Pragmatism. Marketing schemes. Church growth tactics. Shock techniques. Raunchy slogans and billboards. Grunge Christianity.
Translation? It misses the point of the church. Unfortunately, these kinds of efforts aren’t the exception to the rule, they’ve become standard practices in many of today’s churches. It’s easy to identify them, because more often than not their objective is to be seen – loud, obnoxiously, and clear by using whatever rubber-neck producing means necessary for their marketing campaigns. With V-neck T-shirts, thick rimmed glasses and skinny jeans, these churches are led by pastors who earnestly believe that this is how you grow your church and make a difference in your community.
But it isn’t.
It’s wrapped up in a philosophy of ministry that’s childish, foolish, and quite frankly, insulting to the Lord of the church. It shows the immaturity of the church’s leadership, and evangelicalism is all too eager to pump its energy into anything that seems to draw in numbers. We live in an age of mega-churches, and while many churches give lip service to discipleship and spiritual growth, they don’t practice it. Their leadership is weak, and their congregations are weak. They claim that numbers aren’t the mark of success in the church, but they compromise sound doctrine and the dignified speech suitable for men of God in order to puff up their numbers. Actions speak louder than words though, do they not?
They’ve become an entertainment industry, rather than a faithful ministry. They scoff at those who are faithful, those leaders who have integrity, and call them legalistic or archaic. Then they look to their numbers for verification that what they do “works.”
But they fall short of God’s high calling for His church, and they deny the reality that He is the One who builds His church, and it is through the faithful proclamation of the message preached by the preacher that lives are truly changed.
So, that being said, “WHAT IS THE POINT!?”
It’s really simple.
And the bait and switch approach of the above philosophy of ministry simply doesn’t produce it. The kind of people you will attract are not people interested in true spiritual growth, accountability, purity, or commitment. They flash quickly, and then pursue the next fad.
To make sound disciples, who make other disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples (you get the idea)… you must be committed to faithful endurance that looks nothing like the world. And if you are really interested in making a difference in your community – that’s how you do it.
But if you’re interested in puffing up your ego, your church attendance, your celebrity status, your salary, and so on, while condemning the people in your community, then use a seeker sensitive, edgy, grungy philosophy of ministry.
The church is on a stretch if not on a strain, looking for better methods. But men are God’s methods, and while the church is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men.
– E.M. Bounds
We used to have a professor here at TMS who has since retired, Dr. Alex Montoya. He was (and is) a man of profound one-liners. He would always tell us, a room of young men about to embark into ministry, “Men, grow old fast.” What he meant by that is that we cannot be caught up and engaged in fads and juvenile church growth tactics. We must be men marked by integrity, and maturity, men who model appropriate Christian living before the flock.
Why? Not only is this simply required of pastors in the ministry, but it’s also because it’s the first step of discipleship – modeling what a new life in Christ looks like before the sheep, in stark contrast to the world. Anything less is hypocrisy!
And this is the point that many churches miss, and that many pastors miss. The primary objective of the church and the primary objective of pastors is to make disciples. This is, after all, the Great Commission found in Matt. 28:19-20, which has so often wrongly been used as an “evangelism” text. But it isn’t. Evangelism is assumed in the text, but the command is to “make disciples.” “Go” is actually a participle.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that that I have commanded you.
Unfortunately, many forfeit the importance of discipleship in the church in the name of “engaging the culture” and focus their services on the “unchurched,” while conducting services on their ground and providing messages that meet their needs. This isn’t who, or what the church is supposed to be.
Furthermore, the kind of philosophy of ministry that so many churches have adopted only reflects a bad theology. It wrongly assumes that you can make the Message palatable or engaging, but Jesus promised that whenever we as Christians engage the world, we will be met with hostility if we are being faithful (Jn. 17:14-19). James reflects the same sentiment. In fact, you might even say he makes an even stronger statement:
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).
That’s kind of shocking, and to be honest, I don’t know how much more strongly James could have put it. So, why then do our philosophies of ministry pretend like we can be friends with the world? Can we say that this is dishonest at best?
Many churches claim that they will use these kinds of tactics just to get people inside their doors where they will present them with the life changing Gospel of Christ. Again, this shows another problem with their ecclesiology. The church is for the edification of believers, not unbelievers. In fact, putting on a show to look cool and hip to identify with the world so that unbelievers can feel comfortable in church is a blatant contradiction with what the church actually is – a body of believers.
We need to grow old fast, and we need to be committed to genuine discipleship. It’s a very real problem when pastors adopt shock tactics that even offend the unregenerate. Even pagans can see the incongruity with Christianity when we run edgy campaigns and post grungy signs, and if that’s the case, how faithful are we really being to the Gospel? And what’s more, we need to ask ourselves, “What is God’s way to bring the ‘unchurched’ to church?” Or, are we taking it upon ourselves to change His way?
If you spot a pastor who is willing to take it upon himself to compromise God’s way, RUN! You just spotted the heart of a very prideful man, not the kind of man suitable for pastoral ministry.
Be careful that you don’t fill your building full of people, but leave your church without any.