(Photo: Saddleback Church)
One of the reasons why Saddleback church has grown over the years is because we have maintained a harmonious atmosphere. When there is a church that is loving, it attracts people like a magnet. When a church really loves, really offers love to each other and those who are welcomed into it, you'd have to lock the doors to keep people out. Because Saddleback is a loving church, we continue to reach out and we continue to grow.
Growth is automatic. All living things grow and if a church is alive and living, it will grow naturally. The question, if a church isn't growing, is, "What is keeping it from growing?" If you remove the barriers to growth in your ministry or in the church as a whole, it will automatically grow.
A simple reading of Romans 14 reveals six ways that we are to build each other up rather than tearing each other down.
1. The first commitment to make to grow a more harmonious church is committing ourselves to building each other up. What kind of difference would it make if all of your church's staff and key leaders began to write one note per week to someone else in the church's leadership encouraging them? Life's tough and there's enough discouraging people in the world that what we need is a whole band, an army, of encouragers.
2. The second commitment for growing a more loving church is recognizing the value of every person. Every church is made up of a broad range of personalities. Inevitably, people will sometimes view others as obnoxious or immature. But the value of a loving church is that while you may disagree with others, you never forget that Christ died for them. That shows how valuable they are. That shows how important they are. What right do I have to hurt people for whom Christ died? The answer is, I don't have the right. Teach and model the belief that everybody is important to God.
3. The third commitment for growing a more unified church is keeping our focus on what's really important. Having been the son of a pastor and having been in literally hundreds of churches, I have discovered that churches don't split over major issues. They split over trivial things. Most people who leave the church leave because of a minor issue. They don't leave because of a doctrinal issue, but wise church leaders emphasize what is eternal, not external. Focus on what's really important.
4. The fourth commitment for growing a more unified church is limiting our liberty out of love for each other. When my liberty limits the work of God, then we've got a problem. As a Christian leader in our church, you need to be aware that there are some things other people in the church could probably get away with but you can't because you're a leader and they're watching you. You need to be aware of that. That's the price of leadership.
5. The fifth commitment for growing a more loving church is not forcing my opinion on others. On disputable matters, keep them between you and the Lord. I can practice my freedom without parading it. Some legalists are going to be upset no matter what you do. Romans 12:18 says "As far as it depends on you, if it is possible, live at peace with all men." God says that there are some people you can't get along with. Jesus frequently did things that the Pharisees disapproved of. They were hard core legalists. He went ahead and did them anyway because it wasn't an issue of being a stumbling block, but rather an issue of having people who were simply impossible to please.
6. One last commitment for growing a more harmonious church is living by faith. "The man who has doubts is condemned if he eats." People need to be convinced in their own minds. What you need to do, if you're going to mature as a believer, is develop some biblical convictions and be lovingly honest about them.
If you're a Christian, part of your job description is to build up other Christians. If you're not doing that, you're not fulfilling part of your job description. It is our responsibility. Jesus didn't please Himself. If you want to be like Christ, then you need to put the needs of others ahead of your own and be a servant.
How did Christ accept us? Unconditionally. Non-judgmentally. To accept each other as Christ accepted us means to accept them in the way that Christ accepts you, which is never based on performance.
That's the kind of church I want to be a part of. That's the kind of church I believe Saddleback is. Saddleback is not a perfect church but it is a healthy church. No church, no child, no person will ever be perfect. But we do have a healthy church and it's growing in joy and peace and hope and power.