Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Leading The Small Church"

On the subject of Big Churches vs. small churches vs... really small churches...

A good comrade-in-arms on the frontlines of ministry, Jim Bomkamp of Calvary Chapel Green Bay, e-mailed me several months ago with an offer. He'd found a book that had really revolutionized his view of ministry & pastoring small churches.

"Dude," he said to me, "if you'll read it, I'll buy you a copy and send it to you."

"Sure," I replied. "I'll read it."

"No, dude, I'm serious; I'll send it to you if you'll read it."

"Okay," I replied, somewhat taken aback. "I'll read it."

"No, dude, I'm serious..."

"OKAY already, I'll read it!!!"

...and so it went for a while, back and forth, forth and back, back and - you get the picture.

Jim sent me the book.

I read the first page, then we moved into our new small yet tiny house. I subsequently misplaced said book.

Jim, after reading my original "Open Letter" post, reminded me of the book. Sheepishly, I dug through a thousand myriads of boxes in our moist yet musty garage, and found the book again, and began to read it as I had previously... said... I would...


Okay, Jim was right. This book should be required reading for any pastor - whether a small church or BIG CHURCH pastor.

The book is Leading The Small Church by Glenn Daman, and I'd like to give it about a billion thumbs-up.

Some quotes from the first two chapters:

When culture defines the theology of the church, the question is no longer, "is it biblical?" RAther, the question has become, "is it relevant and practical?" Jesus, however, in preparing His disciples for leadership, drew a sharp distinction between biblical and secular leadership. This difference is not peripheral - that is, dealing only with the applicaiton of principles; it is essential, penetrating to the very core of the way leadership is understood, and affecting both purpose and process.

The emphasis on external organizational growth has had a devastating affect on small churches and their pastors, who often view themselves as second-class citizens. Responding to the siren call of corporate success - size and numbers - and surrounded by examples of apparntly successful megachurches, small-church pastors undervalue the essential biblical elements of community and relationships, and never quite feel successful. They become discouraged, wondering whether the glory of God has departed, leaving them to stagnate without any hope of experiencing God's blessing. As a result, low morale remains one of the most pervasive problems confronting small churches.

What Eugene Peterson warns against may be evident in a church of any size: "The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeepers' concerns - how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money." It is no wonder that the pastorate has fallen out of favor with people entering ministry.

Nowhere have cultural perspectives had a greater impact on the church than in the perception of what it takes to be a successful leader. No one enters the pastoral ministry with the view of becoming a failure. All pastors strive to attain success, and feel incredibly guilty if they come up short. Pastors of small churches often wonder whether their churches would grow if they worked harder, prayed more, were more skillful in ministry, or if their congregtions were more open to new ideas. But the reason why pastors struggle in small churches and often become discouraged is not because of their work ethic or the inherent nature of small churches, or because their congregations are unwilling to change; it's because they have an inadequate view of what constitutes successful leadership.

{In listing out and answering some misperceptions about the ministry, including "Successful Pastors Are Growth Agents," he speaks to the misperception that "Successful Pastors Serve Large Churches," where he states the following:} Although it sounds usnspiritual to say it, many people believe that the larger the congregation the more successful the pastor. Thus, pastors of large churches are invited to speak at conferences so that pastors of small churches can learn how to beocme more effective (i.e., build larger churches.)

Although what God has accompllished through large churches should never be minimized, the lesson of the parable of the stewards is that size has, in God's eyes, nothing to do with success (Matt. 25:14-30). Nor does the size of a congregation reveal the reality of God's blessing. Instead the greatness of a church is determined by the manifest presence of God (Hag. 2:1-9). And the greatness of church leaders is determined not by their achievements but by the reality of God in their lives.

What the church needs today are more shepherds, not more visionaries. We need more churches in vital relationship with Jesus Christ, not bigger churches with bigger programs (or smaller churches with smaller programs). We do not need new paradigms for leadership. Instead, we must return to the ancient, biblical paradigm, the one in which pastors are spiritual caretakers of God's people, and are more concerned about the spiritual health of the congregation than about agendas, programs, and status.

