Saturday, November 28, 2015

Church Growth 101: Some Things Work And Many Do Not

After forty years in active pastoral ministry, and seventeen years as a church health consultant and coach, having worked with larger and smaller churches, I have a church growth observation, especially for those starting out in church ministry. Some things work for church growth, while many do not. I have used most every evangelistic method ever produced over the years. A few have produced some church growth results. Most have not. The latest and greatest church growth program produces the same continuum of results. Churches can be event oriented, seeker targeted, seeker sensitive, assimilation driven places that see little significant growth. Most churches in America are a few hundred in worship attendance, if that. So, what's the problem and, more importantly, what is the solution?

There are numerous reasons why churches do not grow. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with location, except in a few depressed areas of the country. It also has little to do with decent, biblical teaching and preaching. In fact, church health statistics (from Natural Church Development, would say that churches with the most educated pastoral staff show the smallest growth overall. Some of this is due, no doubt, to a disdain for numbers among some pastors and denominations. They minister to the "chosen" people of God, the committed core of Christendom, and are out for church purity and distancing from the secular world. I am not making fun of these places of ministry, just observing them. But what about those churches and ministries really trying to grow and reach a larger audience for Christ and the gospel?

A misplaced dependence on methods or programming or events. This would be a first reason, I believe, for lack of church growth. People are not attracted, in the long run and to regular church attendance and involvement, because of programming and events. Slick and cool graphics and websites and presentations and catchy videos and production elements in services and other church venues do not, by and large, grow churches. I have been to a number of smaller churches where the very latest and best in technology is used, much to no avail in church growth results. Hundreds and even a few thousand can attend a weekend event at a church or ministry with little or no church growth happening. It's just a big production or event, and that is all. Some churches spend a lot of money on these elements supposedly to produce more people in the pews or chairs of the worship venue, and the result is just more money spent.

Attention to demographics and younger people is not the secret formula for church growth. Let's just read the latest George Barna statistics and do what his organization, or a similar organization, advises, and our church will grow. Not really. Most of the time you will simply displace the older generation paying for these ministry venues. Perhaps if we follow the latest Saddleback forty-day ministry and group programming, we will grow. Despite Rick Warren's glowing claims, many churches do not grow in the long run with such programming. In fact, I have coached churches which have tried every church-wide programming tool known to Saddleback, with little or even negative results. Warren would claim that they did not follow the "rules," but that is not true. If such "proven" methods do not work, then what does?

First, church growth is a God-ordained thing. God grows His Church, His way, with His timing, and His purposes. I do not believe that in the long run you can biblically grow a church, any church. God has to grant His blessing and anointing for such growth to occur. Otherwise, it will either not happen or it will be like a shooting star, a flame that burns itself out. Ask those who have seen their churches mushroom and grow. Most, if truthful, would have to say that the bottom line for such growth is that God has blessed them.

Then, it has to be the right people at the right place and the right time for growth to occur. Don't expect a highly charismatic preacher to grow your church. Don't depend on an awesome and gifted church staff to do the same. With God's sovereign blessing and timing, average pastors with less than stellar staff can grow a church. I read a leadership article quite some time ago about one of the largest and growing churches in America. The pastor frankly admitted he did not know why his church grew and continues to grow. He talked about just watching God work around him and many, many people came to his church and stayed and became involved. Andy Stanley might say his systems and expectations were the real reason for growth. I don't buy that. As important as they are, strong leadership, great systems, and high expectations still don't guarantee church growth.

Am I therefore pessimistic about church growth? No, just doggedly realistic and seasoned about the topic and discussions. Can your church grow? I don't know. It may or may not numerically grow. It may grow to a point and then plateau or subside. It might mushroom and grow beyond your wildest dreams or goals or vision. The key thing I do know is to seek God's will and God's blessing upon your ministry and your church. Do the right things at the right time and with the right people in place. While this will not guarantee church growth, it will be what is right to do. And, isn't that what God really expects of us?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lessons In 40 Years in Ministry: What Do You Learn After the First 20 Years?

