God’s primary work on earth

When God has a job to be done, He works through people. God has chosen to work out His plan through active secondary participants. 

But what is God’s primary work on earth today? And how does He use people to accomplish it?

The answer is found in the promise of Jesus Christ – “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  

When the Lord Jesus went into heaven, He sent the promised Holy Spirit and through the Spirit He united believers into a body referred to as the body of Christ (Acts 1:4-5,8; John 14:15-17; I Corinthians 12:13).

In the absence  of Jesus physical presence, this assembly of believers in Christ is the visible testimony of Jesus Christ on earth today.

Although this body incorporates every believer from the day of Pentecost to the rapture of the Church, all the instructions for body life in the New Testament are intended for each local body of believers in every age.

Remember that, “God has placed the members each one of them in the body just as He desired” (I Corinthians 12:18) and “God has composed the body that there should be no division but that the members should have the same care for one another” (I Corinthians 12:24-25). Thus the apostle Paul says to the local church in the city of Corinth, “You are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27).

God’s purpose on earth today is to build a visible, united body of believers called the body of Christ, or the Church. The way we align ourselves with it is on the local level. Thus it is God’s design that every follower of Jesus Christ be a functioning part of a local body of believers. This is God’s will for you if you are a believer in Christ. 

God has called each believer into fellowship with His Son (I Corinthians 1:9). This is the joy of Christian living – that we have a personal and individual relationship with Jesus Christ who was dead but is alive forevermore, seated at the right hand of the Father, ever making intercession for us according to the will of God. This is a deeply personal joy of Christianity.

But, according to God’s design, what we enjoy on the individual level must become part of the public, corporate life of the church.

“No one Christian believer can fully enjoy the benefits of the grace of God in Christ, or fully express the new activities it makes possible, in isolation.” (A.M. Stibbs. T.N.T.C., I Peter, p. 156)

One of the most important and neglected truths of Scripture is the doctrine of the local church. The late Carl F. Henry warned the 1990 convention of the National Association of Evangelicals that: “Evangelicals continue to neglect the doctrine of the church and at high cost.”

Robert Patterson wrote an excellent article about this titled “In Search of the Visible Church.” 

Patterson observed how, “…commitment to the church appears to be at an all-time low among evangelicals…growing numbers of evangelicals are unwilling to commit themselves to any particular congregation. Operating as sovereign ecclesiastical consumers, they hop from church to church looking for the best spiritual “deal” in town.” I personally believe that there exists a desperate need today for a revival in the biblical understanding of the importance of the local church.”

“If the church is a nurturing mother for the souls of believers, as John Calvin proclaimed, those disconnected from her are nothing more than spiritual orphans. They are cut off from a vital source of spiritual nourishment and growth. They may think that spiritual fitness is an individual matter, but their failure to participate in the corporate life of God’s people can only stunt the kind of growth in grace that the apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians 4” (R. Patterson, Christianity Today, Mar.11, 1991).

We must expose the tenuous division between commitment to the Lord and commitment to a local body of believers. I do not think that the Lord makes that distinction too sharply.

I will build my Church

  1. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said: “I will build my church”.
  2. In Luke 10:2, Jesus is called: “The Lord of the harvest who sends forth workers in His harvest.”
  3. The church is “the body of Christ.”
  4. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
  5. Ephesians 5:29 says, “Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.”
  6. In Acts 9:4, Saul was persecuting believers and Jesus stopped him and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
  7. In Matthew 25 – during judgment the followers of Christ are shocked because Jesus identified a whole list of things that they did to him personally. Jesus cleared their lack of understanding by saying in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
  8. The author of Hebrews reminds the readers that, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10). You show love to His name by serving His children.
  9. In I Corinthians 3:6, the apostle refers to human activity in building local churches, “I planted, Apollos watered but God was causing the growth.”
  10. In Acts 2:47 we learn that, “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Ultimately anyone serving in any capacity in the church should view himself or herself as a direct servant of Jesus Christ (see: Colossians 3:23-24).

