Grace Grows the Church

Loved this article by Judah Smith! Hope you like it, too!

Grace Grows the Church
By Judah Smith

It was the morning of October 27, 2007 and my prayer time had degenerated into a venting session. I was the youth pastor at The City Church in Seattle at the time, and in my opinion the youth ministry wasn’t growing big enough or fast enough. My team and I were all trying our hardest, but we had hit a plateau and couldn’t seem to break through.

The book of Acts with its supernatural stories and explosive church growth wasn’t blessing me so much as it was frustrating me. “Why, God? Why don’t we see these things here in Seattle? How can we make our youth group and church grow?”

My prayer time ended and I got in the shower, still frustrated, still complaining to God. He’s used to that, I’m sure. David was a great complainer. The entire book of Psalms can pretty much be summed up by: “God, why do the wicked have all the gold, glory, and girls, and here I am running for my life and you don’t even care; please, please, PLEASE help me . . . actually, come to think of it, you are God and you are good, and I trust you and sooner or later things will work out for your glory and my salvation, and I guess I’ve got a great life after all and I love you. Selah.”

When I stepped out of the shower, God spoke to me. Not audibly—if He ever does that I’ll probably hide under the kitchen table—but a phrase branded itself on my brain: Grace grows the church. Immediately I remembered Acts 4:33: “And great grace was upon them all.”

I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but looking back, that was a defining moment in my life and ministry. I began to see grace everywhere I looked: in the Bible, in my church, in God’s dealings with me.

I didn’t know that a year later I would become the preaching pastor of our church, or that two years later I would take over from my dad as lead pastor. Leading a church with a weekly attendance of over six thousand, a staff of over a hundred, and a multimillion-dollar budget is more than intimidating, and without that revelation of grace, I wouldn’t have survived.

While the transition has not always been easy—change never is—God’s grace has been more than enough. Our attendance is up, dozens are getting saved each week, giving has increased even in the midst of recession, and lives are being changed.

Grace is the central theme of the Bible. Taking grace out of the Bible would be like taking speed away from a running back: you wouldn’t have much left. Fourteen New Testament books begin with a reference to grace and fifteen end with one. The message is clear: start with grace and end with grace, and you’ll get the job done.

Think back to the origins of the church in Acts 2. A group of uneducated and fear-struck nobodies were filled with the power of the Spirit, and in one afternoon three thousand people were saved. Soon the number grew to five, ten, twenty, one hundred thousand. In the words of their enemies, they turned the world upside down. Two thousand years later, two billion people are called Christians.

Was that the ingenuity of a man? Were the disciples holed up in the upper room, plotting how to create a worldwide phenomenon that would span two millennia? Did they just get lucky? Or was great grace upon them all?

Forget the spreadsheet, calculator, and pencil—you won’t figure out how the Early Church grew with logic alone. It’s no coincidence that the first time we see church growth mentioned, we hear that “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not dismissing the importance of strategy or hard work. But they must begin and end with grace or they won’t last. If I have to be smart enough and tough enough to do this all on my own for the next thirty years, please, just shoot me now! As I’ve told my church more than once, if you were thirty years old and had six thousand people showing up every week expecting to hear something new, profound, and biblical, you’d be preaching grace too!

Our greatest efforts and best-laid plans won’t accomplish in a lifetime what God’s grace will do in a moment. His grace is the reason we are serving Him in the first place. It’s why we care about the lost and why we minister to people—even the mean ones. It’s grace that draws in hurting people who need to belong before they can believe or behave.

It’s grace that grows the church.

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