The most powerful vehicle ever designed is the +50-year-old Saturn V rocket. It’s the rocket that took us to the moon and back. In the past half century, we (mankind) just haven’t gotten around to topping the incredible 7.6 million pounds of thrust of the Saturn V.
I’ve never driven or piloted anything that comes close to that sort of power. My first car was a 2001 Chevrolet Metro, dubbed ironically “The Silver Bullet”. It had a 3 cylinder engine. Three.
Maybe the place you serve feels like a “Chevy Metro” church. Nothing flashy, just three-cylinder moving-right-along. Every Sunday, you serve in the shadow of what seems like a “Saturn V” church. You just can’t pull off that amount of thrust week in, and week out so you feel exhausted, beat up, and defeated.
Take heart. God’s plan for the church was in place before eternity past. The power is not in the show, not in the sage. Don’t play the comparison game. While the religious industrial complex is strong, the true church of Jesus carries the resurrection power of Jesus.
Paul writes in Ephesians 3:8-10 that his entire ministry existed so that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Two key truths help when ministry leaves us feeling wasted, spent, and worthless in the local church.
First, “through the church” means that God accomplishes his mission by using His church every time. When church gets hard, when it gets dark, when it’s downright messy, when it seems like it’d be easier to set up shop somewhere else, none of it changes God’s mind. Not one bit.
Remember: it’s not because we have it all together. It’s because we are united by faith to the faith of the Lord Jesus. He is the One who makes everyone in Him not just “better”, but righteous.
Second, the church puts the “manifold wisdom of God” on display to the cosmos and beyond. “Manifold” isn’t a word we throw around in our everyday conversation, and it means “multi-faceted” or “multi-dimensional”. The gospel from every angle! The church has the unique, universe-wide privilege to embody all the ways to display the gospel of the glory of God. To me, that’s exciting. Where should we begin?
Paul’s heartbeat in Ephesians 3 is the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Today, this is good news for the churches of 50 and 5000 that are looking to do lasting work for eternity, not just on a church growth list. The Church displays the gospel to the cosmos when we who were at odds with the world love each other in Jesus. Love creates so many incredible gospel viewing angles.
Jew and Gentile. Slave and Free. Men and Women. What society drove apart, the gospel brought together. Paul fought for this sort of church everywhere he went. It was radical, it was hard, and the only explanation for its existence was the Resurrection of Christ. Sometimes, we prefer to explain church growth by 99% resurrection and 1% marketing. 99% gospel grace, and 1% Saturn V-esque human ingenuity. The only apologetic for a healthy church is the gospel. Growing churches are not always healthy.
Paul’s passion for a gospel-shaped church is scattered all throughout ever letter he penned. He wrote the Ephesians, urging Gentile & Jewish believers to come under the headship of Christ. He wrote to Philemon, urging his friend to welcome back Onesimus not as a slave, but as a brother. He wrote Jew & Gentile Corinthians, reminding them he’d be by soon to pick up their love offering for the Jewish Christians plagued by famine in Jerusalem.
God’s choice to use the church, and the church’s unique ability to display the gospel should radically reorient how we perceive our local ministries. You may feel like you have the keys to a little 3 cylinder Chevrolet. But that is not Ephesians 3:8-10. Every local church is God’s chosen instrument to carve out incredible gospel views for the world.
Much written under the banner of church growth has to do with clean systems, dynamic services, and entrepreneurial spirit. But what God seems to be concerned with is church health. Healthy churches grow, but not all growing churches are healthy. Funny, but didn’t Jesus tell us something similar about good fruit and bad fruit when he was with us? Growth is not the issue, health is.
Take heart brothers. Do not compare yourself on any other metric except that which God measures. Listen again to our calling. Every local body of Christ has more power than a Saturn V. The thrust of the gospel is for rescue. (Romans 1:16), and the experience of divine rescue can’t leave us as passive consumers but passionate gospelers.
Not only is the world around us watching, but the universe itself. Watching and waiting to see whether God will do as He’s promised. He’s chosen the church, His power for rescue is among us. He will get glory. Take heart, the place where you serve has the attention of King Jesus, just maybe not the top church growth list, and that’s more than ok.