Patterson listed five action items to help the church regain this lost focus. Each of them is worthy of discussion but I’ll only give the first one:

“Evangelicals need to affirm aggressively the necessary connection between faith in Christ and commitment to his church. So-called solitary or independent Christians need to be incorporated into the life and discipline of some congregation. Those who are already church members need to remain committed to their church, taking seriously their accountability to the congregation and resisting the temptation to ‘jump ship’ when problems develop. At the same time, church leaders need to take more seriously their responsibility to discipline and nurture parishioners under their care.” (C.T. 3-11-1991, p.38)

If you want to stand in the gap in these days we live in and you want to align yourself with God’s plan, you need to be involved in a local body of believers. D.A. Carson recognized one of the reasons for a lack of emphasis being , “…a  theological suspicion that those who devote too much attention to the church are in danger of diverting attention from Christ himself” (Evangelical Affirmations).

Hopefully you understand from the above examples that the Lord Jesus does not recognize this distinction as sharply as some think. 

Robert Patterson’s concluded, “If evangelicals still value their heritage, they can lament the obscurity into which the church visible has sunk, a tragedy to which they have contributed in both word and deed. Furthermore, they can commit themselves toward a rediscovery of the church in our time, not just out of faithfulness to a tradition, but in devotion to their Lord who promised, ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”

Steve Cornell

Intentional Church growth


“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

Many would tell you that, based on their experiences, the Psalm would say,

“Behold how ‘difficult‘ and ‘challenging‘ it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”

Perhaps unity is such a “good and pleasant” experience because it’s so rare and exceptional.

We at least know that unity is neither easily attained or easily maintained. This is why the early Church was told to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Unity requires hard work (make every effort), vigilance (to keep or protect), and walking by the Spirit (the unity of the Spirit). It must be an intentional commitment and value of a local Church. Leaders have a special calling to watch over and protect the unity of the local Church.

Our story

I know a little about this after 30 years of pastoral ministry. While serving as a youth pastor in the greater Philadelphia area, 29 years ago this fall, we received a call that led to our ministry in Millersville, Pennsylvania. Looking back, I can tell you that planting and growing a healthy Church requires intentional commitment to core values and practices.

For those unaware of our journey, we’ve been privileged to oversee Church growth from 10 original people to more than 550 people. During those years, we’ve also invested in about a thousand University students who called our Church home during their time in school. We’ve grown from one staff person to six full-time and many part-time staff. We’ve gone from one little old building to nine buildings on two sites with over 16 acres (while remaining debt-free).

More importantly, many lives have been transformed during these years. And God has spread the ministry of our Church far beyond the home borders through missionaries sent from our number, extensive conference ministry, daily radio, columns in newspapers, this blog, etc… We are now connecting with pastors who are looking for help and encouragement on a weekly basis.

An intentional focus

Many years ago, we focused intentionally on Church growth based on a deep commitment to the following statement:

“It is God’s will for each believer to be a faithful, serving, and accountable part of a visible body of believers under the pastoral oversight of elders – sharing and experiencing meaningful relationship with one another.”

We summarized this understanding in the fourth point of our Church mission statement:

4. Fellowship of believers in an age of individualism

“It is God’s design for every Christian to be an active and accountable part of a local assembly of believers, willingly serving others. This results in the mutual encouragement and support of all the believers in their walk with Jesus Christ. In contrast, our society promotes individualism; the attitude which seeks to please self, elevates personal fulfillment, and avoids costly involvement with others. At MBC, we challenge believers to fulfill God’s design by meaningfully and sacrificially relating to others in the church.”

Some of the primary Scriptures for this statement include:

The picture of life together for those who follow Christ is not one of superficial or casual engagement. A close look at the “one anthers” of the NT depicts life-together in mutual love, honor, unity, care, service and accountability.

  • Accept one another (Rom 15:7)
  • Carry each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
  • Have equal concern for each other (1 Cor. 12:25)
  • Watch out for one another (Heb. 3:12-13)
  • Encourage one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
  • Live in harmony with one another (1 Pet. 3:8)
  • Confess your sins to each other (Jas. 5:16)
  • Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
  • Edify one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11)
  • Consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3)
  • Bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13)
  • Forgive each other (Eph. 4:32)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 15:5)
  • Love one another (John 13:34-35; 17; Rom. 13:8)
  • Be members of one body (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25)
  • Be at peace with each other (Eph. 4:3)
  • Pray for each other (Jas. 5:16)
  • Serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10)
  • Honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
  • Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)

One sentence summary of our mission:

We seek to honor God by Winning, Building, Equipping, and Mobilizing people to advance Christ’s kingdom and exalt His name.