Because we desire to see the church grow, it is easy as small-church pastors to become methodological junkies, always in search of a new method that will enable us to be successful in ministry. We deceive ourselves into thinking that if we could just find the right program, or the right combination of ministries, our church would be freed to grow. Consequently, we go from one seminar to another, read one book after another about "successful" churches, and implement the latest "church growth" strategy and vision. Instead of discovering the right approach, however, we leave in our wake congregations that are exhausted by tring to jump to the latest "vision" that we have for our churches.

All we can do is faithfully apply God's Word to the needs and issues of our people. All we can do is point them to the Cross. Those of us who minister in small churches can derive - or ought to derive - enormous relief and freedom in this truth about our roles as pastors. It is not up to us to grow the church, and the size of the congregation is not indicative of success; the success of the church does not depend on our wisdom, our abilities, or even our spirituality; rather, the success of the church depends on God. We are merely vessels through whom God works to accomplish His purposes. This is why faithfulness rather than methodology or skill is central to pastoral leadership.

I could go on, but then I'd be typing out the entirety of the first few chapters.

Good book. Get it. Read it. Love it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Come out of her, my people..."

I have lost good friends, including my father in Christ, because I have refused to label the Roman Catholic Church as an out-and-out cult.

Now, don't get me wrong; I don't for a second consider Rome to be a healthy church, by any stretch of the imagination. I don't consider it to be an institutionally faithful church, either.

But I don't consider it to be a cult.


For those who kick and scream and demand otherwise, you've got problems. No less an authority than Jesus Himself (you know... the whole "God in the flesh" guy, Creator of the universe, Head of the Church, etc., etc...) said that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against [the church]."

For over a thousand years, the only coherent institutional expression of the church that existed on the planet were the Roman and Orthodox churches (which has problems all its own). Sure, there were other groups, but they were almost universally heterodox in their own right. So, either Jesus was wrong and you (who insist on calling Rome a pseudochristian cult) are right and the church really did cease to exist as an identifiable body for a period of nearly a thousand years, or you're wrong and Jesus is right, after all.

Guess who I'm voting for?

Again, please don't misunderstand; I'm not saying that the RCC is a healthy or Biblically faithful expression of the Body of Christ - it isn't. But neither do I for a second believe it is a cultic body on par with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Roman Catholicism (at least in its official doctrine) teaches all the cardinal truths of Scripture:

(BTW, please understand - I'm not saying that the RCC teaches these and other cardinal doctrines of the Faith with equal, necessary clarity and Scriptural faithfulness, only that these core doctrines, though often buried in a thick muck of often weird, deeply settled doctrinal hooey, are still there. This article from CRI was actually a very balanced, very well done treatment of the issue which I think successfully navigated the treacherous doctrinal waters between the Scylla of false ecumenism embodied in the trend to "go along to get along" and turn a blind eye to Rome's massive doctrinal and praxis failures, and and the Charybdis of carte blanche, universal condemnation of all things Catholic and if you don't agree with me that the Pope eats Protestant babies for breakfast then you're one of them and you're a foul, foul apostate aaaah, aaaaah, aaaaaaaaaaa - you get the point.)

The problem arises that Rome has accreted a gob of doctrinal detritus that often obscures and obfuscates the core orthodoxy that is still there.

In other words, I believe it is entirely possible to be genuinely saved and yet still a Catholic.

I even believe it is possible that there are {{gaaaaasp!!!}} genuinely saved priests who truly love the Lord Jesus and are trusting in His merits alone to save them.

