Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is This Approach We So Often See What The Savior Had In Mind?

     Do you remember reading the Lord Jesus Christ's promise to His apostles in Caesarea Philippi, "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"? Granted, the Lord makes use of various kinds of means when building His church, but when the right thing is done in the right way by His servants, then it is He who is doing it. That said, I am a bit puzzled by what I see in the way of congregational growth these days.
     Used to be, when a man was called by God to establish a church he would relocate from where he was to where God wanted him and began the laborious task of reaching with the gospel those who would comprise the core of the new church to be built. At least, that is how the Apostle Paul did it. Granted, the church at Antioch was established with a mixture of believers who had been saved and trained in Jerusalem, along with those brought to Christ by those scattered from Jerusalem by severe persecution. But Paul's approach to church planting was a pioneering approach, and not at all like what is commonly the case these days.
     These days a guy moves into an area to engage in what he euphemistically terms "team building" to prepare for the launch of a new church, which is another way of describing what used to be called sheep stealing. It is an effort at skimming disloyal and immature members of sound churches that makes use of offers of better programming in such areas as youth, music, and marketing to attract those already involved in a gospel-preaching church. Thus, it is a way of establishing a new church without any real evangelism taking place. Of course, this sets the course for the future of the church, its entire program of growth based upon attracting members from other churches rather than engaging in the grueling task of contacting, cultivating, and eventually bringing to Christ the lost of the surrounding community. This fruitfulness takes place mostly in small to medium-size congregations, with many of those converts then being siphoned off by slick programs and enticements to family members other than the head of household.
     Having been in the ministry in Southern California for forty years now, I have seen a great deal. One of my observations of many men and ministries confirms my conviction that pragmatism is rampant among putative gospel ministries, existing as developments of two men whose names are now barely known by those most influenced by them. Charles G. Finney had a profound effect on 19th-century evangelism, resulting in such 20th-century phenomena as Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Jack Van Impe among the ranks of the Baptists. Less well known to average Americans are such as Jack Hyles, Jerry Falwell, Jim Harrington, and the entirety of the famous from the Charismatic and Pentecostal groups. These embrace the notion that evangelism is routinely accomplished in ten or fifteen minutes when dealing with someone at his front door who wants to get back to the college football game he had been watching before he heard the hard knock on his door. What is missed is that such an approach almost never results in a conversion to Christ, but sometimes does result in skimming members from another church, a church that is not engaged in outreach who then join the church that is so engaged in outreach, with the new members being used by the aggressive church's leadership as evidence that the approach they use "works."
     As if that oft-used but poorly considered outreach method isn't bad enough, there is another man's influence at work. He was a 19th-century pastor and theologian named Horace Bushnell, who successfully transformed the English Sunday School program from a thoroughly evangelistic outreach of poor unchurched children into an American phenomenon that barely resembled its original purpose. Bushnell's "Christian Nurture" transformed Sunday School into an in-house educational arm of the congregation that was devoted primarily to the children of church attendees. Further, Bushnell was adamantly opposed to frightening church kids with threats of damnation and hellfire unless they repented of theirs sins. Instead, he advocated (successfully) teaching children that they love Jesus despite what God's Word teaches about the unregenerate. Such propaganda invariably led to shallow professions of faith devoid of any grasp of personal guilt and the need for heartfelt repentance when coming to Christ. Now one simply asks Jesus to save him, or accepts Him, with either approach diminishing the stature of the Lord of glory in a real gospel encounter.
     Long story short, pastors who move into a town and claim to be the first gospel witness the city has had (when such is not true), who claim to be the only one in the city who uses the right version of the Bible (when such is not true), and who sets out at the very beginning not to bear fruit but to steal fruit, have little familiarity with the New Testament plan for church planting and building, causing one to wonder how familiar he is with the One who actually promised to build His church.
     I recently celebrated thirty years in the wonderful church where I serve. I have never indicated to anyone that I am the only gospel preacher in the area because I am not. I have never claimed to be the only Bible preacher in the region because I am not. I will not countenance claims that I am a better pastor than someone else or that the church I serve in is a better church than other churches because that nonsense is distasteful to my Lord and I fear for those who employ that approach.
     This is not to say that when preaching I will not name names that need to be named, and point out dangerous ministries that need to be pointed out. The Apostle Paul did, and I do. It is to say that I will not knowingly allow the influences of such men as Charles G. Finney or Horace Bushnell influence my ministry or Pelagius for that matter. It is to say that a minister of the gospel approaches ministry differently when he relies on the Lord Jesus Christ to build His church than does a hireling who employees manipulative methods and unethical practices because he seems himself as the primary agent in his church's numerical growth while caring little for congregational spirituality.