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Church Growth is Dead?

Pastor Marty Fields of Westminster Presbyterian Church believes that it is:

The first crack in the church growth edifice came a couple of years ago when church growth advocate George Barna expressed frustration that – since the full-blown implementation of church growth principles 20 years ago – there has been no net growth in the Christian church to speak of; in fact it has declined in America. He found that mega-churches have both a big front door and an equally large back door.

All mega-churches seemed to have accomplished is to kill off smaller churches that resisted the temptation to compromise Biblical Christianity.

The final nail came when Willow Creek Community Church – the “Mecca” of the church growth ideology – recently released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, on staff at Willow Creek, conducted the study. The conclusion? Senior Pastor Bill Hybels said, to his credit, “We made a mistake.” They didn’t make disciples – they made dunces.

Read the whole thing here.

But, the real question is “What will those churches driven by the spirit of pragmatism learn from this?”

A rebuke worth noting

“When you have to come to a Methodist for a biblical sermon, that’s pitiful.”

HT: Pistueo

Those are the sobering words of William H. Willimon, a self-designated liberal preacher who offers a well-deserved rebuke of “conservative” preachers who, despite all their arguments for “connecting”, meeting “felt needs”, “contextualizing”, and (insert fadish buzzword here), have ended up sounding indistinguishable from liberal preachers. When a liberal preacher tells you that you sound like a liberal preacher, that is not to be taken as a compliment.

The primary responsibility of the Church is to proclaim God’s Word. Of the ministry of preaching God’s word, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it well, “The Church is a special and specialist institution and this is a work that she alone can perform.” In other words, there will always be other agencies that will provide social aid, but there is no other institution that can deliver the Gospel. There exists no other agency whose chief purpose is to tell men to “fear the Lord and keep His commandments.” Whatever other obligations exist for the Church for its fellow man, if it refuses to proclaim of God’s Word it is a useless institution which can be replaced by a hundred or even thousand others secular institutions.

What is commonly thought of these days as being new and innovative is neither new nor innovative. It may have new flash and greater special effects, but it is not new. The argument we hear is usually along the lines that, Man is different than he was a generation ago. He is more sophisticated. He is more technologically savvy. Therefore, the Church must reach out to that person. We must meet the felt needs, the concerns, the struggles because he is struggling as he has never struggled before.

Such an argument could have been given 40 years ago, even a hundred years ago, and it would have been no different in principal. In fact, this argument has been used for the last hundred years. Social Gospel and other experiments have been around for a long time.

The problem is that the argument is always based on the same fundamental error. Man has not changed. He is still sinful, still seeks to overthrow its Creator, and still seeks to be a law unto himself. God has not changed. He still rules as Sovereign Lord, His holiness still demands justice for sins wrought against Him, and He still meets the deepest needs of those whom He has created.

The Gospel confronts the sin and cuts through all excuses and arguments and subjects all men to the authority of God. The Gospel was not intended to alleviate a poor self-image. It was intended to bring those who are made in the image of God to repentance, that they would become worshipers of God. And the only means of this life-giving message comes from God’s people who proclaim the Scriptures and preach salvation to men.

It is a difficult ministry. It is a despised ministry. It is not a ministry for anyone else but Christ’s Bride. She must be faithful to deliver the message of her Husband.

Willimon observes,

We need biblical preachers now, more than ever, to remind us that “He who sits in the heavens laughs” (Psalm 2:4) over our kings and kingdoms. God, not nations, rules the world.

Indeed we do. And I will echo Willimon’s sentiment that when a self-designated liberal preacher needs to soundly rebuke biblical preachers for not being biblical preachers, there is little more needed evidence that many preachers are in need of repentance and must once again desire to faithfully execute their primary responsibility.

And Jesus said to him, “Starve my lambs”

In contrast to John Ryland’s profound thoughts on the office of Christian preacher, I would like to share a clip from a modern pastor who mocks nameless congregants for wanting to go deeper into God’s word:

HT: The Museum of Idolatry

In this clip, after mocking the congregant by using a derogatory word against them, Perry Noble, demonstrating pastoral patience and concern, tells this audience of 2000 pastors, “You know what I tell them? I tell them, ‘Your only as deep as the last person you served.'” He then implies threatening to look at their tithing and service record to “see how deep you are”.