In light of all this, I found it refreshingly interesting to read this entry in my e-Sword commentary on Revelation 18 while studying to teach that chapter tomorrow morning here on the Lakeshore. From the People's New Testament, I read:

This invitation is given to the people of God yet in captivity, lest by remaining they should be involved in her destruction. As God once had a captive people in the old Mesopotamian Babylon, so he has a people in the spiritual Babylon. Ever since the Reformation began his voice has called on them to come out of her. Nor can it be doubted that he has many true and earnest worshipers still who have found enough of Christ in the mazes of the Papacy to have given him their hearts. The condemnation of the great spiritual despotism is not a declaration that all whom she has enslaved are the children of the devil.

I concur wholeheartedly.

Without diminishing the fact that the doctrinal corruptions of Rome truly do constitute a near-endless series of "mazes" surpassed only, perhaps, by Mormonism, and that it is admittedly difficult to see Jesus' finished work clearly through the thick fog of extra- (and often contra-) Biblical hogwash that Rome's gone and gathered around the simplicity of the doctrines of Christ and salvation, the fact remains that there is still enough of the "deposit of faith" in the deep labyrinths of the Roman Church that - I'm utterly convinced - there are yet some (and even possibly many) of God's kids still within the institutional bounds of the Holy See.

To summarize: I believe it is impossible to be Mormon, or Jehovah's Witness, or a Christian Scientist, or the like, and be genuinely saved. But whereas I would never encourage anyone to remain in the Catholic church, and I would never recommend the RCC as being a Biblically faithful representation of the Body of Christ, I believe it is entirely possible to be Catholic (or part of one of the Orthodox communions) and be genuinely saved.

As I'd stated at the outset of this blogpost: I've lost many friends I'd counted dear over this issue - including the very man the Lord used to bring me to faith in Him in the first place back in my Navy days. This is not an easy, cost-free stand to take.

I'll go ahead and close with an apropos quote from Luther:

Here I stand. I can do nothing else. God help me. Amen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More great posts

First off: Cap'n Chris of the Good Ship Elrod has posted on the recent history (and lessons learned) of the very awesome changes/clarifications at Compass Point Church:

...and while you're at it, this treatment of Luther's legacy is quite good.

Plus, I have to read something to distract myself from the thrashing the Thrashers are currently ministering ever-so-gently to my Wings... 11:00 left in the third, we're down 4-0... yeeeeesh...

Ideal vs. Real

Great food for thought here.

What It's All About

This is what being the Body is all about.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Open Letter to the Growthinistas, Part 1

Eighty percent of church plants fail.

I hate that quote.

Hate it, hate it, hate it.

I hate it with perfect hatred, mostly because it betrays a fundamental flaw in modern thinking - a fatal flaw which manifests mainly in how most people (and by "people" I mean Church Growth Experts® and Wannabe Church GrowersTM) view the relative terms "success" and "failure."

This flawed thinking pervades even the very movement that I love and identify with.

Bottom-line, "success" equals nickels 'n' noses.


At the end of the day, that's what constitutes "fruit" to these guys.

About two years ago on another blog that I initially interacted on rather regularly, a junta of Growthinistas hijacked the discussion and pretty much verbatim decreed that if your church isn't growing numerically, then just pack up and go take up yak herding. You'd be better off, and so would your community - since, after all, without a certain critical mass no gathering of people can properly be considered a real church, by gum...

Since that time, I've encountered gobs of stuff from fellows like-minded to the abovementioned coterie of Searcy acolytes, and the bottom line is always the same: Taking a cue from Octavian, the driving maxim is EXPAND OR DIE.

There are no other options.

Which, when you boil away the attempted spiritualspeak carefully wrapped around the concept, and gaze unflinchingly at the underlying foundational principle of what constitutes "success" in the arena of the church, you find that what they mean is: nickles 'n' noses.

Oh, there's a loud hue and cry that that's not really what it's about... you'll hear:

We're in a WAR, man! We're supposed to be reaching AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE! Where am I missing it?

It's just the Great Commission, dude!

If the Spirit's really moving, then people will be drawn to it!


