Thursday, September 07, 2006

dissension & division

I have mixed emotions about this Wall Street Journal article entitled. . .

A Popular Strategy For Church Growth Splits Congregants

I'm not a big fan of the Purpose Driven stuff because I don't think you can do ministry "out of a box." Leaders of local congregations must, through prayer and planning, determine what ministry looks like in their particular and unique settings. I think that anything which moves us away from the centrality of the Gospel and systematic, straightforward Biblical teaching is suspect and problematic. Yet at the same time, I also think its important to look for ways to connect. Relevance is not the "end all, be all," but there's no excuse for stodgy, boring, mediocre, "stuck in the mud" ministry either.

Change is such a delicate matter, but I think its inevitable. Church splits grieve me. I empathize with older folks who, with change, feel disenfranchised in the churches they built. I also empathize with Pastors who are trying to lead, looking to the future and trying to invest in the next generation.

All in all, its a sad article and, like I said, it stirs up mixed emotions in me.

What are your thoughts?

I know well we're not immune from similar issues here at Grace. Sometimes it feels like they're bubbling just below the surface in our intergenerational life together.

What's your read?

Makes me think of Paul's plea in Philippians 2. . .

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. -Philippians 2:1-2
Unity is something we must never take for granted. We must work for it and strive for it. The key is learning to live the Gospel with one another.

Lord, give us the same mind, the same loves, the same purpose here at Grace. Grow and guard our unity for your Name's Sake and our good!
(Hat Tip: David Leece and Todd Talley who separately sent me this article. Thanks guys.)


Tim Weaver said...

Having gone through a church breakup, it breaks my heart. It is such a painful process to watch people that you have been pouring your life into serving and serving with turn against one another or against you.

Keep us going through the Word. Preach all of it. Keep us looking at the Lord and the cross. I'll promise to open my mouth if I don't see that happening.

The Word is always relevant because we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior every single day.

"More than a dozen church members, including the Joneses, began meeting privately to complain about changes."
This is where things CAN get ugly. Ask the Israelites who spent 40 years in the desert about what happens when you start complaining, especially complaining in private.

Brianna Heldt said...

This was an interesting article. I think there will always be church "issues" because church is full of people. :)

Sometimes I wonder if we were each busier loving the lost, feeding the hungry, sharing Christ, maybe we'd have less time to be upset over what songs they're playing or how the pastor is dressed. American Christianity seems so focused on "church" as a Sunday activity and focal point that we easily forget that as Christ's bride we ARE the church. How exactly we spend an hour at the beginning of each week, though important, seems small compared to the calling Christ has on each of our lives.

I don't know a lot about Rick Warren (except that he wrote the Purpose Driven stuff) but I so admire and applaud him and his wife for what they've done in Rwanda. I thought this article made him sound pretty lame, but from what I've read he has a huge heart and is doing so much to help those truly in need.

GDL Wong said...

I concur with Brianna. Think of the nit-picks and time wasted over the misguided desire for 'growth'.

I think that Christians are falling into the mentality of this world of 'daily-fret'. Just like watching the stock market and how it affects your 401k. The numbers don't matter much on a day to day basis as much as the larger economic picture. The same goes with church size: would you rather have 20,000 people in attendance and find everyone of those people struggling or a church of 50, but you find a William Wilberforce, John 'Praying Hyde' or Billy Graham? Quality will bring quantity, but quantity doesn't mean quality.

To Rick Warren's credit, what God showed him -- it's a blessing from God. In last weeks, FOX NEWS report, Mr. Warren said his Purpose Driven Life book is nothing new, hasn't been said by Christianity. I am concern that churches think you can 'formulate' growth. It's an organic, and spiritual work that's not in the hands of men, but the Spirit of God.

The key of growth that Christian leaders and churches forget is the growth of the heart. TRANSFORMED LIVES is where leaders and churches should be concerned with. CONSIDER THIS: A man, a mouse made it's mark in today's world: DISNEY. Now think of this, a man and God....what an impact that would be!!

Kevin Heldt said...

I very much agree that church "issues" are ugly and painful. As has been said, it's a tough balance between holding firm to what's important and being gracious with others and open to new things. Most of the drama I've personally been involved with has fallen in the "lack of grace" category which I think overall is more common.