Lessons After 40 Years in Ministry
(What Do You Learn After the First 20 Years?)
Carl Shank

Having read Brian Croft’s 20 Lessons from 20 Years in Ministry*, I took off from his lessons, agreeing with many, adding to some, and developing others. The original Croft lessons are labeled (BC). Any developmental lessons to his I have added are labeled (CS).

1. God’s Word is sufficient to build Christ’s Church (BC), but systems matter (CS).
One of the major lessons in church health I have learned after being a church health consultant since 1998 has been that church systems either hamper or help to build the church. God’s Word provides the foundational building blocks and sustains the church, but outdated or understaffed or wrongly staffed systems can throttle a church and actually destroy it or limit its effectiveness.

2. The Gospel is powerful enough to change lives (BC & CS).
Here I fully agree with Brian. There are and have been decent support group materials and programs and retreats that have helped, no doubt. But I have found that faithful teaching and preaching and application of God’s Word is totally sufficient to build good marriages and solve the most intricate and difficult personal problems.

3. An effective pastor is one who feels deeply (BC), and who thinks clearly about people and issues (CS).
Authenticity of emotion speaks volumes to a younger audience looking for reality in their leaders and in their churches. But we must not let emotion override or replace clarity of thinking and planning and calculating. Authentic emotions plus clear thinking gives effectiveness in leadership and ministry.

4. Hang onto your family (BC & CS).
I could not agree more. I began ministry in the days when ministry was all consuming and took time away from family and needed time with kids and spouse. That was a mistake I have regretted with my first child, and have been trying to make it up to him through the years. Family always comes first after God, and ministry is further down on the list of priorities. It is so hard to regain a spouse’s love and trust if you put ministry commitments over your family.
5. Don’t underestimate the value of older members (BC), but understand their limits in growing a church in the modern age (CS).
The older I get, the more I see the wisdom and need of older members in a ministry and a church. However, not all older people think kingdom directed thoughts, and some actually want to practice nostalgic church patterns and programs which do not work anymore, especially for a younger generation. I have learned to avoid those older members stuck in their ways which do not advance God’s work and God’s kingdom.

6. Pursue being wanted, not needed (BC & CS).
John Maxwell has well said, “people don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Every leader and minister is expendable. We need to let go of our egos and our self-proclaimed expertise as ministry goes on. There is always someone better than you are in everything. The sooner we realize this, the better and more effective and blessed our ministry becomes.

7. Don’t neglect your soul (BC & CS).
Good pastors and church leaders first care for their own spiritual condition and health before attempting to care for the souls of others. To do the latter without the former is at best worthless and at worst hypocrisy. You cannot lead where you have not been in the spiritual realm. Self-discipline, self-control, exercising the fruits of the Spirit are crucial to a healthy and lasting ministry.

8. Faithfulness is worth the harshest of criticisms (BC), as long as we understand faithfulness is not the same thing as theological or ecclesiological narrowness or denominational pride (CS).
Like Brian, I have had to make some very hard decisions in ministry and leadership. But I have seen the “faithfulness card” played too often by narrow and bigoted ministers and leaders who claim to follow God just to push their own agendas on people. Good people have been dismissed from churches and ministries because they have disagreed with the leadership. Or they have been silenced or shuttled to the sidelines. We need to make sure our faithfulness to God is really what God wants, not what we think God wants.

9. Authentic brokenness is better than unique giftedness (BC), but this again depends on the type and place of ministry and leadership (CS).
I value and champion authenticity and humility in ministry and leadership. But I also value skills and wisdom in ministry and leadership. Congregations and ministries value authentic brokenness in their leaders, but they still want strength and wisdom and giftedness in their leaders. And they don’t want or value excuses that seem to come from humbleness. They want leaders to lead and with the skill sets to do so.

10. Training men for pastoral ministry is an unspeakable joy (BC), as well as mentoring other leaders in ministry (CS).
I have had the privilege in forty years of ministry to mentor and train and help develop dozens of ministers and other church leaders. This is an absolute joy and fulfillment of ministry. One of my sons is entering professional ministry, and I have had the privilege to see him develop and grow and become a friend of mine, as well as a son, and ask for advice and help.