Steve Cornell

10 Reasons for Church Membership

“It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together).

1. Scripture teaches that not only are we members of the invisible church (past, present and future) upon our salvation, but we are also to identify ourselves with other believers in physical assembly (Hebrews 10:23-25) and in that assembly we are to “hold fast” to our public commitment with other believers. “Let us, without ever wavering, keep on holding to the hope that we profess.” The plain teaching here is that we, as the physical visible church must “spur one another on” in our faith. The Bible does not know of a faith lived in aloneness, but one that is committed to others as we are committed to Christ.

2. Although scripture does not specifically teach that a person should join a local church, it is apparent that scripture assumes that if one is a Christian, they are a member of a local church. As an example, in his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul teaches the exclusion of a member of that church. Exclusion from a church presupposes inclusion:

“You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst …Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed … I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1Cor 5:2, 7, 12-13). One cannot be excluded from something that he was never included in.

3. In 2 Corinthians 2:6-7, Paul talks about “the majority” which implies that there was a definite number of those who were identified with the local, physical church in Corinth. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.

4. The local churches in Paul’s day apparently kept a list of widows. It would be impossible for the churches we learn about in the New Testament to distinguish between leadership, new believers and widows and orphans in need if there was no system of accounting (1 Timothy 5:9).

5. God keeps a list of the true members of the visible AND invisible church. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Phil 4:3). And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into [the New Jerusalem], but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21:27).

6. Local church membership is the public endorsement of a body of believers of a person’s salvation and forward movement in discipleship. Jesus taught the church is to “make disciples”, the first step of which is baptism. New believers need nurture, care and discipline that is provided for in the local assembly of believers. In scripture, the assembly (ecclesia) was established as a community of faith both in the old and new testaments in which specific responsibilities of spiritual community and discipline are spelled out. Scripture, in other words, does not contemplate spiritual aloneness.

7. Scripture teaches that the church is the “Bride of Christ”. It is understood that this in the fullest sense represents the universal church past present and future as stated in the book of Revelation. But there is a specific application to the local church in Ephesians 5, as Paul is writing to a local physical body. This relationship implies commitment and identity as a Bride identifies with her husband in a covenant relationship, binding herself to Him and taking His name. As there is a local physical understanding of this metaphor used is scripture, logic would say, “if I love Christ, I will love His bride!”

8. The Church in the New Testament is reflected by the nation of Israel in the Old. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with Gods people and members of Gods household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22 ).

As such, the Old Testament priests, sacrifices, and sanctuary are superseded by the mediation of Jesus, the crucified, risen, and reigning God-man (Heb. 1-10), in whom believers now find their identity as the seed of Abraham and the people of God (Gal. 3:29; 1 Pet. 2:4-10). The word “assembly”, translated “ecclesia” in the Septuagint is found throughout the Old Testament and identifies the gathering of the people of God in worship and spiritual community. The disciples identified the church in this same way, and as such saw themselves as the physical gathering of a people identified with each other and responsible together to live out their faith as a people of God. There is great power in the words, “a people belonging to God”. Membership is the language of belonging.

9. The Bible commands that we submit ourselves to spiritual authority. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves (Hebrews 13:17). One who does not commit to the local Body in membership has in effect said, “I will not submit myself to any authority”.

10. I will let Packer make the final point: The New Testament assumes that all Christians will share in the life of a local church, meeting with it for worship (Heb. 10:25), accepting its nurture and discipline (Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1), and sharing in its work of witness. Christians disobey God and impoverish themselves by refusing to join with other believers when there is a local congregation that they can belong to. (from John Piper)

Questions for every church leader

Many church leaders look to mega-churches for guidance. The more notable of these Churches are Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Community in Chicago, Illinois, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California and Andy Stanley’ North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. Leaders are often drawn to these mega-churches out of fear that their own approaches to ministry are ineffective.

The fast and frightening pace of change in our culture causes many traditional churches to feel as if they’ve lost touch. When ministries are ineffective, leaders who care about the Church ask questions about how to better “do” Church. 

