I’ve hosted two Church conferences as a pastor of a wonderful Church in Plains, Kansas. I’ve led a couple of workshops at a larger conference, and attended many more myself. I’ve traveled to see a church “success story” and read books about many more. I’ve labored to try many of the things I’ve learned in my own ministry.
And I’ve heard many voices in a constant barrage of “What I Think You Need to Do Is…..”
So I’m an insider okay? This isn’t a traditionalist bashing the contemporary. Contemporary is my style. I love it!
This is, however, something I believe the Spirit is putting on my heart concerning the direction and focus of our ministry as churches across America. It starts with a question: (and several more will follow)
If the gates of hell cannot stand against Christ and the Church, why do we believe our own Church will fail unless we can find the next Rick Warren to lead it?
This is one of the most egregious fallacies, and most harmful trends in the Church as a whole: The idea that we have the expertise somehow, or that a particular method or organization has anything to do with the advance of God’s kingdom. As the Bible says to God, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” Psalms 8:4
We have too many “Here’s the Secret to Growing a Church” type books and conferences out there. We only need one book (the Bible) and one conference (the prayer meeting). The rest are hurting more than helping. At least the way we are going about it.
Pastors and church-goers alike believe that if they can just be like Rick Warren or _______________, they’ll become huge churches with thousands of people and will bask in the admiration of others who only wish they could be as good and as big.
Satan has taken the words “Church Growth” and used them to conceal what is actually pride, selfish ambition, and a lack of faith in the power of God. It’s producing hollow, loveless, lifeless, and disheartening churches that fade when the fads die, and turn on themselves when the Sunday morning show attracts fewer people for whatever reason. With increasing regularity, churches blame and replace leaders in the same way the world replaces coaches and politicians and CEO’s. The problem is, churches are starting to replace them for the same reasons.
Ministers are not-surprisingly caught in the same stress and same issues usually reserved for such high-profile jobs in the world’s marketplace. Suddenly pastors are spending far too much of their time on administrative/marketing/public relations/team building/mission-vision statements/putting out fires/and talking during meetings instead of praying. Many Churches are rewriting by-laws to put the staff in charge of everything, and church people expect results. Numerical results. Financial results. They expect Rick Warren results.
What did the apostles concentrate on in Acts 6? Prayer and the ministry of the Word! For some strange reason, their church was growing like mad!
Let me contradict everything you’ve heard: The Bible was NOT talking about a vision statement when the scriptures said, “Where there is no vision, my people perish.” Those words had zero to do with a mission statement, vision statement, vision casting or anything of the sort. Those things come from meetings, discussions, analyzing our purpose, setting goals etc… in short they usually come from man. The same thing happens in the business world during their meetings.
Ever heard of running the church like a business? Me too. In fact, I used to believe in it.
What the Bible was talking about in Proverbs 29:18 was “prophetic vision.” Words of knowledge and direction from God. In fact, “perish” is also translated “cast off restraint.” The meaning is clear. It’s simply not healthy when God’s people don’t hear from Him.
We have so pursued “VISION,” our own ideas of where we are going, and what we should do, and the steps it will take, that we have too often left out the one thing this verse warns us against leaving out: God.
Of course, we do pray and ask God to give us “vision” but in our churches, we don’t give this any weight. If our church leaders aren’t heading the direction we believe is good, we typically do not fast and pray to seek God’s will in the matter. We simply give our opinion in the form of criticism. After all, we’ve read the books, we’ve listened to the “experts” on the radio who do not preach the Word but instead preach a Gospel of the New and Improved, a Gospel of the Organizational Theories (which by the way, are still behind the times in the business world) or a Gospel of the Great Leadership Skills.
Man centered all of it, and it is destroying the Church. We have a form of godliness but we deny its power. We don’t believe it has power unless it comes from us. If a Church fails, do we fall to our knees? Do we fast and pray? Do we continue to serve God with humble hearts and wait on the Holy Spirit to lead us at the right time?
Of course not.
Instead, we fire the leaders, or at the very least, we make life miserable for them. We hold meetings and talk to ourselves 99% of the time and give God 1% with formal prayers which again include us talking and God listening. No time is spent listening to God. He never says anything anyway.
And do we continue to serve with humble hearts? These days struggling churches look more like a sinking ship with everyone trying to scramble off and swim to a different ship. Most church growth ladies and gentlemen, comes from stealing members from other churches.
Despite the warning signs, instead of preaching the Word, we have begun to preach the Church. Our Church. Our Contemporary and modern model of Church. We have even begun to give credit to great leaders and take credit for success ourselves, instead of God. We don’t see a church with success and go home and pray. We see a church with success and try to do what they do. If we thought prayer or God mattered, we’d do it. We’d study Him instead of other churches. Our actions speak louder than our words which give hollow emphasis to prayer. We haven’t prayed all night -ever, but we spend thousands to attend the next Church conference. It’s big business these days.
Our infatuation with Church Growth has become a sin, not because growth is bad, but because we have looked for the answers in man instead of God. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we’d admit we often seek growth with wrong motives as well.
I don’t say this because of any particular situation I’ve gone through, although what I’ve seen in my own experience from time to time is consistent with this. I say this because I talk to preachers, I fellowship with other ministers, I’ve studied Church, read the books and articles, been to the conferences, hosted a few of those conferences, listened to the speakers, and I’ve looked at the Bible. And I too have the Spirit of God.
For instance, what do these verses say about our plans?
13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. -James 4:13-16
What does the next verse say about your Church? (hopefully nothing!)
9Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! -James 5:9
King Solomon worried about a great many things, and he tried a great many things. He settled on what he felt was the most important things. (He WAS the wisest man in history) Many ministers I know or met, wish desperately they could focus solely on the following:
13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man. -Ecc 12:13
When did this suddenly become not enough? When did our focus start becoming my life or my success? When did the Church’s focus become programming with excellence, strategic planning, building programs, writing vision statements, setting goals, making 10 year plans, music styles, marketing campaigns, public relations, political issues, and more and more and more…
Do we even know how we’re doing in the “fearing God and keeping His commandments” categories? Have we made a ten year plan for that? Do we think for one second that God will NOT bless us even if all we did was fear Him, keep His commands, and teach others to do the same??
Are we that dull? That faithless?
Nothing grows a church like a changed life, and no vision statement ever written can compete with the one that is lived out in the lives of God’s people. Besides, no one wants to join a church where there is no joy, and true joy does not come from our success and accolades. Real, lasting joy is the result of a sinner saved by grace who experiences the presence of God through the Holy Spirit.
Even Heaven rejoices when one sinner repents. No word on whether Heaven cares about the particular words used in the vision statement.
So the Secret of Success for Church Growth, in my opinion, is rather simple.
Preach the Word
Live the Faith
the rest is becoming a sinful exercise in a Man-Centered Gospel if we aren’t very, very careful.