For those who fall into this persuasion, "results" (again, manifested ultimately as nickels 'n' noses) are the raison d'être of the church. And thus, those who are showing results are to be commended for the results' sake, doctrinal or praxis issues aside. The sine qua non for those who hold this thinking is growth - everything else is of secondary importance.

Thus, the heroes of the faith for Growthinistas, those who they admire and look up to and seek before all things to emulate, are those whose churches experience phenominal, explosive growth.

I have heard one pastor's stuff pushed so often in the last few years, I cringe whenever I hear his name or anything relating to a "journey." On the recommendation of a brother-in-arms who I otherwise respect, I signed up for this particular pastor's "Church Leader Insights" newsletter. And I grieve when even those who ostensibly identify with the Calvary Chapel movement laud the thinking and methodology of this particular fellow, whose sermons (which are guaranteed to cause explosive growth in your church!) you can purchase (for a modest fee), including the not-at-all-nickels-'n'-noses-oriented-how-silly-of-you-to-even-mention-it-you-ignorant-boob classic, The Stewardship Seminar, which promises:

First time givers are taking a leap of faith! How should you respond? What can you do to help them give again? Discover how to turn first time givers into faithful givers in this innovative 3 disc Stewardship Seminar with Resource CD.

...and which you can download for the modest, TBN-Praiseathon-rivalling fee of only $47.

...and I though John Avanzini was bad.

But since this fellow's church is growing, and since that's the be-all-end-all for far too many of my compatriots in ministry, all else can be forgiven.

And believe me: the "Stewardship Seminar" stuff I quoted above is probably among the least troubling thing I've read that this particular dude's peddling.

And on the list goes; so long as a pastor is an effective rainmaker and can catalyze numerical growth, that's the primary and enduring test of fruitfulness, and all else can be forgiven and explained away.

On a listserv for pastors that I also used to participate in rather regularly, a discussion arose about a certain Southern California pastor who recently called Syria a "great nation," over why nobody should really ever criticize him since, after all, "his church has the largest number of conversions ever!!!"

Again: Nickels 'n' Noses. So long as you have those two, you have and automatic pass on all else.

Therefore, when seeking to plant a church in a given community, what are consulted are things like:

  • demographics

  • cost-benefit analyses

  • strategic forecasts

  • etc.

One pastor, who ostensibly identifies with the Calvary Chapel movement, went so far on his blog several months ago as to advocate planting churches primarily in larger population centers (to the explicit exclusion of all else), specifically because that's how you'll get maximum bang-for-buck.

So, back to the quote I opened this post with:

Eighty percent of church plants fail.

I believe, in the strongest possible terms, that this quote was stated from the perspective of someone who is, however marginally, aligned with the Growthinista perspective. And I believe that many church plants do fail - in the sense of giving up, closing the doors, and pulling stakes - as a direct result of Growthism. That is, since we don't have multiplied thousands (or at least a couple hundred) noses and the axiomatic abundance of nickels attendant thereunto after our second whole year of existence, well... we've failed, so let's try something else somewhere else.

Yak herding, for instance.

I cannot even begin to express my heartache that this attitude has gained ascendancy not only in the Church at large, but even within certain (and very influential) elements within my own Movement.

I defy the very underlying premise which girds the concept inherent in the quote.

What is a failed church plant? Can church plants fail?

Yes, they can.

The fail if:

  • the Word is not taught

  • the Lord is not exalted

  • the Spirit is not present to minister

  • the people are not encouraged to grow in Christ

All else is in fact secondary at best - including nickels and noses.

Therefore, even a "successful" church plant can be considered a failure - large numbers and ever-expanding budgets notwithstanding.

Likewise, even an "unsuccessful" church plant - even one where the local body ultimately decides after long, agonized seeking of the Lord's face to disband and become part of other fellowships - can be (and should be!) considered a success.

I believe that what we need, now more than ever, is men willing to fail spectacularly for the sake of the Kingdom.