Unwilling to become stagnant or to accept status quo, these leaders pursue new models for their ministries. Since mega-churches give an appearance of success, leaders fill church vans and hit the highways in search of new more effective ways to do church.

The churches attracting these leaders are usually mega-churches with uniquely gifted mega-leaders. These mega-churches have some great ideas for effective ministry and the desire of their leaders to help other pastors do a better job is commendable. 

However, after years of offering conferences and seminars, these leaders have sensed a need to warn participants not to mimic their methods. Those who try to duplicate the ministry of  uniquely situated mega-churches are often disappointed with the outcomes. Though well-intentioned to revitalize their own churches, in many cases their efforts create more problems than they solve.

 Allow me to suggest a better plan that will save the gas money and costs of the conferences. Consider Jesus words in Matthew 16:18 and ask the questions below it. 

-

Jesus said, “I will build my Church….” Matthew 16:18

  • Did He do it?
  • Is He doing it today?
  • Does a pattern emerge as to how He built His Church?
  • Is there a plan that transcends time and place?
  • Is every Church today being built by Christ?
  • How do we know if Christ is building a Church?  
  • What should Church structure look like?
  • What should Church life look like?

Worth considering

There is a more serious concern possibly related to this pursuit of new ways to do Church. Is it an indication of much deeper identity crises? Although not always the case, often leaders who attend these conferences lack confidence in ministry because they lack a solid Scriptural understanding of the church. A superficial ecclesiology inevitably makes leadership susceptible to insecurity and faulty understandings of ministry.

Leaders must develop and teach a biblical theology of church. When God’s people are secure in their understanding of what scripture teaches about the church, they will be more flexible about changing methods.

Revisit important New Testament texts like Acts 20; Ephesians 2:14-22; 4:11-16; Hebrews 3:12-14;10:25-26; 13:17 and I Peter 5:1-4. An investigative study of these passages will save you the money spent on a trip to the mega-Church.

Helpful resources:

Steve Cornell

When the Church markets the gospel

“Does the gospel of the market-driven church redeem the lost or reinforce trends, deliver from sin or affirm the self, reconcile people to God or appeal to religious consumers?”

“Tailoring the gospel to fit the consumer distorts the gospel, discounts the work of the Holy Spirit and dehumanizes men and women made in the image of God.”

“It’s one thing to understand cultural trends and attitudes in order to discover appropriate starting points for reaching a culture with the gospel. It’s quite another thing to mold the gospel to fit the expectations, aspirations and dreams of those in it” (Douglas Webster, Selling Jesus).

“We must never confuse our desire for people to accept the Gospel,” warned the late Oswald Chambers, “with creating a Gospel that is acceptable to people.”

 

Sovereign Ecclesiastical Consumers

“A growing number of evangelicals are unwilling to commit themselves to any particular congregation. Operating as sovereign ecclesiastical consumers, they hop from church to church looking for the best spiritual deal in town.”

“If evangelicals still value their heritage, they can lament the obscurity into which the church visible has sunk, a tragedy to which they have contributed in both word and deed.  Furthermore, they can commit themselves toward a rediscovery of the church in our time, not just out of faithfulness to a tradition, but in devotion to their Lord who promised, ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” 

“Evangelicals need to affirm aggressively the necessary connection between faith in Christ and commitment to his church. So called solitary or independent Christians need to be incorporated into the life and discipline of some congregation.  Those who are already church members need to remain committed to their church, taking seriously their accountability to the congregation and resisting the temptation to jump ship when problems develop.” 

“If the church is a nurturing mother for the souls of believers, as John Calvin proclaimed, those disconnected from her are nothing more than spiritual orphans. They are cut off from a vital source of spiritual nourishment and growth.  They may think that spiritual fitness is an individual matter, but their failure to participate in the corporate life of God’s people can only stunt the kind of growth in grace that the apostle Paul envisioned …”  (Christianity Today, 3/11/91, In Search of the Visible Church, R. Paterson).    

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (I Corinthians 3:16-17, ESV).

“It is unfortunately possible for people to attempt to build the church out of every imaginable human system predicated on merely worldly wisdom, be it philosophy, pop-psychology, managerial techniques, relational good feelings, or what have you. But at the final judgment, all such building (and perhaps countless other forms, where systems have become more important than the gospel itself) will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or His gospel in it. This is one of the few texts in the NT where we are exposed both to an understanding of the nature of the local church (God’s temple indwelt by His Spirit) and where the warning of v. 17 makes it clear how important the local church is to God Himself.”        