11. The burden to care for souls is too great for one person (BC & CS).
Amen to this reflection! Care-giving needs to be shared by many gifted people within a ministry or congregation, and not expected only from the senior leader. I have seen a “ranching type” of care giving approach reap vast benefits for the whole of a congregation’s needs and wants. The senior leader trains and organizes and even oversees other caregivers who use their skills and gifts to care for others. This works in smaller as well as larger churches.

12. Pastors will give an account for every soul under their care (BC & CS).
Hebrews 13:17 keeps me humble and often brings me up short in my care for others and ministry to them. I agree with Brian that it is those difficult souls that take the most out of you, but God has given them to you to love and perhaps rebuke and challenge. And there will always be difficult people. I have learned that people are basically the same everywhere, and that the ministry grass is not at all greener on the other side of the tracks or fence.

13. The most crucial pastoral quality might be patience (BC), or at least taking the long view of ministry (CS).
Pastors require many godly qualities, but patience may be the most important because of how it affects other qualities. Patience helps prevent pastors from overreacting. It helps them make decisions and evaluate their church with a long-term perspective and plan in view. We grow in discernment and wisdom when we’re patient, but these qualities are typically absent when we ramrod our agendas through (BC).

14. Be content-driven with music (BC), and flexible with the worship needs of people (CS).
I agree that biblical truth must inform all of our worship, including worship music. That music must also match the communication needs of the people coming to services. And that means often a balance between old and newer forms and formulations of musical styles. Forcing a group of people into a style that does not speak to their worship needs is counterproductive and can be unnecessarily divisive.

15. Learn what not to do (BC) in ministry programming as well as personal priorities (CS).
I believe more clearly now than ever that ministry is like a funnel, big at the inception end and small at the concluding end. We try many things, some good, some not so good, some neutral and some a waste of time in ministry programming and personal achievements. Failure is always an option in ministry programming, so long as it accords with Scripture and seeks to advance the kingdom of God in a certain area.

15a. Not everyone can do everything (CS).
The pastor or minister who thinks he or she can do it all is sadly deceived or mistaken. We all have gifts that differ and gifts that God has distributed to us that are usually different from gifts He distributes to others. We cannot and must not do it all. I have learned through the years that less stress and more productivity in ministry comes from focusing on what you were made to do rather than trying to do what others tell you to do or what you pridefully think you can do.

16. Prayer changes me the most (BC & CS).
I have learned through the years, especially the last twenty years that prayer walks, prayer retreats, taking weekly time off for sustained prayer really do work miracles and solve problems in ministry and churches. The busier you are, the more prayer is needed. I have learned that talking to God and especially listening to God prevents many church catastrophes.

17. Choose battles wisely (BC), and know you cannot win them all (CS).
We need to pick and choose what we fight for and campaign for in ministry and church leadership. Not everything really matters. And, I have learned to lose graciously as well as win graciously. We will not and cannot please everybody, and if one tries to do so, he or she will end up immensely frustrated and may leave ministry altogether.

18. Expect suffering (BC), and plenty of it (CS).
Ministries that matter and lives that matter to God go through plenty of suffering. Nothing really important comes without a great deal of pain and travail. Some of this pain may be brought on by tough decisions, and some of it will come simply through the travails of life and ministry itself.

19. Numbers are not a helpful gauge for determining church health (BC), but they must be figured into church effectiveness (CS).
While nickels and noses are not really the barometer for church wide health and vitality, they should be considered as normal outcomes for effective ministry. As a church health consultant, I fully agree with Brian’s note here, but ministries that attract no one or drive people away in the name of health or so-called biblical purity are misdirected. Healthy churches do indeed grow in numbers and nickels. Not usually into mega-churches or vast campuses but growth in all areas will be noted.

20. Jesus is always enough (BC), and the gospel is always the bottom line and the main thing (CS).
Our worth is not measured by how successful or influential or powerful our ministry has been. Character is always the bottom line here, and character is developed by closeness to Jesus Christ and His gospel. Churches that matter make the gospel the main thing, because at the end of the day, it is the main thing. 

