“Healthy things grow” is one of the things I used to say to describe something successful. I once thought that something must be healthy because it is experiencing some measure of success. I would see more families come to our church or see an organization flourishing and would say: Healthy things grow. Because of their growth I assumed: a) they were a healthy organization, b) their growth was a sign of God’s blessing. While this may be true in some cases, overall assuming healthy things grow is not helpful at all. Here is why.
1. It denies the reality that unhealthy things grow as well. If your life has been touched by cancer you realize that unhealthy cells multiplying in your body are not a blessing in any way. If you have been in ministry long enough you have been a part of a church or known of churches or organizations that are seemingly successful yet wildly unhealthy. They may be seeing much success externally, but what we don’t see is the internal cost that success has taken. What we don’t understand is that failure isn’t always a sign of God’s judgment; sometimes success is.
2. It denies the source of life is Christ and preaches the gospel of pragmatism. Pragmatism preaches the gospel of “if it works do it” without considering “is this right to do,” or more importantly “does God want us to do this?” Bad behavior and unhealthy practices are overlooked because growth is the North American sign of blessing. So what do we do? We justify all matter of decisions based not on what does God want us to do, or what does scripture dictate for us. We promote strategies to grow at all cost.
The goal of our church should never primarily be growth. If it is we will unintentionally and intentionally hurt people and use people because we believe our cause is right. Our goal must always be the Glory of God alone. When we say things like healthy things grow, we most often attribute that health to something we have done or created rather than something God has done. When we think our actions are primary and Christ’s are secondary when it comes to growing the church, we begin to see ourselves as owners rather than servants who do their Master’s bidding. We turn to specialists that help keep us on track rather than wholly rely on Christ alone. Recently in my study of 1 Peter 4, I came across a commentary by Edmund Clowney that spoke to this truth in such a clear and concise manner. Here is what Dr. Clowney has to say about healthy things growing.
Why does Peter so emphasize our calling to minister as stewards, servants who recognize our dependence on God’s gifts? Because only so will we give God all the glory. Anyone who has begun a ministry in Christ’s name finds it perilously easy to shift the ownership of the enterprise. It becomes his ministry, her organization. Success demonstrates one’s own organizational skill and entrepreneurial genius. The leader gives lip-service to God’s enabling grace but trusts management techniques. He looks to professional consultants more than to the Lord. The ‘success’ of such a ministry may be a graver judgment from God than its failure.
Peter insists that we must minister in the strength that God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. God is to be praised not only for the new birth from which our service begins but for the continuing grace that enables us, in serving others, to serve him.
Edmund P. Clowney
The Goal of our life is living for the Glory of God alone, not for personal success. My prayer for our church and for your church is that we grow in our dependence on God. That we seek him more than consultants. That we faithfully plant and faithfully water and let God cause the growth.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This article originally appeared here.