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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Secret of Congregational Growth

(This sermon on the Haftarah of Parashat Ki Teitzei was preesented September 2, 2006, at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills. CA. It calls for a paradigm shift in how we view the challenge of congregational growth.)

What is the secret of congregational growth? Scripture supplies us with an answer to this question in today’s Haftarah reading, Isaiah 54:1-10.

1 "Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married, says the LORD. 2 Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities. 4 "Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. 5 For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.

6 For the LORD has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. 7 For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8 In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the LORD, your Redeemer. 9 "For this is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. 10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

The fundamental secret of congregational growth is the intent of God. Here, with the people of Judah in a sorry state, preparing to eventually go off into exile, God says, “That’s not going to be the end of the story! I will bring you back and your going to have to knock down some walls because you are going to expand, expand, expand."

The only difference in Judah’s situation was to be the intent of God.

We read in the Psalms, “Unless ADONAI builds the house, its builders work in vain. Unless ADONAI guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain” [Psalm 127:1]. So all of our efforts at building the household of God would be futile, were it not for the intent of God that it should be built.

But can we know that this is His intent?

The building of the household of God has always been at His initiative. Even when David wanted to build a house for God, God said, “No.” But God DID want a house for His name built; just not by David, but by his son, Solomon.

And in the wildnerness, it was the Lord Himself who told Moses and the children of Israel to build him a Tabernacle—even providing the blueprints Himself.

But what about us? Well, there’s just two more passages I want to look at with you this morning. The first is in Matthew 16, beginning in verse 13.

13 When Yeshua came into the territory around Caesarea Philippi, he asked his talmidim, "Who are people saying the Son of Man is?" 14 They said, "Well, some say Yochanan the Immerser, others Eliyahu, still others Yirmeyahu or one of the prophets." 15 "But you," he said to them, "who do you say I am?" 16 Shim`on Kefa answered, "You are the Mashiach, the Son of the living God." 17 "Shim`on Bar-Yochanan," Yeshua said to him, "how blessed you are! For no human being revealed this to you, no, it was my Father in heaven. 18 I also tell you this: you are Kefa," [which means `Rock,'] "and on this rock I will build my Community, and the gates of Sh'ol will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven." 20 Then he warned the talmidim not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Now, in this passage there are a few things I want us to note.

First, coming to the knowledge the Yeshua is the Messiah is central and it is supernatural.

Second, this certitude that Yeshua is the Messiah is foundational to the community he wants to build.

Third, Messiah IS building his community.

Fourth, even the gates of hell will not overcome it. It is meant to be a dynamic and prevailing community.

Fifth, this kingdom is one with spiritual authority.

Sixth, there was a time when it was in eclipse, but no longer. It is interesting to note that the passage begins with the supernatural recognition that Yeshua is the Messiah, and ends, in verse 20 saying, "Then he warned the talmidim not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah." This was because the time was not yet for Him to be fully revealed. Yeshua wanted to strictly monitor when things were to come to a head with Him being betrayed, crucified, buried, risen and ascended. He told the talmidim not to say anything yet.

But "yet" has come. Yeshua has been betrayed, crucified, buried, risen and ascended and the time is now for Him to be revealed, no longer in eclipse.

The intent of God, the intent of Messiah, the intent of the Spirit is clear—to build a holy community on the foundation rock of Yeshua the Messiah.

How is that to be done and what do we have to do with it? Let’s look at another passage, in Ephesians 4.

7 Each one of us, however, has been given grace to be measured by the Messiah's bounty. 8 This is why it says, "After he went up into the heights, he led captivity captive and he gave gifts to mankind." 9 Now this phrase, "he went up," what can it mean if not that he first went down into the lower parts, that is, the earth? 10 The one who went down is himself the one who also went up, far above all of heaven, in order to fill all things.

In the building of His community, God has given to each of us graces—the word is charis—empowerments from God that contribute to the growth of the Messianic Jewish community—built on the rock of faith in the Messiah.

11 Furthermore, he gave some people as emissaries, some as prophets, some as proclaimers of the Good News, and some as shepherds and teachers. 12 Their task is to equip God's people for the work of service that builds the body of the Messiah, . . .

Some people have leadership gifts—gifts for training others. That includes me—I am a teacher, a shepherd, an equipper of God’s people, as are other elders here and scattered throughout the communities of God's people.

So we see here that there is a three way partnership: God is the architect and builder; teachers and shepherds are the contractors; and the rest of the community is the workforce, and all the gifts and abilities necessary to get the job done are divinely provided. But what is the job?

13 until we all arrive at the unity implied by trusting and knowing the Son of God, at full manhood, at the standard of maturity set by the Messiah's perfection. 14 We will then no longer be infants tossed about by the waves and blown along by every wind of teaching, at the mercy of people clever in devising ways to deceive. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in every respect grow up into him who is the head, the Messiah. 16 Under his control, the whole body is being fitted and held together by the support of every joint, with each part working to fulfill its function; this is how the body grows and builds itself up in love.

The goal is not only the numerical growth of the congregation, but also its communal maturation—the body building itself up in love. Maturing as people, becoming more like the Messiah, the perfection of human potential.

So where does that leave us? A few thoughts:

(1) God’s intent is clear. It is supernatural yet entirely normal for congregations to grow in size and in depth.
(2) He provides the means whereby this happens—giving all the training and all the gifts necessary to get things done.
(3) If congregational growth is normal, and atrophy is abnormal, then we must ask ourselves—what are we doing to hinder the intent of God?
(4) Suggestion—it is as each of us does his part that the normal process of growth occurs: “Under his control, the whole body is being fitted and held together by the support of every joint, with each part working to fulfill its function; this is how the body grows and builds itself up in love.
(5) So the final question for all of us is this: If everyone in the congregation was as involved as I am, what would that mean?

The secret of congregational growth is the intention of God. The only question for us is, are we going to get in the way of God’s intent being accomplished? Or will we get with the program?