“Gospel ministers should care about church growth,” Omar Johnson preached during the opening session of the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference June 12. “Primarily, the church’s spiritual growth.”
Johnson, who serves as pastor of Temple Hills Baptist Church near Washington, D.C., preached the second message of a conference focused on the Book of Colossians. Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, he said, helps realign what pastors should look for, care about and pray for in their churches.
“What Paul was most concerned about was the church’s spiritual health,” Johnson said. And when the apostle heard the church was marked by faith in Jesus and love for the saints, he pressed on in his commitment to pray for them and their continued growth.
“Sometimes when we see or hear about our church or another church doing well, we figure, ‘mission accomplished,’” Johnson said.
But Paul didn’t have that attitude and neither should today’s pastors, he continued. Knowing there’s no place for spiritual stagnation, the apostle kept praying for growth in two key areas Johnson exhorted pastors today to focus on as well: growth in the knowledge of God and growth in living God-pleasing lives.
The most important thing
People don’t walk into your church as blank slates or empty cups, Johnson told pastors in Anaheim. Rather, they’re already full of knowledge from a variety of sources: news and social media; controversies and conspiracy theories; and the hurt and pain in their homes, communities and our nation.
“They know a lot of things about a lot of things,” Johnson said. “But the most important thing is that they know God, that they grow in the knowledge of him.
“But if you and I, friends, become just more voices adding to the noise of all the other voices out there, then we become useless with nothing distinctive to give.”
Johnson urged pastors to resist the temptation to add something to the message of Jesus in order to make it more palatable for more people. In Colossians, the church was encountering false teaching that turned focus away from Christ and toward other sources promising more robust knowledge of God.
“That’s still a threat pressing in our churches today, isn’t it? We need Jesus plus something. We need the Scriptures plus something.”
When temptation comes
If regular proclamation of Jesus Christ doesn’t seem to be growing a congregation numerically, he said, a pastor might wonder whether it’s time to water down the message to make it more relevant to a modern audience.
“But we have what people need to hear, what they need to have — the knowledge of God,” Johnson said. The nature of ministry hasn’t changed because the world has changed, he said. Pastors don’t have to be expert epidemiologists or political pundits.
“We are to be heralds of heaven,” Johnson said. “People are filled with the knowledge of God and His will through pastors who fill them by faithfully proclaiming God’s word to them.”
Purpose of knowledge
Paul didn’t want the church at Colossae to grow in its knowledge of God simply for knowledge’s sake, Johnson said. The knowledge of God has an intended result: that followers of Christ would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
It’s good to call sin sin, Johnson said, noting several confronting the church today: sexual sin, racism, abuse and recent revelations of abuse cover-up in the Southern Baptist Convention.
“That’s evil and grievous,” Johnson said. “But let us not grieve as those who have no hope,” he continued. “We can persevere with joy knowing that God is for us and with us and will see us through, and that confidence about what God is doing and what God will do is fueled on what God has done.”
He concluded his message with a call to grow in gratitude for what God has done — rescuing sinners from the domain of darkness and qualifying them to share in the inheritance of the saints.
“Live like what you are,” Johnson exhorted pastors. “The path to growth — real growth, spiritual growth — begins and ends with the knowledge of God.”
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