Being a Disciple-Making Believer.

Church research has revealed that before the pandemic, only three percent of churches in our country were experiencing measurable numerical growth. This growth was in churches bent on making disciples and spiritually reproducing. Ninety-seven percent of churches were in some form of plateau, decline, or process of closure. When the pandemic hit, these churches struggled even more.

In Matthew 16, Jesus prophesied that He will build His church. This was a prophesy of global scope when Jesus spoke it, and He is doing what He promised. From Acts 2 through today and until the coming of Christ, He has been and will be building His church throughout the world. We long to know that we are part of this divine, spiritual wonder the Lord is doing in the body of Christ. How do we measure or discern if Jesus is building His church here?

Discerning If Christ Is Building His Church Here

One thing pastors can do is to look at the seven churches of Revelation and consider the issues which Jesus called sin or apostasy, a spiritual cancer in the church. Only one of the seven churches was remaining faithful; six were not. We must look at the different issues in each church and discern: is this an unconfessed, perpetual reality at Grace Church of Mentor? Jesus asked those with sin to repent, or He would remove their lampstand of influence.

The next place to consider is the pastoral epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Ephesians. These are letters from Paul to young pastors. These inspired, preserved pages are given to the church by which she is to measure her obedience to the function of the church. Are we owning the truth of the content and the practice of these pastoral epistles?

If together we do not recognize from studying the churches of Revelation any unaddressed, unconfessed apostacy or sin, and if together we discern from the pastoral epistles that our church is doing the best that it can to own and obey those Scriptures, and we are busy about ministry, then again, we ask: why are ninety-seven percent of the churches in our country struggling? Why are they plateauing, declining, and closing? Before the pandemic, an estimated 1800 churches were closing per month. These struggling churches are full of faithful people asking themselves: What is going on? Why is the lampstand being removed?

What do we do when people who have been faithful singing, teaching, cleaning, mowing, fellowshipping, and serving, among all the other virtuous things necessary to ministry, struggle with a lack of growth? They did all these things, so why has Jesus not built His church there?

The doing of ministry business and necessary service to our Lord is good, but it is only part of our individual, personal, worship-filled lives before the Lord. We each are to own a personal mission that we bring to the collective mission of the church. The prayerful, anticipatory, and deliberate way in which we do this individualized mission together as the church is the way Christ builds the church.

Doing The Deeds Done At First

The first church mentioned in Revelation 2:1-7, the church of Ephesus, appears not to have an issue. The Lord Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, is speaking to the pastor of this church, who is referred to as the angel of the church of Ephesus. People typically become like their pastors, just as children become like their parents. Students become like their teachers, and countries become like their leaders, given enough time. The pastor bears the responsibility.

Jesus admires things about this church (Rev. 2:2-3, 6), yet their lampstand may be removed because they have left their first love (Rev. 2:4-5). This is a strong church with sound doctrine. This church was loving the Lord Jesus Christ passionately and doing His deeds; but now they are going through the motions of service and struggling.

We know a lampstand has been removed ultimately when a church closes its doors. The Lord is long patient with His people, giving them the opportunity to repent and to change. The Lord is asking them to remember when they started falling and to repent and do the deeds they did at first (Rev. 2:5).

The word "first" in verse 5 comes from the Greek word meaning "priority." These deeds had everything to do with the last words Jesus spoke on earth before His ascension. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that there were over 500 people to whom Jesus had appeared. Before His ascension (Acts 1:8), Jesus told His followers, "you shall be my witnesses." Matthew 28:19 says to go and make disciples. Revelation 2:5 tells the church to go back and trace the day where they began to fall away from being witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ in their Jerusalem.

Why was a solid church like Ephesus plateauing and declining, and why are solid churches doing the same today? Should we conclude that Jesus is not building His church? No, Jesus is always building His church. However, we can be busy with the work of ministry and still not be healthy. This church can have hands and feet and be very busy, and even have a full house on Sunday morning, yet we can be closed if we fail to repent and do the first things.

We do not know who the pastor of Ephesus when Revelation was written. We do know that this pastor had stopped doing in his own life that which Jesus commanded on the day of His ascension. He stopped personalizing his ownership of being a gospel witness in Ephesus, and the church had become like him, despite being theologically sound.

Giving An Account

Hebrews 13:17 says that pastors will stand before the Lord someday to give an account for not only their lives and families, but also for the lives and ministries of their flock. Jesus in the flesh, with His purifying eyes of fire omnisciently gazing into our souls, will know everything about what we did and did not do. We will be able to see His scarred hands and feet, an optical reminder of why He came. And He will ask the pastor, did you love Me and did you love My body, the church?

If we are in love with our first love, we will allow the Spirit of God to develop within us over time a passion to be a witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. This happens among those with whom we rub shoulders each day in the natural rhythms of our own lives.

What is then the mission of the church? The whole book of Matthew crescendos to Jesus’s final words on the day of His ascension: go into the world and make disciples. Around Him were these 500 people, most of whom would not be full-time vocational ministers but work in all sorts of occupations. This missional command demonstrates our true love for the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, our crucified, risen, ascended, and coming-again Jesus. This message should be upon the lips of each of us as we pray to reach those around us who do not know Jesus.

It is a sobering truth. The people of the church of Ephesus were saved, and there were saved people in all the churches mentioned in Revelation. We must understand, not just what our obligations are to one another, but the mission of why Grace Church of Mentor exists: to glorify God by evangelizing the lost and equipping the saints with the goal of Christ-likeness.

John 17 tells us that Jesus came to glorify God through obedience. Philippians 2 says Jesus became obedient even unto death on the cross. 1 John 2:1-2 tells us that Jesus died for our sins and the sins of the whole world. This is the message owned by every one of the 500 people Jesus spoke to, and the message to be owned by us. Speaking this message demonstrates that we are fully in love with our Jesus. We should love to talk about who we are in love with. Pastors too need to consider these first things regarding the Lord Jesus Christ on a regular basis.

Application Points

  • Each of us is to own the personal mission of reaching the lost. Are you prayerfully anticipating opportunities each day to speak of the Jesus you love?
  • Have you opened yourself up to those who do not know the Lord in your circle of influence within the community? The Lord would have us remember His final instructions to go and make disciples.
  • Has church service become busyness and routine without much relationship with your Savior? God would have you examine your heart, repent, and return to your first love.

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Ps. 62:12, Ps. 103:10-12, Matt. 16:27, Rom. 8:1, 1 Cor. 3:10, 12-13, 15, Eph. 6:8, 1 John 2:28, 2 John 8, Rev. 3:11 – Judgement and Rewards