Most churches want to grow. That is certainly the case the further you move away from the traditional end of the spectrum and into evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic waters.

Now, there are good reasons to desire church growth. There’s a harvest of souls out there, waiting to be brought into the Kingdom. But there are big dangers here too.

An organisation that wants to grow might aim to do the following:

  • Have a vision and a mission statement and raise funds to pursue them
  • Seek to attract movers and shakers, fighters and leaders
  • Invest in empowering and motivating programmes and activities
  • Be at the cutting edge of culture
  • Seek exposure in the public sphere
  • Be seen to make an impact
  • Be respected and held in high esteem

But does this best describe the aims of the church of Jesus Christ or of a commercial company? In many cases, you might be hard pressed to tell the difference.

“But Jesus is coming back for a glorious church!” Yes, the Bible makes clear that Jesus intends to present the church to Himself “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). But be careful not to assume that Jesus’ definition of what constitutes a glorious church is the same as our human understanding of what makes for glory.

In the world’s eyes, the way to glory is through influence, wealth, power, moving and shaking, leading, shouting and seeking to be noticed. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25). I believe the glory of the church Jesus wants to present to himself on that day will be found in downward mobility, not upward mobility; in self-sacrifice, not seeking to be noticed; in setting aside all aspirations after power and influence and striving only to be messengers of reconciliation, to love one another and to care for the needy; in spurning human acclaim and status and being a people who “love not their lives unto the death”; and in eschewing ambition and merit in order to pursue truth and embody grace.

If this were a company or any other earthly organisation, it would surely be doomed to failure. Self-sacrifice is no way to secure a glorious future. But it is the way of Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated in glory at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:3).

Jesus made it very clear that the way up is down, that the first shall be last, and that the greatest in his Kingdom will be those who are the least and the little, not the go-getters and the success stories.

So if your focus is on motivating people, operating at the cutting edge and being noticed, you might end up with a big, wealthy, influential organisation with an enviable reputation. But I wonder if it will come anything close to resembling the church that Jesus is seeking.