*Editors’ note: The article by Brian Croft originally appeared at Practical Shepherding.
Carl Shank is an executive pastor and church health consultant at Pequea Church in Lancaster County, PA. He has been in the ministry since 1973 and a consultant with ChurchSmart, Inc since 1998. He can be reached at or email at

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision and the Church

A lot of people, from all sides, are responding to the Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage the law of the land. The claim is that this is what the majority of Americans want and desire. After all, recent polls show the majority favoring such a decision for homosexuals. The ploy by that community of people and their supporters is that everyone will want to be a part of history, and not left behind in such history breaking ground. And that includes the church.

Indeed, many Christian churches have given in to the rhetoric, the poor exegesis of biblical texts and contexts, and the "niceness" of those seeking homosexual affirmation and same-sex unions. My prediction stands that the Christian church, including many evangelical churches, will welcome and affirm homosexual people and same-sex couples as a "normal" part of their services and ministries in the not too far future. We will find openly gay people serving in all parts and roles of ministry in our churches. The LGBT community will be fully accepted in the church of Jesus Christ. We will become rainbow-colored churches. This is a tragedy and an open welcome for God's judgment upon the church.

I am an older evangelical pastor, who happens to believe that biblical truth never goes out of style and that there is always right and wrong in all things. The homosexual community will simply wait us out, no doubt, until we die off, and then they can make their presence and influence known in our churches. My son is studying for the ministry, and he and his kids will find a vastly different (and diverse) church in which to minister God's truth and gospel. But before I go the way of all flesh, let me just say a few things about this turn of events.

First, truth is non-negotiable. No matter what the post-Christian world says, truth is absolute, for all time and for all cultures and communities. Certainly, truth must be joined with grace and graciousness for all people in all circumstances. But that graciousness must not compromise or dilute truth, especially biblical truth. God does not operate on a majority opinion, nor on Supreme Court decisions. And the truth of the matter about homosexuality and its tentacles is that it is wrong-headed and sinful. No matter how much we want to re-interpret the plain texts of the Bible on this subject, the preponderance of truth is that openly gay choices and lifestyles are wrong.

Second, same-sex marriage and homosexuality are choices made, not genetically forced upon us so that we can do nothing about them. A lot of talk is made about homosexual desires and how people cannot help being what they are. This supposedly is a defense of openly gay choices and people. However, we all operate by choices. And those choices can be good or bad or neutral. I can choose to smoke or not smoke. Nicotine habits can be broken. Homosexual choices can be broken. To claim I have to be what I was made to be negates the "new birth" and "new creation" that God does in a person's life and choices. We all do what we want to do--just admit this about gay people and same-sex unions.

Third, we live and operate in an increasingly post-Christian and irreligious America. Everybody agrees with this. It's not a thesis or supposition anymore. It is a fact. We have trashed our Christian and biblically based value systems for a humanistic and me-centered lifestyle. Therefore, the Court simply recognized what is true about American culture and values and societal trends. Again, let's just admit this. However, admission of this cultural shift and trend does not make it right or acceptable in our churches. We still need to proclaim and teach biblical truth and standards and the gospel to a dying world.

Finally, life will get worse, not better, for a Christ-follower and a church committed to the truth of Scripture. Such thinking coincides with a Scriptural model of the end times. The letters of the New Testament talk about deception in the last days, and how people will call truth evil and hold to deceptive and false practices. Christ-followers are called to stand their ground. It will be a battle for the hearts and minds of cultures and communities. I predict a day when churches not accepting openly gay people and couples will lose their government privileges. They will be fined for not marrying same-sex couples. Not just dismissed, but openly challenged. Remember the words of Paul the Apostle, "having done all, to stand firm." (Ephesians 6:13)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Principled Relationships

I recently read an email devotional from a man I admire and respect, and have used many of his devotionals in my own life and work. However, I have had to disagree with the following devotional. Here it is:

Stop Living By Christian Principles
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 2 by Os Hillman
Monday, May 04 2015

..."having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Tim 3:5).
God never called you to live by Christian principles. He calls you to live in relationship with the living God, Jesus Christ. One of the weaknesses of the Church today is that we teach people principles without the relationship. 

