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Judah Smith: Grace Grows the Church

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.

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Brian is the General Editor of churchleaders.com. He works with creative and innovative people to discover the best resources, trends and practices to equip the church to leader better every day. He lives in Ohio with his wife, Jenna, and four boys..