If the most effective method for expanding the Kingdom is church planting (and I tend to agree that it is), then our push should be for sending more men out with the express purpose of scattering the seed of the Word with little if any regard for personal empire building. In my neck of the woods here on the Lakeshore, I'd rather see a hundred "tiny" churches then one church of thousands. I'd rather see a hundred men go out with eternity stamped on their eyes and hearts, reaching into their several communities with the Word of Life, ready and willing to plant the flag of the King and die there if necessary fighting back the encroaching darkness - regardless of any man-centered and man-invented criteria of "success."

If any of those churches grow to several hundred or even several thousand - all the better. If they don't - great, too! The few dozen families who partake in the life of each church plant learn to grow in grace and in the Word stronger than if they hadn't been reached at all in the first place.

And what if a church plant, after seeking the Lord's face, realizing that their call to be an individual, local expression of the Body of Christ has come to an end and that they should graciously close down and disperse into the larger Body, closes their doors in the same humble obedience that led them to open them in the first place? Has that church plant really failed?

Depends, I suppose, on what criteria were used to determine that they should fold up.

Pastors are called to be stewards of God's flock. The pastor is never and should never try to be the focus of the life of the Body. And I don't read anywhere in the Bible that it is said that it is required of a steward to be "successful." Or that it is required of a steward to be a "rainmaker."

It isn't even recorded that it is required of a steward that he be found "fruitful".

Instead, I read that it is required of a steward that he be found faithful.

This is the key, critical difference between a shepherd and a hireling.

The hireling runs away when things turn difficult.

The shepherd stays with the sheep until (if necessary) the bitter end.

One of my heroes in the faith, and rolemodels for ministry, is pastor Bill Woolley, shepherd of a "tiny" Calvary Chapel in the Upper Penninsula. Bill has faithfully labored in the field the Lord called him almost for more years than many of the newbreed Growthinistas have been alive, and has experienced little but setback, heartache, betrayal, and pain... and the fellowship there has never grown into anything even remotely resembling a "successful" church plant (by Growthist standards). Yet he keeps plowing. Every year he struggles with the temptation to quit... and every year the Lord basically nails him on it and lets him know in no uncedrtain terms that for him to quit would be an act of disobedience to his calling. So he keeps faithfully plowing.

Bill will never speak at a national conference - he's not "successful" enough.

Bill will never have a national "ministry" selling his sermon series at $40 a pop.

Very, very few of my fellow pastors would look up to him as a model of ministerial success.

More's the pity.

I can think of very few who would continue to stand in the face of the adversity that Bill's been called to endure. I have heard large-ministry, successful pastors who I actually like and listen to pretty much admit the same.

I made God a deal when I came to {x city}, that I'd give Him a year to do "something," then I'd go try elsewhere...

After a year, I called back to {the CCOF coordinator of the time} complaining about how nothing was happening, and he said, "hey, come on back, then. I've got a dozen guys who are dying for the chance to serve God in a small church like yours..."

If we don't have men who are willing to plant churches and plow in fields that will - let's face it - never produce the "successful" "fruit" that the Growthinistas pine after, then the thousands upon thousands of souls who will - agian, let's face it - never be reached by a "successful" megachurch will continue to go unreached for the Kingdom.

I believe (and here's the bottom line of this particular Open Letter) that both ends of the spectrum are called for and needed in the larger Body of Christ: the Big Successful Churches, and the teeny tiny church plants that "could."

Some will only be reached by large churches.

Some will only be reached by small churches.

Some churches, by the sovereign grace of God, are blessed with (numeric) growth.

Some churches, by the sovereign grace of God, are blessed with (numeric) non-growth.

Let each be faithful to serve God in whatever capacity He choses - the experts and pundits be {mild Mark Driscoll colorful language omitted}.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Urgent Prayer Request

Pastor Mike Newnham, of The Blog Of Which We Do Not Speak fame, needs our prayers. Last I'd heard, he was on the way to the hospital with the symptoms of a heart attack.

James 5:16.