I think Brianna made a great point about how so much is made about the "church service" itself. Matthew 23:23 contains some pretty hard-hitting words from our Lord about how even important things can very easily overshadow even more important things. And I understand that many of the divisions referenced in the article go deeper than worship format touching on things like the sufficiency and centrality of the Word, etc. But I do think we, especially, in prosperous places like the US, tend to focus too much on "the former."

On a somewhat related note, I wonder often why it seems that so much of our focus and energies go into making the Sunday morning machine run. Why IS preaching the centerpiece of the church's worship? Why do we define our church by what takes place on church grounds for a couple of hours each week? These really are questions, not judgements as I'm trying to figure this stuff out. Seemed like as good a place as any to initiate a dialog.

I too thought the article made Rick Warren out to be a total nincompoop which is in stark contrast to the last article I read about him. You can read that one here:

In fact, Brianna and I came away from reading this one willing to give his book another shot -- we made it to day 5 of 40 when we started it several years ago. Today is day 3 of this go-round so you can all let me know if we seem more purpose-driven soon.

Pastor Tim Theule said...


I hope that most of our energies don't go into making the Sunday morning machine run. We better have more energy than that. I do believe MY (and a few others) calling is to make the Sunday morning machine run.. . . that is, to lead the gathered assembly of the people of God at Grace in worship. I hope that what happens for a couple of hours each week is not the ONLY thing that defines us.

But. . . why IS preaching the centerpiece of the church's worship? I believe this fact is both Described and PRESCRIBED in the New Testament and throughout the Bible.

Read, for example the book of Acts and there we discover that when the Word of God was increasing the church was growing quantitately and qualitatively. The early church's life is described as being centered the Apostles teaching. (Acts 2)

Read Ephesians 4:11-16, where Paul says that God has given to the Church "apoostles, prophets, pastors and teachers" for "the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." Paul goes on there to talk about the importance right doctrine.

Read 1 & 2 Timothy, which I think are manuals for church life and notice how Paul defines the pastor's role as preacher/teacher and protector of doctrine. Paul's dying charge to a young pastor is "Preach the Word" even when people don't value it and want something else (in season and out of season). (2 Timothy 4)

Both Jesus and Paul described their roles as Preachers. Jesus said, "This is what I came to do.)

Whenever revival has swept through the church in Biblical and Church history it has always been sparked by a return to sound Biblical preaching. (Nehemiah 8)

Romans 10:14 actually teaches that when God's Word is really preached, God's voice is really heard. This is the great mystery of preaching. . . that God stoops to speak through men.

I believe that God's primary means of shaping, motivating, and moving His people by His Spirit is through the preaching of His Word. Study the Scriptures and you will see the close relationship between Spirit and Word. The preached Word, I believe, is even more important than the personally studied Word. Indeed it is the preached World which sustained the church throughout the long centuries of illiteracy.

So Sunday morning where the preaching of God's Word is the centerpiece, is not the end of our life together, but the beginning and the center of our life together. . . . the place where God's voice is heard. . . where we learn and grow and are built up and are equipped. . . where God motivates His people by His Spirit. . . its where the Gospel is exalted, explained and applied to the body of Christ. . . and we desperately need to hear the Gospel again and again and again for its the POWER of God for salvation.(Romans 1:17. (How's that for a run-on!)

Our doctrine defines us and unites us. God is a God of truth. He's the one who seems to place the premium on the centrality of the Word.

Your quesitons are good ones, Kevin. The way I understand these matters explains and defines my calling. I think its essential that we're on the same page on these matters. Let us a people like the people of Nehemiah's day that shout, "Bring out the Book."

I hope that's helpful. I don't think this is a Western focus, I think its the Biblical focus.

Now, granted, I have a vested interest in seeing things this way. . . :)

GDL Wong said...

I think this is a great discussion and like to throw my reason why I think Rick Warren's book is so popular: I believe Christian church got into a rut - the reason why? I don't know, but I got a few theories. Rick Warren's book is popular because many Christians are not finding the vitality, life, power and destiny in their lives because of lifeless preaching.

Other than being saved, alot of Christians see their lives pretty much like the unsaved.

Why that isn't happening is the lack of good anointed preaching/teaching or it could even be seminaries contributing to the idea of pastors being a 'career' rather than a calling. If you have pastors who are seeing it as a career - it's just good words, but it won't transform lives but feed head knowledge.

I even heard of pastors downloading sermons from yahoo on Saturday nights. As a result, the vision, and organic working of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ is diminished and church is viewed as a 'thing I do' on Sunday to satisfy my good conscious as a Christian.