The western church is big on ten step programs, "how-to" methods and acrostics to illustrate memorable ideas. There is a place for establishing principles to change negative behavior. However, we are not called to have a relationship with principles, but a living God.

Living by principles is the equivalent to living by the law in the Old Testament. It is rooted in the Greek system of learning and is dependent upon our strength instead of being led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Principle-based living is powerless living. This makes our Christian experience a religion instead of a relationship. "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal 5:18). 

We read about principle-based followers in the book of Acts, "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people" (Acts 5:12-14). There was a group of followers who liked being taught but never entered the game.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us about the nature of God and His desire for every believer. 
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Friend, have you been guilty of living a life based on principles instead of knowing the One who authored the principles? Invite Jesus to be Lord over your life and begin to spend time with Him every day. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you through every moment of your day.

I fully agree with the problem of "religion vs relationship," and the need of personally knowing Christ with a vital relationship. What I have a problem with is the trashing of Christian "principles" as if something is wrong with living a principled life.

The Old Testament principles were established as a means of loving and obeying a covenant keeping God. The introductory statement to the ten commandments in Exodus 20 reads: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." God begins the commandments with a statement of redemption and deliverance. The commands are meant to flow from and follow redemption, not to be a substitute for them. It may be true that Israel missed this flow and legalistically followed the commands without savoring and living out the reality of a redemptive covenant relationship with God. And they did not do this well, as we know. But this does not invalidate those principles, which, by the way, Jesus Himself followed and obeyed.

Our own law code is founded on biblical principles, not a Greek-based system of learning. I am glad we are a society resting on principles, not on some kind of experiential, illusive, feeling-oriented relational reality. It is true our American and Western societies have departed greatly from those biblically based principles. That is to our detriment and maybe future destruction.

I am also thankful that many non-Christians I know live "principled" lives. My own deceased father, while never knowing Christ personally and relationally, lived on Christian principles taught to him by his grandparents and other family members. Therefore, he did not steal or murder or covet another woman apart from my mom. He even kept the sabbath. Not out of a relationship with Christ, but out of principled living.

So, I am opting for what I call a "principled relationship." I love Jesus and abide by biblical principles. Both are important and necessary. Why would we want it another way?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Coming Evangelical Division

There is an evangelical division coming! This division has wide ranging consequences and can influence everything from ecclesiology to fundamental doctrines of the Scriptures. It is a division that  can wreck havoc with how churches evangelize and grow and receive new members. It is a new division in the sense that the modern church has not seen it take this shape and form ever. What is this division? It is the division between those who follow the Scriptures concerning the homosexuality and same-sex marriage issues and those who "accommodate" the Bible to include members of the LGBT community into their churches and ministries.

"Accommodation" of the Scriptures is quite serious. It is where theological modernism finds its roots since it plays with direct teachings of the Bible and makes them appear not so direct and plain and applicable. It "enculturates" the teachings of the Bible in these sexual and marriage issues and relegates them to the past or roots them in ancient controversies and challenges to Christian moral teaching. Thus, Paul's very plain warnings against homosexual behavior in Romans 1 are re-read and to be understood in a context of sexual license in the ancient Near East. It is the same thing in the Old Testament when homosexuality is outrightly condemned. Only here the rebuttal comes in many "accepted" evangelical forms--"that's the OT and does not apply to us today," or "that is just for the Jewish people a long time ago," or "the love and teachings of Jesus have eliminated and overcome such harsh teaching." So, homosexuality is fine as long as people "love" one another and why not same sex unions, since Jesus did not really ban them.

