Dear Berean Family,
I came across this satire I wrote years ago when I was deeply concerned with the strange developments that were taking place in the Christian community regarding worship, evangelism and the promotion the Christian faith. I believe that what I wrote about back in the early nineties still has a great deal of relevance for us today.
I am concerned that our culture has forgotten how to worship God and that many churches around the country and around the world are not taking serious their approach to the throne of God on the Lord's Day.
When we come to church on Sunday's let's not forget what we are doing when we gather for worship. Let us not forget in whose presence we gather. Let us not forget that the God we worship is a holy God who told Moses to take off his sandals before His presence for the place where he stood was holy ground. So let us come into the presence of God joyfully, with singing and praise, with our hearts on fire, longing to hear the Word of God and with the hope that times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord.
God bless you all and fill your hearts with His praise!
Yours in Christ,
A Satire On
Contemporary Methods Of Church Growth
It was a dark and stormy night. Unable to sleep because of the turbulent weather outside, I slipped out of bed and quietly went to my study. With the flash of lightning casting eerie shadows on my library walls, I noticed on the shelves a curious-looking volume of Ancient Church History. Pulling the dusty book from off the shelf and opening it amid a creak of the binding, I came across a rare record of an early church meeting that was amazingly preserved in history. An archeologist visiting a monastery found some old scrolls that contained a dialogue of first century Christian pastors who lived in and near the city, Laodicea. Yes, the same city that Jesus warned about in the Apocalypse that it had become lukewarm, that it had become seduced by its' own wealth, numbers, and success. Jesus warned them, “thou art wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
This old book gave in detail the strategies devised by these pastors of the early churches (that were censured by Jesus as apostatizing) to evangelize their cities and to make the gospel more relevant to the unconverted around them. As I read their dialogues, this is what I discovered about first-century church growth by these backslidden churches.
Moderator: "Gentlemen, we have gathered here to discuss and to devise plans to facilitate greater evangelistic outreach to the teeming multitudes who seem uninterested in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have asked each of you to be present because of the unique gifts that you would bring to this discussion.”
Lucius - the Pastor of Laodicea. You are so well-liked by the community. As a matter of fact, we are pleased to hear that you have no enemies at all! Your popularity certainly will aid us in this discussion.
Silas - the Pastor of Sardis. Your church is really alive with emotionalism, revivalism, and new contemporary innovations. Your keen insight into church growth will certainly shed light on how to have a healthy and living church.
Philip - the Pastor of Philadelphia. Philip, your church is relatively small. We thought you might wish to join us to learn how we've become successful in growing a big church.
And finally, Epaphras - Pastor of Ephesus. Your involvement in so many committees, projects, and social causes, indicates your deep, deep love for Jesus. A man with such zeal and devotion to so many things will be a great asset to our discussion.
Gentlemen, here's our great concern. How can we make the gospel more appealing to the present culture that we minister to? "
Silas - "I have found that entertainment really helps draw a crowd. Offering free camel rides might attract families with little children. And if we can get the little ones to come, before you know it, you can catch the parents!"
Epaphras -“Ah yes, an excellent idea. It is much better than the idea used a few years back when many of our churches offered free chicken dinners and bagel burgers to attract crowds. The mess the chicken bones made on the Apian Way as people went home after church had the Romans all upset at us. And the wagons we sent into the cities to bring people to church didn't have much of an appeal to the wealthy and more affluent people around us."
Silas - "Another idea I have had is to start a Greek drama group. You all know how Greeks love drama. Wouldn't this be appealing to greater numbers of people and make, our worship more relevant? We could dramatize the life of Jesus, and even use a dash of Greek comedy to spice it up a bit. "
Philip -"But did Paul or Jesus ever use this kind of approach?”
Moderator - "It's not important to follow what Jesus and Paul did. Alter all, they faced a different situation. We must contextualize our message to meet the needs of today's young consumers. If Paul and Jesus were alive today, they certainly would agree with us that whatever works is right."
Epaphras, "I've heard that a group in Rome has begun a ministry to gladiators. They are known as GLADIATORS FOR JESUS." Their motto is `We bash heads for the Master!"'
Silas - "Perhaps we could also start a group of contemporary worship dancers. Maybe we could call them `Diana's Dancers'. This would certainly appeal to all those who visit the temples. If we make our churches just like the world, people will feel non-threatened and will be more willing to visit with us. And once they learn how much fun it is to be a Christian, they may even believe in Jesus.
Moderator - "Yes, yes, excellent ideas. But we must also be `market sensitive' and `user friendly'. I've found that certain elements of old-fashioned preaching is just out of touch with modern Romans and Greeks. Don't preach, but just rap with people; have nice little chats and discussions. These things are much more appealing to the world and don't offend anyone. The talk host, Julius Leno in Rome, is an excellent example of how to communicate with modern Romans.”
“And by the way, get rid of the coat and tie. The best way to identify with the young people today is to dress down and be casual. This makes you just like the average guy.”
