Stay Out of the Church Growth Quicksand by Phil VanAuken


By Phil VanAuken

Many a congregation has learned the hard way that church growth is a two-edged sword.  The benefits and advantages of growth– more members, more ministries, more money– are obvious and inviting.  Less obvious are the potential costs of overextended facilities and resources, possible staff/volunteer burnout, and the climate of disruptive change.  Church growth is a complicated phenomenon that raises new problems and thorny issues not all congregations are ready for.  Let’s turn our attention to some of the tougher questions raised by church growth. Read More

Sermon: Walking in Unity (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Walking in Unity

 Ephes. 4:1-6 (ESV) 

    I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  [2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  [3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  [4] There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- [5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  [6] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 


The first three chapters of Ephesians are behind us.  They were mostly doctrinal in nature.  They taught what things we are to believe.  If one is to behave correctly, one must believe correctly, otherwise one is engaged in a religion of works not obedience from the heart.  Paul is going to show us in the remainder of the book how it is we are to live out these great truths.  He moves from theology to practicality.  Proper theology (orthodoxy) should always lead to proper living (orthopraxy).  If it doesn’t then there is something wrong with the theology or our understanding of it.  Read More

Sermon: Powerful Praying (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Powerful Praying

Ephes. 3:14-21 (ESV) 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

[20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


Have you ever started to pray and before you were finished, you were thinking about something else?  The other day someone called me on the phone and asked me to pray for a young lady they knew who was struggling.  As I prayed for her I was also thinking about some useful counseling resources.  That led me to think about seminary where I received my counseling degree…that led me to think about where we lived and our daily routine…that led me to think about walking across the railroad tracks to class…and that led me to think about smashing pennies on the tracks…Oh how we get distracted.

Paul began a prayer in Ephesians 3:1 but was quickly led to contemplate the riches of Christ.  His distraction was much better than mine.  Now he is back to his prayer and he sort of picks up where he left off.  From verses 3:2-3:13 he was lost in the riches of Christ.  Now he is back on planet earth and busy praying for the churches. Read More

Sermon: The Mysterious Gospel (Ephesians 3:1-13)

The Mysterious Gospel

Ephes. 3:1-13 (ESV) 

    For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles- [2] assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,  [3] how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly.  [4] When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ,  [5] which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.  [6] This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

    [7] Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.  [8] To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  [9] and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,  [10] so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  [11] This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,  [12] in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.  [13] So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.


Four times in this passage Paul uses the word mystery.  I love a good mystery.  I love to watch movies that don’t unravel till the end.  It’s a good movie if you’re kept on the edge of your seat and then at the end it all makes sense.  That’s what the word means today.  However, that’s not exactly what Paul means by the word mystery here in this text.  For Paul, he uses this word to express something beyond natural knowledge, but has been opened to us by divine revelation through the Holy Spirit. Read More

Sermon: Christ’s Work of Reconciliation (Ephesians 2:11-22)

Christ’s Work of Reconciliation


Ephes. 2:11-22 (ESV) 

    Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands- [12] remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  [15] by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  [17] And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  [18] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  [19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  [21] in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  [22] In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

As we begin to unpack these verses, let’s notice together how the Apostle Paul is moving us along. In this section of Scripture he wants the Ephesians to remember where they once were. Like the section found in Ephesians 2:1-10 where he taught that we were once dead and God brought us to life. Here, he wants us to see that we as Gentiles were once separated from God, alienated but because of Christ we are reconciled to God.

The key focus in this text is reconciliation. Wayne Grudem defines reconciliation as…The removal of enmity and the restoration of fellowship between two parties. In our text today, restoration happens between man and God and between man and man. Christ has removed the enmity between us and God. He has taken our sin away and He has performed His mediatory work bringing us back into fellowship with God. Read More