The other not-so-Bible based side of this accommodation comes from well-meaning, seeker oriented churches who are trying to attract and capture the unchurched, especially the younger unchurched. Since post-modern people make up their own rules of interpretation and truth, we can apply that to the Bible and it's passages on marriage and sexual orientation. We can accept them "as they are" and HOPE that they, in time, "come around" to embrace biblical Christianity, whatever that may mean. After all, we need to love them for Jesus' sake, and love knows no criticism when it comes to church attendance, church participation and even ministry. We don't want to offend people. We want people to like us and our ministries. This kind of thinking follows the pattern of "light," topically based sermons, geared to the modern, younger mindset. It is always non-judgmental, non-defining, and non-controversial. It tends to be positive, uplifting, easy to follow and relevant to today's millennials. Old concepts and terms like "sin," and "wrath" and "hell" and "judgment" and a slew of others are avoided at all costs.

The excuse used, of course, is that the modern mindset can't or won't understand or pay any attention to biblical terms and teaching. So, we need to "update" the Bible and its teachings to "accommodate" this new generation and their thinking. Many of these churches are large, overflowing with crowds of people mostly illiterate in Bible knowledge. But that's o.k. We will hopefully "get to that" in small groups and classes. Really?? I have yet to see that happen widely and pervasively.

The other side will be those evangelicals who take Scripture and its interpretation and proclamation seriously. These churches and ministries preach and teach the Scriptures, usually in an expositional fashion, seeking to explain and apply passages of the Bible to the modern mindset. Actually, there are some large churches around who practice this manner of ministry. The Bible declares that one man plus one woman equals marriage and that is for a lifetime. Homosexuality is not merely looked down upon but preached against and LGBT people, while welcome, are told honestly and upfront where the church and its teaching stand. Rather than trying to deceive or trick people into the church, these ministries seek to counsel and work with homosexuals so that they forsake that practice and mindset. While many charge these ministries as being harsh and irrelevant, they practice tough love and true biblical understanding and application.

These churches differ from the former often in language, style of teaching, core values and concepts and goals and ministry vision. They, too, want to reach the post-modern, younger, unchurched generation, but with revealed truth and light from the Word of God rigorously taught and applied and lived out in discipleship.

On which side of the divide will you fall?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The REAL Battle in Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood Case

The Supreme Cout began hearing arguments for exemption from the government's mandated Affordable Health Care Act's standard for contraception coverage for all businesses employing a large number of workers. In both the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood's case, the strict evangelical faith rights of the business owners are at stake. This case has created, as you will imagine, no end of comments and remarks, and is a big deal in Lancaster County, PA, where I live and minister. Conservatives are circling the wagons on this one, touting it as one of the most important Supreme Court cases of the decade or even the present time. Again, in our anti-God, anti-evangelical society battle lines have been drawn. Just a couple of comments and a "prophetic" word here.

First, we should beware of distractions. The Court and many will try to argue that to grant these Christian businesses their religious exemptions would open the door to all sorts of future litigation by other Christian organizations, both profit and non-profit. Individual rights will be curtailed and people will be forced into difficult medical situations--all due, of course, to bigoted, biased, narrow-minded Christian people who happen to own businesses. It will seem to the American public that the Court will act in the utmost interest of the individual and on principles of fairness and equal justice for all. I would be surprised if the litigants will win their case based on these so-called "American" principles.

But not so fast. There are a couple of chilling results of a decision against Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. This will be a decision against moral, Christian standards and evangelical views, long held in this country. It will open the door to other kinds of businesses barring biblically centered viewpoints in the workplace and in modern society. It will strike down any semblance of Christ-centered decency and moral retaining walls we once had. It will legalize all sorts of lawsuits against conservative, evangelical businesses seeking to honor God biblically. It will sanction fines against these businesses, real jail time for the owners, and a condemnation of the freedom for such owners to build up a business on their own faith terms.

This is a spiritual battle of immense proportions. Like the homosexual and same-sex marriage recent battles, a defeat will open the floodgate of anti-God inspired thinking and action against evangelicals. We are headed toward Armageddon, at least spiritually and figuratively, if not literally as many believe. I had some friends recently return from Europe where they noted that a pastor was jailed because of his biblical stand against homosexuality preached from his own pulpit in his own church. This is fast coming to America. Evangelical Christians will become a minority element in this society, and their views will be akin to parents withholding medical treatment for a deathly ill child due to their religious convictions. American views have always and will always follow that of their European heritage. We are not as free as we think we are, so it seems!