“One of the desperate needs of the church is to recapture this vision of what it is by grace, and therefore also what God intends it to be. In most Protestant circles one tends to take the local church altogether too lightly. As the temple of God they are expected to live as His alternative both to the pagan temples and to the way of life that surrounds them. …. So sacred to God is His temple that those who would destroy it (as they were doing by their quarrels and worldly wisdom) will themselves be destroyed by God (3:17)”  (Pp. 145, 149, I Corinthians, N.I.C.N.T., Gordon Fee).  

Note the close connection between a commitment to Christ and to His church (Mt. 16:18; 25:40; Lk. 10:2; Acts 2:47, 9:4; I Cor. 3;6; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 6:10).   

Steve Cornell                                                                                                                                                                    

7 Emphases for Effective Church Ministry

In 1985 my wife and I moved to the community of Millersville, Pennsylvania, (USA) to join a small group of people in starting a new Church.

Original facility pictured here —————————->

After serving the Millersville community for 21 years, an Evangelical Mennonite congregation steadily dwindled until 1985, when only seven members remained. Finding it impossible to move forward, this small group implemented a series of decisions that were as unlikely as they were courageous.

Recognizing the strategic value of their location near the campus of Millersville State University, they determined that the Church should make an effort to move forward with a new identity and new leadership with fresh vision and energy.

Millersville Bible Church began on June 3rd of 1985 from this little group of people. We are now a large Church with five full time pastors, multiple staff and two sites.

MBC is a healthy and growing congregation with ministry that extends far beyond the borders of the town in which it began!                       

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (Worship and Education facility on 15 acres)

Throughout all the years of growth, we emphasized the seven points below.

  1. Emphasis on qualified spiritual leadership: 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Hebrews 13:17.
  2. Emphasis on unity: Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:14-15; John 17:21
  3. Emphasis on humility in service: Luke 17:10; Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:3-5
  4. Emphasis on every member ministry: Ephesians 4:16; Hebrews 3:12-13
  5. Emphasis on grace in debatable matters: Romans 14:3
  6. Emphasis on loving God by serving others: Hebrews 6:10;10:23-25        .
  7. Emphasis on evangelism, discipleship and salt and light influence: Acts 1:8; Rom.1:16; Matt. 5:13-16; 28:19-20

Steve Cornell

Testimony of a Russian Pastor (audio)

 

We now have the audio presentation available from the Russian Pastor (Bronislav Zilkovskyi) we’ve supported since the early 1990s. 

Not long after I came to the university town of Millersville, Pennsylvania (1985) to start a Church, we began to support a pastor from Russia to start a Church in the Ukraine. I had only been supported full time on a modest salary for about 4 years before we supported Bronislav and his family. More than two decades later, we finally met and he shared a message (through his son as the translator) with our congregation. His words are inspiring. In case you didn’t know, I am the one with no hair in the picture below. The picture we hold was presented to us as a gift from the congregation in the Ukraine. 

Listen to the audio here

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Profile of a Disciple of Christ

Followers of Christ are called to the greatest work on earth: Making Disciples!

Before leaving the world,

“Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NLT).

Jesus repeatedly identified true discipleship and thus defined the task of making disciples. He gave us a great profile of a true disciple in the eight beatitudes and metaphors of salt and light (Matthew 5:1-16). We also learn from Him that a true disciple is:

1. One who openly confesses Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:32-33Mark 8:38II Timothy 2:12-13).

2. One who obeys Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20John 8:31; cf. 14:1515:14Luke 6:46; cf. Matthew 7:21 w/12:46-50.

3. One who suffers for Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23I Peter 2:214:1John 15:18-21Matthew 5:11-12Mark 8:34-3510:29-30).

4. One who loves other believers in Jesus Christ (John 13:34-35I John 5:1; cf. Matthew 10:34-3812:46-50Ephesians 4:3Philippians 2:14-15).

5. One who becomes like Jesus Christ (Luke 6:40; cf. Romans 8:28-29a13:14Galatians 4:19I John 3:2-3)

Steve Cornell