January 23, 2021

Stupid Evangelical Tricks: Two Ways to Do Church

stupid_grey.gifI’ve been opining about worship music for a long time. One of my favorite IM essays on the subject is “Looney Tunes: The Goofy Theology of Some Worship Leaders.”

But you don’t have to go to the extreme to find some fairly weird assertions about music and Christians. Take Rick Warren’s famous assertion that worship music is the #1 element in building a growing church. C’mon Rick. Have you tried handing out fifty dollar bills? Giving away a car every week? Projecting major sporting events on the big screen? (Oh….really? I didn’t know.)

Warren is, of course, entirely right. In today’s culture, the hottest media will likely draw the largest crowds. Other dependable methods:

-Use lots of celebrities making guest appearances giving testimonies of how Jesus is the reason they really don’t care about the $80 milllon dollar contract they just negotiated.
-Give endless high-powered advice on how to get rich, stay healthy, raise perfect kids, get a man and/or speak whatever you want into existence.
-Have thousands of people fall over, laugh, moo or dance whenever you throw your magic coat their direction.
-Promise to heal all the sick that show up at your meeting, and do a good show to fake it really happening.
-Have a kid’s program better than Disney World, a Youth Program better than Spring Break in the Bahamas and a single’s program where even single Lutheran seminarians can hook up.

Remember the guy I mentioned in the “Stupid Evangelical Tricks: Five” post who started a church in my hometown? Here was his method for doing church.

-Preaching and teaching the Gospel and the Bible all the time to every age group, with a lot of application.
-Starting the best Christian school in the community, with high quality in every program.
-Training elders and leaders, growing them deep and sticking with them.
-Community ministry by teaching classes on building marriages and families, taught at the local Y. Do this for years.
-Serving the elderly. Treating adults, moms and dads, husbands and wives, as if they mattered more than church programs.
-Lots and lots and lots of free Biblical counseling for people in the community. A servant ministry to all kinds of people.
-Comparatively high standards for church membership. Enough that some evangelicals who couldn’t understand your stated expectations said the church was a cult.
-Actual, for real, church discipline by actual compassionate elders.
-Worship services with a modest amount of music, lots of scripture reading and prayer, and long sermons from the Bible in the morning; a modest amount of contemporary music, lots of scripture, and long sermons from the Bible in the evening.
-No revivals. No choir. No entertainment. No typical Youth ministry. A piano and a worship leader. Keep everything simple.
-And here’s the real key…..Do this for 30 years or so without a change in pastoral leadership.

Of course, Pastor Ted Christman’s church has 200+ members and another hundred attenders. (Estimated numbers. I haven’t visited Heritage Baptist in a long time. You might know them as the church that sponsors The Midwest Center for Theological Study.) I get the distinct impression that there’s little anxiety in this church over whether they can outgrow the local megachurch. I get the distinct impression that this is a church whose leaders never put their minds, souls and future in the hands of some clown at a church growth conference who just discovered- FINALLY! AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!- the secret to church growth.

Let me close with this, because it could get me in trouble. The church growth mentality, once it gets to a certain level, is dangerous. It’s not the church planting, missional church mentality. No, no, no. It’s the gotta grow gotta grow gotta keep growing mentality that will literally do almost anything if it can be demonstrated by some bizarre connection to the Bible that it might “reach one soul.” We’ve got whole denominational hierarchies so bent out of shape about church growth that you hear of nothing else- absolutely NOTHING else (aside from the culture war)- of any substance.

This burns out pastors, burns out people, contributes to the paganization of the culture and robs Christ of his bride, substituting a rented ___________ for the one Christ loves. It’s a really unfortunate situation. Thousands and thousands of people in it know that it stinks and that it is headed over the cliff, but they don’t know what else to do.

That’s why more and more of us need to stand up and say, very loudly, “This is wrong, and it must stop.” Then we have to be willing to do something more substantial, and to keep on doing it, for the sake of Christ, his church and a culture that increasingly hears nothing resembling the Gospel.


  1. centuri0n says

    Again, Michael: this is the right question. That is, “Is population growth more important than the actual promulgation of the Gospel by all means?” The “just one soul” quip is spot-on. Amen.

    But everything turns on how we answer that question. That is where you and I part company in this discussion, and I hope we get the chance to to about it to each other rather than blog against the dying of the light.

  2. My heart grieves over this situation … it’s truly painful to watch a close friend spin the chamber again and again, taunting God, believing He will divinely protect you from that one loaded chamber.

  3. Last year we had some growth at my church, and I was castigated by some (including my pastor) because I called it “fake growth” and suggested that we start “burning deadwood.”

    What we got was an influx of attendees from the local Christian university. Not fellow participants. Not contributors to the Christian life of the church. No one we could disciple; they weren’t open to that. They didn’t want to be an actual living part of our church. They had home churches.

    The sort of growth you see in the larger churches consists of more and more of this type of deadwood. Unless they’re connected in some way to a smaller group, or are part of any sort of structure within the church to which they can be accountable, they aren’t really part of the body of Christ. They’re just padding it.

    And if we have a nicely padded church, we won’t put in any of the effort to disciple anyone or to bring anyone to Christ. We’ll just keep entertaining the deadwood until we’re spiritually dead ourselves.

Speak Your Mind