Harnessing the Mystery of Jesus to Grow our Churches

Growth depends on it.
Jesus was unashamed of it.
Culture needs it.

Our churches can grow by embracing the mystery of Jesus.

Jesus did not make truth plain, he made it present.
In contrast, many church growth strategies are dependent on making it easier to follow Jesus and on their lowering the barrier between church and culture. The results may look something like a seeker friendly service that makes finding a little too straightforward, and the answer a little too plain.

But growth is not easy. Growth escapes the skill of the planter and the best intentions of the waterer. It cannot be controlled or turned into a science, and church history is littered with the laments of those unable to ensure that it happens.

Growth isn’t easy. It is mysterious. The baby is knit together in the womb, and the plant stretches to the sun independently of the gardener. And herein lies an often overlooked strategy for growth:

Churches grow by harnessing the mystery of Jesus

My own infatuation for the non-mysterious was quenched after I attended a high anglo-catholic service and remarked that it was culturally irrelevant and inaccessible. A kind (and patient) friend responded by stating that this presentation of the other-worldly was precisely what this culture needs.

I have since discovered that we need unchanging patterned pillars to obscure our daily dose of a thousand adverts. We need a shield of divine signs to resist the bombardment of human commercials, the screens that tug and tempt and the noises designed to distract.

Here, the quiet significance of an old church and the weight of an ancient liturgy is the easy yoke that may guide millions to one who will truly ease their burdens.

Jesus the Obscure

Jesus stands as an obscure sign against the “ease” of the smartphone. He is the stumbling block that disrupts our effortless scrolling. His marred body heals the wounds caused by our affinity with shallow beauty. 

The mysteriousness of Jesus isn’t exclusive. It is at once hidden and accessible, like an intimate gathering around a hearth that is hidden from the public but remains open to the outsider. So many beautiful things are difficult to access - Shakespeare, a mountaintop - but that doesn’t make them exclusive, it just means we need a good guide to help us access their beauty. The gospels, too, are far from plain in their fourfold witness, they reach and grasp the Christ in their humanness, and tell of humans reaching and often failing to grasp him. They don’t explain, they invite.

Here the jarring dissatisfaction of Mark’s shorter ending begins to make sense. Their witness needs to be inflected with the courageous belief of the reader as they join, or ignore, the women in their fear and trembling. 

More often than not, the Incarnation made God less-clear and frustrated the expectations and clarities of neat theologies. The Incarnation made God accessible - while also hiding him from the prying eyes of the haughty.

How does your church grow?

So while many think that churches grow by lowering the barrier between church and culture, I think that there is also a case for heightening it with mystery. Mystery creates, within the church, a place that stands against oppressive ideals and shallow morals, a place where people may abide with a deep saviour. A seeker friendly church doesn’t make it easy to find Jesus, but preaches that he is worth finding.

How can your church make discipleship seem worth it instead of easy?

How can your Sunday worship service contend with consumerism?

Are your small groups both intimate and invitational?

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