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The Church Growth Conference Jesus Taught
Part 2
Be Shrewd
By Tom Brown

        4. Show stability.

            “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave” (Matt 10:11). Luke adds something additional to what Jesus said, “Do not move around from house to house” (Luke 10:7).

            The instruction is clear: “Stay at his house. Do not move around from house to house.” The first century Christians did not have temples to worship in; they began with houses. The house was the place of worship. The principle we gleam from Jesus statement is: we should show stability to the community by staying put. There is nothing that shows instability than constantly moving. This is especially true for a new church without a denomination.

            Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” Rocks are hard to move. A rock shows solidness. There is nothing better that shows the community that a church will be there for generations to come than a building that is recognized as a pillar in the community.

            Our society is changing so fast; people are moving, businesses are folding up, and institutions that people relied upon are not there anymore. This is when the church can fill the vacuum in a wobbly world. We should be a tower of strength to the community.

            There is nothing wrong with moving from a smaller church building to a larger one. That is understandable, but I find it disheartening for churches to constantly move because rent is cheaper over there instead of here. Make up your mind! Decide where your church is going to meet and stay there until you need to move to a larger, permanent location.

            There is an additional advice I would like to give: in today’s world, people are uncomfortable attending a public meeting in a house. A house in today’s culture is a private place, unlike in biblical times. While it may be appropriate to start a church in a house, it is not wise to be there too long. I have never witnessed a church accomplish great things while remaining in a house. People want to see a church in a church building. It is part of our culture. You will draw far more people to a public church house than in a residential house. Besides in most cities they have zoning requirements that forbid houses from being used as a public meeting place. We must follow the law.

            5. Get rid of time wasters. Focus on people who are open to the gospel.

            “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town” (Matt 10:14).

            One of the most difficult things to do is to stop ministering to a person you have attempted to help. You can’t help everyone. There will always be people who will monopolize your time. You can’t let them do this.

            There is an old western song by Kenny Rogers that says, “You got to know when to hold them; know when to fold them.” This is so true with ministry. Jesus describes people like soil. He points out that not all soil produces the same results. Not everyone is prepared right now to receive the Word. Some people are not ready now, but they may be ready later. It is a waste of your time to try and plant seed in soil that is hard.

            In harsh language, Jesus said, “Shake the dust off your feet.” This is a disrespectful practice in the Middle East. I think Jesus was using hyperbole to emphasize the absolute important of forgetting the past and moving forward. Yet we are very inclined to show too much respect for those who are disrespectful of the gospel. There are “enemies of the cross” (Phil 3:18).

            You will not find the apostles trying to get along with enemies of the cross. They knew to defend the faith against those types of individuals. There is a time whereby we must “defend” the gospel against those who would try to attack it. We defend the gospel for the sake of those who believe in the gospel. We must know who the true believers are and those that are false.

            There is also another great truth found in these brief words of Christ: not only are some people not ready for the gospel, but some towns are not ready for the gospel. At least they are not ready to receive the gospel from you.

            Many pastors have written me about the struggle they have encountered in their cities, “Pastor Tom, I have tried and tried to build a great church in this city, but the people seem resistant to what I am trying to do. What should I do?”

            Some pastors are not ready for my advice, “You should consider changing jobs or changing cities.” Jesus did not advise the apostles to pray harder and longer for those stubborn towns, but He told them to “shake the dust” and move on to another city.

            In real-estate there is an old adage when buying property: “There are three things you must look for: Location, location, location.” This adage applies to ministry as well. Just because you have not succeeded in one city, does not mean you won’t succeed at another one.

            Pastors want to know how long they should give the church time to grow. Well only the Lord knows everything, but there is a parable that may give some insight into this: For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'  "'Sir, ' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’” (Luke 13:7-9).

          Three years is plenty of time to show some growth in a church. Most mega churches saw success within the first three years. Very few successful churches struggled for more than three years. If you can’t succeed at the church in three years it is doubtful that more years will be helpful. But if you really have it in your heart to stay there, then do everything you can for one more year—“dig around it and fertilize it”—and maybe God will give you success. However, if the hard efforts you put in do not show fruit, then move on. You are wasting your talents and gifts in a place you are not called to; it’s better to use your abilities elsewhere.

            A pastor friend of mind had a small church in one part of the city. Then he went through a sad divorce. I thought his ministry was over; yet he moved from the struggling part of town to a more prosperous area. He remarried and now his church is much larger than it was in the other area. He had everything working against his success, but the right location brought him success in ministry. I am not suggesting getting a new wife, but a new location.

            6. Be shrewd in dealing with people.

            “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).

            Ministers think it is wrong to be shrewd. But Jesus encourages it. Shrewdness is a “worldly” wisdom. Some ministers are so “spiritual” that they have no practical wisdom in dealing with the world. Overly spiritual pastors have criticized churches that use multimedia presentation or coffee shops to bring in the yuppies. But these pastors should have been shrewd in trying to grow their churches, instead of being critical.  

            I will be the first one to admit: coffee shops are not spiritual. Multi-media is not spiritual. Elaborate productions are not spiritual. Playgrounds for children are not spiritual. Car shows at church are not spiritual. Yet we have all these things, because they attract and keep people. They may seem unspiritual—which they are—but they are not sinful. There is a difference between something that is unspiritual and something that is sinful. Sin leads people away from God. Unspiritual things are neutral, neither bringing people near God nor driving them away from God.

            There are numerous people in my church which told me that the minute they walked into our church building and saw our indoor playground, they knew this was their church. Their kids got so excited when they saw our huge playground. The playground has netted some good members. You can be judgmental toward my approach all you want, but I am glad I built a playground for our kids. McDonalds builds playgrounds to sell food. Playgrounds are not their business—food is. But to sell the food, they built the playgrounds to attract parents with kids to the restaurant. Our church business is giving the “food from heaven” but the playground was a shrewd way to draw families to our church. I do not apologize for my tactic. McDonalds will not outsmart me.

            Another mistake I have seen from pastors is a legalistic approach to ministry. They expect a certain dress style and hair cuts for their members. They have extra-biblical requirements to be a full member in the church. They require no drinking of alcohol, any watching movies or dancing. This is plain stupid. You will never build a great church until you understand the culture in which you live in.  

            Jesus indicts the church for being super-spiritual, For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8). This is not a compliment but a criticism. He is encouraging us to be better in dealing with the world. We cannot let being the light keep us from ministering successfully to those in the dark. We must use every means to reach people. The “means” will never look spiritual, but use them anyway to reach people.

            Don’t misunderstand me: we do not compromise morality, but I am convinced that some rules are not really biblically sound; but just fear based. If you try to leave the culture around you by trying to look so different from them, you will not be able to reach them.

            Jesus also encourages us to be “innocent as doves.” It is very easy to get callous as a minster. You see all the hypocrisy. You witness the members of your church fighting each other. You counsel the couples in their marital distress. They do not look their best in marriage counseling. As a minister you will see the dark side of people. If you are not careful, seeing the worse in Christians can make you cold. It can make you skeptical of the power of God. You cannot let the human frailties of people discourage your faith in God. You must have the child-like trust in God. Learn to see the best in people, even when you often see the worse in them.

            This same callousness happens with police officers. They see so much cruelty, theft, abuse, and murder that they often give up on humanity. They are sour on the human race. This is what Jesus is warning us. He does not want us to lose our innocence in ministry. No one wants to hear from a burnt-out minister. They want to hear from a happy, fulfilled, trusting preacher. The people coming to church are hurting, and they don’t need another hurting minister preaching angrily at them. They need an innocent pastor showing the simplicity of the gospel.

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