Later he accuses the motive of the congregant(s) stating that the reason why they want him to go deep is so that he would stand up on Sundays and “confuse the heck out of you so you don’t have to apply what I teach on Sundays — I could do that.”

Contrast that with John Ryland’s comment about pastoral ministry for a moment, “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher are to restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men…”

What a contrast! How many of the flock are starving for the greatness of God, wanting to feast upon His presence in worship only to find that their shepherd is too lazy to lead them to the green pastures?

What should Christian worship look like? Is it not compared to a feast wherein a soul is satisfied? Consider Psalm 63:

Psalm 63:1 A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. 3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. 4 So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. 5 My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.

“My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness…”. Is this what we hear Mr. Noble telling other shepherds? The picture David gives us is a contrast of starvation and thirst in a barren land.

Living in the Arizona, I can relate to the picture of thirst very well. I have been on hikes when there was no water around and it was very hot. Knowing that I would need to walk another quarter mile before any water is available can be anguishing and frustrating as I long for that moment of refreshment. And when it comes, there is grace or dignity. There is only ravenous drinking until I am satisfied.

David pictures himself in a barren land and when he finally comes to the presence of God he gorges himself. Nothing can satisfy him like being in the presence of God.

This is the great responsibility of a Christian pastor. He provides the Word of God so that the people may gorge themselves in great and holy worship of God. He is not to berate his people for being ravenous in their appetite. The infinite God alone can satisfy the deepest spiritual longings.

1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

Be thankful for the diligent preparation of your pastor if he works hard at preaching and teaching. Be sure to encourage him that he is doing the Lord’s work and faithfully executing his charge. It would be easier for him to pass on this responsibility and simply provide heart-rendering stories or self-help style homilies, but if he labors to bring forth the “whole counsel of God” thank him personally, and thank the Lord for him. And then pray the Lord will raise a thousand more like him.

S. P. Tregelles Has a Word for Today’s Post-Evangelicals on Sentimentalism

S. P. Tregelles was one of the most noted 19th century Greek scholars. His observations back then still holds true today. He keenly writes,

[I]t has been painful to hear earnest and real desire definitely to study the Word of God regarded and termed by some, as being “occupied with the letter of Scripture.” But do those who say this know what they mean? They speak of principles, and of having their minds occupied with Christ; but how do we obtain true principles except from God’s revelation in the Word? and how does the Spirit lead the mind to be occupied with Christ, except from the definite truth of Holy Scripture? In fact, those who thus speak, putting the spirit in contrast to the letter, appear not to know what they are discussing; and as to Scripture itself, by paying but little heed to what they call “the letter,” they really disregard so far what the Spirit has there set forth. “But oh! (they say) this head-knowledge, this intellectual study of truth! how it lead our minds away from Christ!” It is true that there may be mental intelligence with but little spirituality; but it is equally true that if we obey God we shall never neglect the words of His Scripture.

Of course, with this tone of feeling, all critical study of Scripture is decried; it is deemed a waste of time. Even the study of the Word of God in the original Hebrew and Greek is spoken of as if it were a secular occupation. The English Bible is thought to be enough for teachers and taught alike; and thus they remain alike uninstructed. And if the original languages are looked at, exact scholarship is deemed superfluous. How different is this from the real study of God’s Word; from using and valuing each portion, however minute, as being from Him, and as being that of which He can unfold to us the meaning by the teaching of His Spirit…. All diligent and careful inquiry, and laborious examination of authorities, so as to know what were the very words in which the inspired writers gave forth the Scripture, is regarded as merely intellectual and secular. But is this a healthy tone of thought? Should not those who believe in the Divine authority of Holy Scripture know that they ought not to neglect its critical study? And if it be truly inspired, ought they not to feel that it is of some importance to inquire what is its true text—what, as far as existing evidence can show, were the very words in which the Holy Ghost gave it forth?

Most difficult is it to arouse Christians in general to a sense of the full importance of critical study of Scripture; and especially is this the case when dreamy apprehensions are cherished, and where vague idealism has taken the place of truth, and sentimental asceticism is the substitute for Christian holiness.

There may be an external knowledge of Scripture where there is no spiritual life or light; but that is no reason for cherishing what is supposed to be spiritual in contrast to the words of inspiration. Such a contrast cannot really exist. He who truly loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and is guided by His Spirit, will be the most subject to that which is written in the Word. True acquaintance with Scripture is the best check to mere sentimental emotion. —The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming, 1864, pp. 80-2