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Redeemer Baptist is a church plant. We were planted just over a year ago by a handful of crazy people. I was going to say all joking aside, but I'm not so sure! By many worldly metrics you would have to say that church planting is crazy or foolish or doomed to failure. Or at least you would have to say that about the type of church planting that we have attempted here at Redeemer. And this leads me to what I have been itching to write about lately. Growing God's way.

You see, there are many thoughts out there on church-growth and church-planting; many resources telling would-be church planters how to be successful. And while some of them are quite good, there is a common thread through most of them that I absolutely repudiate. That thread? Pragmatism. Pragmatism being that common philosophy of doing whatever gets results. Why should we have this or that program in the church? The pragmatists answer – because it works. I hope that you can see how that is not a good philosophy. A Christian church should not be built on worldly-wisdom, on practical considerations of what works for people. No, we should be built upon the Word of God. We want to do the things that God told us to do – whether they appear to work or not. We want to build and plant God's way.

In so many of the materials on church planting you find an unholy synthesis. On the one hand you get an affirmation of biblical teaching, but on the other hand it is mixed with worldly wisdom. Start with a core group this size, grow to this number by this date or else, get a slick music guy, have epic graphic designs on everything, do a soft-launch first to iron out any kinks, and on and on it goes. Now if you've been at Redeemer long enough, you might be thinking, we didn't do any of those things, or at least not really. And you are right. We especially failed on the slick music guy side of things. But let me just reiterate – we don't want to pursue what the world says works, we want to grow God's way.

Well, what is God's way? Foolishness actually. Foolishness by the standards of worldly wisdom. Listen to the Apostle Paul:

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:17-25).

And Paul goes on. But you can see just with this selection that the building of God's kingdom, and the advancement of the saving gospel of Christ, does not happen through man's wisdom and eloquence. The gospel advances through what appears to the world to be utter foolishness. Americans demand rock concerts and Canadians seek for Ted talks, but we preach Christ crucified (v.23). We teach the whole counsel of God's Word (Acts 20:27). We worship the Lord with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28). We refuse to practice cunning or tamper with God's Word (2 Corinthians 4:4). The Christian church is not meant to simply blend in with the world; we come with a foreign message. We make the men of Athens scoff saying, "What does this babbler wish to say?", or "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities." (Acts 17:18). And it is our job to not disappoint. We come with a foreign message – what the world doesn't know, we proclaim (17:23). We preach this highly offensive and seemingly unbelievable gospel – and we let the chips fall where they may.

Yet, even though we appear foolish to many, God causes our message to resound in the hearts of some. This is a miracle, every time it happens. Every time someone hears the gospel preached and actually responds with repentance and faith, it is a miracle. You can't engineer that. You can't budget for that. You can't use worldly methods and ideas to make that happen. And yet, this is what I hear at times in the church. Crediting growth in the church to momentum, or certain programs, or certain new methods of evangelism. I'm sorry, but we just want to follow the Apostle Paul as he follows Christ; and he told us to preach the gospel – without all the pragmatism. It is only the Holy Spirit who causes men, women and children to be born again. As Jesus said, "It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh is no help at all (John 6:63).

So, we are on principal against pragmatism. We want to grow God's way. We want to preach what He told us to preach, and we want to build the way He told us to build – that is, by faith. The upshot of this approach is that you have no guarantees of success, as far as the world is concerned, you have nothing to boast in of yourself if and when things are successful, and along the way you are completely dependent on God to make anything and everything happen. This is what Paul is saying, come follow me into foolishness. Come where the road is hard, where the rewards are in heaven, and where all the glory goes to God. This is the life of living by faith. "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

I hope that when you hear that, it resonates with you as hard but good. I hope that deep down you want to grow God's way. Because in the end it is only the works built by the Lord Jesus Himself as we depend on the Spirit that will last. And to Him and Him alone will be the glory and the wisdom and the power forever and ever. 

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Sunday, 19 May 2024