From the Pastor: Hard to do!
What a joy it was this past Saturday to attend the Foundations Conference at our church (And thanks to all those who helped make it possible!). Our church (and others) were challenged that the Gospel must be the center. Always. The star player. The feature piece. The answer and the antidote.
And, as I write this, I am reminded this is truth but oh-so-hard to do. So, I encourage you to read below—as it is not only practical but so, so important for our church.
This week, I was reminded of the closing of the so-called “Crystal Cathedral’ under Dr. Robert Schuller in 2010. As Dr. Al Mohler explains:
In his 1986 book, Your Church Has a Fantastic Future, Robert Schuller provided what he called “A Possibility Thinker’s Guide to a Successful Church.” The book is a manual for a ministry built on pure pragmatism, sensationalistic promotion, a therapeutic message, and a constant and incessant focus on thinking positively.
His message about money was simple: “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems,” he asserted.
It turns out that Robert Schuller offers the best analysis of this crisis with his own words. “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems.” The theological crisis in Garden Grove is far more significant than the financial crisis.
Mohler’s analysis is spot on, in my opinion. When you comb through many types of research and examine why my generation—the millennials (1983-2000)—return to church, they don’t do so because of the “amazing building” or “the great event” or “great music” or “exciting technology.” These aren’t even brought up! The reason many of them stay and stick, generally speaking, boil down to two factors:
- Spiritual growth (why do we / don’t we believe certain things?)
- Relationships (how is this lived out practically and biblically?)
In short: discipleship. These millennials felt attached to community and they were growing in said community.
If you want to draw people to a church gathering—music and media works, no doubt. “Experience church” really works if you want to pack seats and get “super-big” (and there’s nothing sinful with a large church for God’s glory). Yet, if your goal is to entice people to a true, biblical community, then the hard work of empowering in community and spiritual growth is necessary.
To repeat, church: It is hard work. But it is the work Scripture calls us to. It is the work of the Gospel ministry—of being Gospel-centered from diapers to big decisions.
Isn’t it odd that most churches nowadays are based loosely upon on a drawing aspect of Christ’s ministry?
Think about it: Getting people to church and doing Gospel ministry don’t have to be polar opposites. However, the drawing aspects of Jesus’ ministry weren’t just meant to draw people. When Jesus fed the 5,000 (Matt. 14:13-21), it wasn’t just about attracting a crowd, performing a cool stunt, and wishin’ and hopin’ it impressed enough people to stick around. No, Jesus’ feeding—like all of his ministry—was about showing God’s power to provide and about attesting to the provision of eternal life inside the kingdom.
I was gratefully reminded this Saturday at the conference that “Jesus really loves the stuff you love” isn’t the message of the Gospel.
What you win them to is what you must keep them to. (How someone comes to Jesus is what you have to keep up to keep them there.)
If we’re focused on numbers, that may not matter to us (and it is not bad to count and prayerfully analyze (Acts 1-2) – just don’t make it the trust). But if we’re focused on the call to discipleship, it will matter. Probably doesn’t matter in how most modern churches measure effectiveness and success. But, to be honest with the Bible, it matters greatly in how we keep track of success and effectiveness.
Church, as we grow closer to Christ and grow together in 2017, we may have to nail some very cherished things to the cross. But may it all be for his glory!
Will you pray for churches (and ours) in this aspect?