The other effect a decision against these companies will have is a downturn of Christian entrepreneurs. To be "successful" in business in this country will mean adopting the rules, the standards, the morés of American culture and society's anti-Christian flavor. To be a Christ-centered entrepreneur is to adopt values and standards and "higher" rules lead down by Jesus Christ Himself in the Word of God. To be forced to give these up just to have a prosperous and successful business will be discrimination against Christian businesses and entrepreneurs. But the legal and societal fabric of life will be so much against biblical values that any discrimination lawsuits that do make it to the courtroom will be summarily dismissed.

I repeat. This is a spiritual battle of immense proportion. What is coming down the pike, as I see it, will be pastors silenced, churches fined or even closed down, and parachurch agencies and businesses severely limited and scrutinized by an unbelieving governmental system and the public in general. This is my "prophetic" word, which doesn't require any kind of special gifting to recognize what is happening and going to happen.

Evangelicals have long insisted that the only hope for American is an in-depth revival of the faith in our churches and a resounding taking back of American institutions, government, schools and businesses to the "faith of our fathers." It may be too late for that, however. We may have gone too far, and "Ichabod" is being written over this country by God Himself. If true, we are in for a long, cold and dark season of unbelief and unspeakable tribulation against the children of God. That may be too morose and too "gloom-and-doom" for many. At the very least it will become an America where the evangelical faith many of us profess is in grave danger of disappearing.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Two Views of Pastoral Ministry for Ministerial Candidates