Sundays is worship, and it's a calling. It's also a place of spiritual vision and food where all the body of Christ should come away with a sense of destiny/power for their lives and living the gospel.

1 Cor. 12 states clear the body is made of many parts, and all have signficant importance and contribution. I hear way too many Christians who feel that a pastor has the 'insight' into the word, or some secret 'access' to God and they can just sit on the sidelines thinking they have nothing to contribute. This mentality - I think - stems from 'professional pastors' who like the fact the congregration esteems them as privy to the things of God. All of God's people has a special calling in their lives. They all have an open door to the God Himself and He does have a purpose, destiny for them: to be like JESUS. Of course, you do have some congregation members who like the idea of the pastor doing all the work because they are comfortable where they are at. The fact is: both pastor and the congregration will be held account for their lives and how they embraced their calling.

I am thankful Tim T, is a humble man and he shudders when people thinks he's the best thing since slice bread. Thank you Tim T!!!

Numbers 11:27 - A young man runs to Moses freaked out about two men prophesying in the camp. vs 28: Joshua requests Moses to forbid them. - a mentality that exists in leadership and people with the church today.

It's the same mentailty that Luther spoke out against during his day - clergy and laity separation. Moses' response? vs. 29 "...are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that ALL THE LORD'S people were prophets and that the LORD would put HIs Spirit upon them!" 1 Peter 2:9 ...but YOU ARE a chosen generation, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD...". (John Piper has a great comment on this with a book, "Brothers, we are no professionals") There needs to be radical shift in the church mentality....just as a pastor has a calling, and with the same weight of responsibilities and joys of it...the people too are called to the same thing - a participatory calling within the body. I'm glad I see people at Grace with that..

I don't see this problem exist so much in the persecuted church because of several reasons: the pastor is running for his life with the church. The pastor and leadership are in it for the long haul, and it ain't no career because you don't put your head on the line if it's just that (besides the pay and benefits on this earth blows). The pastor knows his preaching must be transforming because he could face God's account at any moment, and he needs a people with the spiritual strength to stand to the challenges of it's day. Also he needs a spiritually strong replacement that could exist in the church should be be called to glory.

I have a radical perspective of my own: pastors should be searched WITHIN a congregation. A pastor and the elders should look to see a group of young men who is confirmed to be shaped for possible pastorship by God as a calling..... and the church should send a group of young men to godly seminary and come back to pastor. A mere resume isn't enough, a life lived among the people is the resume of the heart.

Kirk said...

My heart is broken after reading that article. The point was missed in so many ways. Jesus was not present in those abusing Rick Warrens methods in order to increase the budget nor in those insisting on tradition for traditions sake.
Thank you, Pastor Tim for faithfully yelling "Bring out the Book!" every sunday (and at lunch on wednesday and counseling on thursday and...). There have been others who have been yelling "bring out the book" with you (Rick Warren, Francine Rivers, Shane Claiborne, Dallas Willard) and some of us have listened and heard what The Book says. Now some of us have grown discontent with only sitting in the pews listening to you fulfill your calling. We want to be Jesus' apprentices too. We want to call out "Bring out the book" with our fellow servers after a shift, from the cafeteria table at school and with our nurses at the hospital. But we don't want to stop there, because Jesus didn't stop there. The problem is that we don't know where the poor, orphaned and widowed live. We aren't sure that we can tell the difference between the wolves and the sheep. And we don't know if we can trust ourselves to be able to hear God's voice yet.

Scott Morton said...

I think the author has it wrong, the assumption as per the title and the article is that the "Popular Strategy for Chruch Growth" is the thing that is splitting churches! People split churches when their focus becomes the 'success' of their church or the maintaining of their 'traditions.' Grace and Mercy are the very lifeline that connect us to a Holy God and yet grace and mercy are the things we display and provide the least to our brothers and sisters. Tim offers a prayer in his commentary for the Lord to 'give us the same mind, the same loves, and the same purpose here at Grace' -- I believe the Lord answers that prayer when people pray with a sincere and contrite heart, because God states that it is his will -- I think that's what Heb 10:19-25 talks about. It's easy for us to act not from the Spirit that indwells us but from the reasoning of our own minds. Lord I pray that you help us to bring our thoughts under the control of your Spirit such that what comes from our mouths and from our hands brings honor and glory and praise to the name of Jesus. Amen!