more full, natural way. Suddenly, the body begins building itself up.
We Need More Volunteers!
One of the most common things that many leaders in the church would say they need to enable their church to grow is for more people to volunteer to fill the existing needs of their current church paradigm, structure, and culture. Most churches always need more volunteers, and some focus a lot of effort on recruiting them through various means. But if we would focus as much effort on identifying people’s giftings, callings, and anointings, and encourage them to serve in some way out of their faith instead of out of need, then it will encourage them to begin learning to function as God designed them so that the body begins to grow naturally.
A church may grow in numbers because it has all the modern trappings, a youth and kid’s ministry with a full volunteer staff, a small group ministry, a complete and talented worship team, a knowledgable media team, kind greeters and parking lot attendants, faithful janitorial volunteers, and maybe even a couple coffee baristas. If a church is growing because of those things but it is not building itself up as God intended, growing out of health within, then it is nothing more than putting lipstick on that monster I mentioned earlier. All of those things may be helpful for various reasons and may be nice to have, but I would go so far as to argue that if you only began growing as a result of those things, you may want to make sure you are not creating a way of covering up those identity issues I mentioned earlier as well.
I understand that if you don’t have volunteers, you either do it yourself or it doesn’t get done. And I have done it all myself—except worship team. And trust me, no one wants me on the worship team. But seriously… what are you building upon? Are you building on perceived needs or are you building by faith with those with whom God has equipped you? Are you personally a hand that’s trying to look like a nose? Are you trying to be everything yourself because it’s what it seems to be necessary to reach whatever it is that success looks like in your mind for your church?
Let Me Clarify
Now, let me back up and say that serving to fulfill needs is not wrong, unless it approaches the point that it becomes a place of confinement or limitation. By serving in practically every area and in every way you can imagine in the church, I discovered a whole lot about who I am NOT. I grew in many ways and I am thankful to have had the opportunities to serve as I have in the past. It has been a very helpful element in my process of becoming who I am. But in the end I realized that people who, like me, have a natural gift to serve also have a hard time walking away from filling roles that they are not designed to fill.
Eventually, the gift of serving becomes unhealthy as you realize you are focusing it on the needs of the machinery instead of serving people out of faith. God’s grace to serve is not intended for machinery but for people.
Build Up People
There will always be those roles in ministries that need to be filled. But perhaps we will receive the people we need if we build up the ones we have. As we lead a group of people who begin to mature into who they were called, gifted, and anointed to be, and they don’t feel like they have to go somewhere else to be permitted to grow into or share out of who they are becoming in Christ, they begin to join and hold together their part—the part that God arranged for them and assigned them to. And it makes the body grow so that it builds itself up.
If you build up people, your church will grow naturally. The larger truth, however, is that while you may get the people you need as you grow, you may also realize that what you think you need is not what God was intending to build.
Love Is Greater
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 12:27 – 13:3 (ESV)
We see here that God has appointed a definite order in the body of Christ which much of the church no longer seems to honor or even acknowledge. He goes so far as to call some gifts “higher,” while other gifts that the majority of the church today values the most do not even appear in the list. But that is another topic for another day. What’s more important in this conversation is that even under the perfect order, structure, or circumstances, if we don’t function within a culture of love then we have nothing.
The paragraph separations between 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and chapter 13 are not there in the original text, and they are especially not there in the mind of the Apostle Paul as he wrote it. In other words, this chapter about love is not disconnected from the flow of thought from the end of chapter 12. He addresses the order as God intended it within the body of Christ, and then immediately says that while that is good, there is a more important factor. Love is greater.
Perhaps we could say that it is better to have our only order and system be a culture of loving one another above all else than to have anything without love. Love must be greater than our boxes and our systems. And love is about people, not about the machinery of ministry. If we don’t get that part, then the rest of it will be worthless.
A Culture of Love
Love “does not insist on it’s own way” (1 Cor. 13:5). It doesn’t force others to fit into a role that they were not meant to fit into. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13: 7). And when we apply that to the idea of building up the people whom God has entrusted to us, there could be no culture that would more encourage people to become who they are in Christ and to grow up into their individual calling, giftings, and anointings.
In a culture where love is greater, we would bear all things together through the process of finding who we are. We would believe for the best in others, hope alongside of them, endure with them through the growth pains. We would allow room for others to become the part of the body that they are growing into and to encourage them in it.
I don’t believe at all that the local church should create a platform for each person to do whatever they want to do. I’m simply saying that we should encourage one another to become who we are and serve and share from that place instead of trying to convince people to come and eventually fill a role we believe is important for church growth. In other words, we must allow the church to grow based on who God has entrusted us with instead of trying to make it grow into something that we insist upon. And then… the body will build itself up in love.
“…holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” Colossians 2:19 (ESV)
Growth happens, but love requires effort. So we don’t need to make church growth our priority. If we focus on a culture of love, the result is that God will arrange the body in such a way that it is being properly nourished and knit together and growing with a growth that is from God.
Jeremy Caris is the founder and president of Caris Ministries. Since he is called as a prophet and gifted as a teacher, much of his focus involves equipping believers to hear, know, and follow God in their own daily experience. He teaches the foundational truth of the Word with simple clarity, while revealing deep things of the spirit in practical ways. He has the unique ability to demystify the supernatural side of real relationship with a living God and make it an embraceable and accessible reality for all believers. Jeremy has been married to his best friend, Mandy Caris, for seventeen years, and is the proud father of two boys.