In my forty years of ministry and 15 years of coaching and mentoring churches and Christian leaders, I have noted for some time now two widely disparate views of pastoral ministry. They criss-cross one another at various points, but they indicate two very different views of the pastorate, what is expected, wanted and sought after. One view is indicated by Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley and others in that circle. They are vision-oriented, leadership-driven, energetic, do "big things for God" type of pastors. An indicator of this type of pastoral ministry would be Warren's recent posting about having a God-sized vision --
"Many leaders never achieve the level of influence they could potentially have because they drift through life on autopilot, maintaining the status quo, without a big ambition. They have no master plan, no big purpose, no dreams pulling them along. But if you’re going to be a great leader, you need to dream great dreams. When you stop dreaming, you start dying. If you have no goals, you have no growth. God put it in your mind the ability to think great thoughts and dream great dreams and to have great visions. When you’re stretching and growing and developing, you’re a healthy human being. We grow by being stretched. We grow by facing new challenges. In fact, I would say that if you’re not facing any challenges right now, you need to go find one quick." (Rick Warren's Ministry Toolbox, Jan 30, 2014)
The other view can be represented by Barton Gingerich in his post, "An Alternative to the Celebrity Pastor" --
"The expectation that congregational leaders give off the “right vibe” has become standard in some religious circles. Some churches today assert that a pastor should be an enthusiastic, extroverted purveyor of hilarity, therapy, success, or optimistic activism. These pastors are supposed to be casual, invested with “big dreams” to do “big things for God,” handy at enabling a good time during congregational worship, “innovative” with outreach (i.e. the kids find the pastor sufficiently hip), and—perhaps most important of all—adept in the vocabulary of self-help and therapy. In other words, people want to feel good spiritually, and the pastor is to model that in his own life. I deliberately juxtapose this with George Herbert, who wrote,The Country Parson is generally sad, because he knows nothing but the Cross of Christ, his mind being defixed on it with those nails wherewith his Master was; or if he have any leisure to look off from thence, he meets continually with two most sad spectacles, Sin and Misery; God dishonoured every day, and man afflicted. Nevertheless, he sometimes refresheth himself, as knowing that nature will not bear everlasting droopings, and that pleasantness of disposition is a great key to do good; not only because all men shun the company of perpetual severity, but also for that when they are in company of perpetual severity, but also for that when they are in company, instructions seasoned with pleasantness both enter sooner and root deeper."
In our age of self-indulgence, Herbert’s vision of pastoral self-mortification must be recovered. The parson is the deputy of God to the parish, with authority to dispense that old combination of Word and Sacrament. In his office, he provides care for the souls of his cure, protection from doctrinal error, a model for piety, and an anchor point as leader. The last thing that a pastor needs to resemble in a culture addled with consumerism, distraction, and atomistic individualism is a guide to a theme park. - See more at:  (Worldview Church Digest, Publication of the Colson Center, Jan. 31, 2014)
Both views claim biblical warrant. Both views maintain they love God and love people. Both views want to faithfully minister the gospel of God's grace to people in need. Both views are not age-defined, though Warren might claim more younger ministers than Gingerich. However, there are vast differences to be noted, and these are important as candidates for the gospel ministry prepare for professional ministry roles. How we see ministry, especially pastoral ministry, will guide our training, our reading, our study, our sermon preparations and our congregational service and ministry. And, no doubt that Warren and Gingerich would agree with that analysis.
Warren would say that Herbert's vision espoused by Gingerich is laced with fear-driven rather than humility motivated ministry, confusing contentment with plain laziness, and "little thinking with spirituality." Gingerich would say Warren and others like him have bought into the "bigger is better" voices in church life, confused ministerial leadership with popularity and relativism, and substituted Scriptural sacrificial living with self-indulgent, success-driven modeling. What I find unhelpful for those seeking the path of professional ministry is the "mud-slinging" and "writing off" that go on in such points of view. Perhaps another, more objective, path is needed, especially for those seeking direction for professional, pastoral ministry.
First, everyone in professional ministry must have a specific calling from God for that ministry, whatever it entails and wherever it might be. Some are indeed called to be "country parsons," to be committed to the care of a relatively small number of people, to care for them as they get sick, to marry their sons and daughters, to officiate at family funerals, and to help them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ in their smaller worlds. Some are called to much larger ministries that take aim at world hunger and injustice and seek to address these global concerns with resources and a perspective that smaller ministries cannot hope to accomplish. So the very first principle of successful and God-honoring ministry of any size or type or kind is to know one's calling from God. Warren is therefore wrong to assert that the "country parson" minister or church leader has "stopped growing," or that such ministry does not face challenges that stretch us. A "big" dream for this type of ministry might be providing food or clothing or shelter for five more needy families in their town. He is also wrong about being "fear-driven" rather than humility motivated. This kind of ministry requires an enormous amount of self-sacrifice and personal humility. It is important to remember that Jesus honored the servant with the "two talents" just as much as the one with the "five talents."
However, the country parson minister must not malign or disdain the "big-thinking" type of professional minister either. These professionals are just as much committed to biblical living and values. But they, like ranchers, see groups of sheep rather than just single ones. They care on a larger scale, seeking to reach more people with the message of Christ. Their "mall-like" concerns do not discount the "mom-and-pop" stores around them. Rather, they see their calling to reach many, many people with the life-giving gospel. They want to impact the global needs of poverty and injustice. This is Rick Warren's passion and commitment. In one service they may minister to more unbelievers than the country parson will do in many years or even a lifetime of faithful ministry. One way is not better than the other, just different.
The problem comes in when we try to "cross-breed" the two forms of ministry. While the country parson can learn some leadership principles and helpful insights from the Rick Warren's of the ministry world, this is not their venue of ministry. They need to seek out and attend training seminars that address their needs, their problems, their venues. So, attending the global summit of Willow Creek or the Catalyst conferences of North Point may not be a wise use of their time and energies. It would, however, be a mistake to judge these country parsons of being sub-leaders or poor leaders.
I would exhort both types of professional pastoral ministries to value each other, support each other, pray for each other and stay away from name-calling, bashing or pigeon-holing one another. And for the candidate moving into professional pastoral ministry, be careful of valuing one type of ministry above the other. The leading question you must answer is simply this, What does God want me to do for Him and His kingdom? And be satisfied with the answer and calling you receive.