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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Church Growth

This is national Pastor Appreciation Week. Across the country (U.S.A.) people are contemplating the effectiveness of their pastor - or just considering whether or not they love their pastor. I notice that the two are not related. My appreciation for and my love of my pastor are definitely two different dimensions of my relationship with my pastor.

We often evaluate the effectiveness of a pastor based on the growth of the church. Now that seems reasonable and right. But it seems that most of us look at the growth of the church in terms of numbers of butts in the seats on Sunday morning. Is that really the effective measure of church growth? Or to put it in business terms, are the numbers the real KPI's (key performance indicators)?

My favorite author of all time, A. W. Tozer, is of course dead now. But when alive, he had much to say about many things. I consider his wisdom to be of the finest I've ever encountered. He wrote a book called The Size of the Soul. In it, he cited 1 Timothy 6:20-21 as a good scripture to anchor our definition of church growth with.

"O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge-by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith ..." (1 Timothy 6:20-21) Now let's look at what Tozer had to say about this.

"The crowds-at-any-price mania has taken a firm grip on American Christianity and is the motivating power back of a shockingly high percentage of all religious activity. Men and churches compete for the attention of the paying multitudes who are brought in by means of any currently popular gadget or gimmick ostensibly to have their souls saved, but, if the truth were told, often for reasons not so praiseworthy as this....

Our constant effort should be to reach as many persons as possible with the Christian message, and for that reason numbers are critically important. But our first responsibility is not to make converts but to uphold the honor of God in a world given over to the glory of fallen man. No matter how many persons we touch with the gospel we have failed unless, along with the message of invitation, we have boldly declared the exceeding sinfulness of man and the transcendent holiness of the Most High God. They who degrade or compromise the truth in order to reach larger numbers, dishonor God and deeply injure the souls of men.

The temptation to modify the teachings of Christ with the hope that larger numbers may 'accept' Him is cruelly strong in this day of speed, size, noise, and crowds. But if we know what is good for us, we'll resist it with every power at our command."

As I sat in my own church this past Sunday, I found myself praying that God would grow our church. And then I distinctly understood that God was asking me to clarify what I was asking for. Was I asking for butts in the seats? Or was I asking for spiritual maturity? Do I seek social unity with other believers? Am I seeking strengthened community, with deep emotional intimacy between brothers and sisters in Christ?

I definitely appreciate my pastor. But I also understand the difference between a senior pastor and a senior preacher. In this Pastor Appreciation Week, it would be good for us to consider the appropriate role of a pastor. Of course we want them to grow our church. But what exactly do we expect from church growth? Are we appreciating our pastors for the right reasons?

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