SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2012
SEARCH FOR A GROWING CHURCH
‘All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer’ (Acts 2v42).
AS a young and unmarried pastor in January 1992, I was posted by the then Bishop, Rt. Rev. B. C. Nwankiti, Lord Bishop of the Diocese of Owerri, to look after a young church, St. John’s Anglican Church New Owerri.
On arrival, I wrote in my diary: ‘What a young pastor in a growing church’. I thank God that my five-year of labour on that congregation was not a waste. Today, the church has grown rapidly to become an archdeaconry headquarters.
Interestingly, archbishops and bishops of Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion shall be at the Ibru Centre February 17-23 for a week-long retreat to seek the face of God and draw strength from the throne of grace.
The theme, prayerfully chosen, is: ‘A Growing Church’ (Acts 2-8, Eph. 4, 5: 1-20 and 6:10-20). Credit for this theme goes to the Primate of Nigeria, Most Rev. Nicholas D. Okoh. In his wisdom, he felt that the church, if it must impact a world in dire need of God’s touch, must return to the apostolic experience. This necessitates a time of teaching, fellowship, Lord’s Supper and prayer. I think this period of retreat would offer such a wonderful opportunity for great spiritual renewal.
The New Testament Church was not a busybody. It took seriously those essential ingredients as were necessary for growth. No wonder, about 3,000 people became new believers when Peter preached the good news about Christ. These Christians were united with the other believers, taught by the apostles, and included in prayer meetings and fellowship.
New believers in Christ need to be in groups where they can learn God’s word, pray and mature in the faith. This is the way to grow. The Church of Nigeria is commended for this coming together of archbishops and bishops to learn and grow together in faith.
It is instructive that programmes have been lined up to capture essential ingredients for church growth. Bishop Henry Okeke will take all the bible studies while Provinces of Ibadan, Niger Delta, Jos and Enugu shall see to the Lord’s Supper. There will also be time for fellowship and apostolic teachings. Bishop Tunde Adeleye will take up ‘Attributes and Challenges of a Growing Church’; Bishop J. Akao —‘The Challenges of Growing Together in Unity and in Diversity’; Bishop Anthony Nkwoka— ‘The Growing Church and Her Many Battles’; Most Rev. I. O. C. Kattey— ‘Sustaining Church Growth: The Power of Prayer and Koinonia’; Most Rev. Samuel Abe—‘Effective Christian Leadership: A Prerequisite for Growth’ and Bishop David Onuoha—‘Moral Challenges of a Growing Church’.
The first century Church continued in prayer. Before it could experience growth there was prayer— corporate and unified prayer. This was the foundation of what happened in Acts chapter two. Prayer is the most basic requirement of any church. Prayer is the foundation upon which everything else is built. A praying church is a church that is ready and waiting to do whatever God desires.
(2 Chron 7:14-15) “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.”
Show me a praying church, and I will show you a growing church.
The first century Church continued in the doctrine. Only by continuing in the doctrine of Christ and the apostles do we become disciples of Christ. Truth is what saves us; it is what sets us free from sin. The truth must be preached at all cost. When anything other than the truth of God’s Word is preached, it is impossible for true growth to occur. These kinds of churches may draw large crowds, but the people cannot become disciples because they have not continued in the Word.
The First Century Church continued in fellowship. People need fellowship. People know when others really care about them. A church that is truly reaching out to others is a growing church. Don’t wait for fellowship to happen on its own accord. Every church must have some type of fellowship or care ministry that is consciously reaching out to others for the purpose of friendship and unity in the body. Jesus had fellowship with publicans, sinners, harlots and many others. Jesus did so intentionally. He went out of his way to do so. When He did, it often caused a revival in that city or town.
The Bible states, ‘they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” It was through the anointed and able leadership of the apostles that the first century Church grew. The apostles had been with Jesus. They had learned the doctrine directly from Him. They had a vision of what Jesus desired for His Church, and they imparted that vision to the people. Prov 29:18 says: Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
As we sincerely ask God for safe arrival of the archbishops and bishops to this year’s retreat, we pray that God would use them in ensuring that churches under their pastoral care and guidance become truly ‘growing’.VEN. ERNEST ONUOHA Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State