In a recent message, we touched on some of the different ways in which the Holy Spirit works in the local church. We make a mistake when we think that God only grows the church in one direction. Many grow discouraged when they do not see that one dimension of growth. In the church of Jerusalem, often the model of church growth, we see the Holy Spirit working in four different ways, which we call His “divine arithmetic.” Consider:
- Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
- Acts 2:47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
- Acts 5:14 And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.
This is an exciting time in any church – when people are getting saved, baptized and added to the church. It is always a blessing to see people added to the Lord, being saved from their sins and born into God’s family. It is also exciting to see people joining the church and increasing the membership. If a church doesn’t grow, it will die or at least become stagnant.
- Acts 5:5-10 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. (6) And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. (7) And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in…(10) Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
Here, we have a situation in which God subtracted two from the church membership – by death! It certainly caused quite a stir. A righteous fear of God filled the church. We know of other situations in the New Testament in which members were excluded because of sin (such as the young adulterer in 1 Corinthians 5).
But not all subtractions are negative. God can remove people from a church for various reasons. Sometimes, people move away, and it is the will of God. Perhaps God wants to use them in another church. Sometimes it is the best thing for the church (if the person is a bad influence), sometimes it is the best thing for the member being moved (if the current situation is not healthy for them), and sometimes it is to be a blessing in another church (where they are “added”). As a pastor, I have always enjoyed people moving to my church more than people moving away, but sometimes God does work by subtraction. (Of course, so does the devil, and many people simply backslide out of God’s will for their lives, or are mislead by others.)
Sometimes, preachers and church members get discouraged when the attendance trends downward for a time (“it ain’t what it used to be!”) – but we should understand that such times happen in churches and we should trust God and work harder to see addition.
- Acts 6:1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied…
- Acts 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
When a church goes from simply adding people here and there, to actually doubling and tripling in size, it is an amazing time. God can still do it!
- Acts 8:1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
For six chapters, the church of Jerusalem was added to, subtracted from, and then multiplied – and then God split it and scattered the members abroad. This resulted in many new churches being started in Judea, Samaria, and many other areas. In another example, in the great church of Antioch, the Holy Spirit divided Paul and Barnabas from the church and sent them to the mission field.
Certainly, Satan is also in the church dividing business – but his divisions come from heresy, hard hearts or the works of the flesh. When God divides a church, it is for the furtherance of the gospel.
What is our part in all of this? To seek to carry out the Lord’s Great Commission, to be His witnesses, to preach the Bible and do all we can to win souls, baptize believers, and train disciples. The Holy Spirit, the Administer of the churches, will do His work – adding to, sometimes taking from, sometimes multiplying, and sometimes dividing.
After 15 years at LBC, we’ve seen all of the above. We have seen constant additions (not every day, or every Sunday perhaps, but constantly and consistently over the years, including this year). Every year, our church directory includes new names. We have seen subtractions. Every year, our directory takes a few names off. There have been times when our church has doubled or more than doubled in a short amount of time. And we have seen times of division, including recently, when the Holy Spirit divided a good family from our church to start a new church in a growing area.
Don’t be discouraged. Keep on pressing on and trust God! God wants to grow His churches, although His ways are not always the ways we might choose for ourselves.