Philip, “But didn't Jesus say that the gospel would offend people'? Didn't Paul say that the unconverted needed a work of grace in order to understand the mystery of the gospel?" Paul's exact words were, (I Corinthians 2:14) "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
“And if we dress just like the young people who come to church are we not catering to their flesh and not setting a proper and biblical example?”
Lucius - "I'm not sure what Paul meant by that statement. It was so long ago that Paul said that, way back in the 30's. And Paul was known for being theologically dry and irrelevant. We need a new strategy with new methods to `grow' successful churches here in the 90’s. And what’s wrong with dressing down?
Philip, “I believe that if we dress respectfully we show our deep appreciation and reverence for holy things. I don’t see how dressing like we are going to the amphitheater is the same as coming into the presence of the Holy and living God of the universe. Does not the sacred Scripture remind us that the Old Testament Priests had special clothing that set them apart as the ministers of God? And even tradition teaches us that it has always been the custom of Gods servants to dress in a way that shows the dignity and the seriousness of the office of a man of God.
Moderator- “Well let me add a few thoughts on this discussion. Remember we are trying to find ways to make our message more appealing to the world. Here are some dead-end topics that we ought to avoid in our preaching. In a recent survey here's what un-churched Herodius won't listen to:
1. The fear of God
2. The need for repentance
3. The doctrine of man's total depravity
4. The absolute sovereignty of God in salvation
5. The inability of men to understand the gospel
6. The need for an imputed righteousness
7. The wrath of God
8. The Lordship of Christ, and so forth...
Silas - "I'm not sure if I understand all of those theological topics anyway. The people coming to my church want to be told how to be happy, successful, and want to have fun in church.”
Moderator -"Ah precisely. That's my point. Silas, you've built a fine, large and successful church without all that heavy, boring, theological stuff. If you don't understand all of this, how can you expect un-churched Herodius to understand it?"
Philip, “Gentleman, what you are saying is just not right. This is not the emphasis found in the Bible. Is not the Word of God our final authority for faith and practice? Yet you are making designs without consulting the Scriptures. Just because something works does not mean it is right.”
Lucius, “Philip you are so out of touch. Keep that frame of mind and your little church will not only be irrelevant it will soon cease to exist.”
Philip. “Well, I would rather be faithful to God and to His Word than to have the kind of success you are talking about. I am living with my eyes on the throne of judgement. I want to hear the Lord say to me, ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
Moderator - “Ok Philip, you made your point. Quit interrupting with your little quibbles. Gentlemen, what about worship? What new and relevant ideas can we devise?"
Epaphras - "I've discovered that Sunday meetings are not good times for worship. Greeks love their amusements. If they worship on Sunday, they feel they've wasted half the day. Saturday night sessions are much more acceptable to today's busy Roman-Boomer."
Lucius -"I've seen young people come from the Roman Academy to visit with us. These young people were bored with our teaching and found our music unappealing. But when we livened things up a little, when we used the same music they hear at the amphitheaters, they really got excited!"
Philip - "Maybe I'm just not getting it. What it sounds like you men are doing is accommodating your message to fit your crowd. It sounds like you're watering the gospel down to make it more appealing to those who are non-Christians. I don't think this is wise or biblical. Isn't this really what worldliness is all about?” The church is primarily about the worship of God. If we design our services to make people comfortable we have missed the main reason for coming into the presence of God in the first place.”
Epaphras - "Well maybe. But I've found that it helps the Holy Spirit, even makes His work easier, when I find out what people really want to hear and then I give it to them. This way the church grows much faster, and it's even more fun!"
Philip - "But isn't it the work of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes and hearts of people to see the truth, and to make men see their sinfulness and then to draw them to Christ?"
Moderator - "Philip, don't be so pious. When your little church is flourishing like ours, then you can correct us, if you wish."
Philip -"But Mr. Moderator, the size of my church does not necessarily reveal the blessing of God or the lack of it. Many cults have large followings. Does that mean they have the truth or have God's blessings? Even the Apostle Paul warned us that it is possible, as professing Christians, to accomplish much in the flesh. Shouldn't we test our results to see if what we're doing is truly pleasing to God? I happen to know many pastors preaching to large numbers of believers who haven't tried these methods or new ideas that you're suggesting. These men are being faithful in preaching the word, spending time in prayer, and are working hard at building a biblically based ministry. Shouldn't they be our model along with Jesus and Paul? I know that what I'm suggesting may take longer, but I believe it will be more lasting."
Epaphras - "Philip, I know this all seems new and strange to you, but you've got to get with today's program. The traditional approach is not where the action is. Philip, the audience is sovereign. You’ve got to give `em what they want; you've got to study the demographics of Philadelphia and find out where the wealth is, where the itch is, and then you gotta scratch it!"
Philip - "But Epaphras, isn't it important to base our practices and procedures on the Word of God? If we make the audience sovereign, haven't we dethroned God? And I have always been of the conviction that we must seek to please God first, and that we Shouldn't worry about what the world thinks. If we are faithful, if we preach the truth Jesus promised, He will draw men to the gospel. So I'm not bothered if young Greeks or Romans find the message I preach irrelevant. Until God regenerates them and opens their eyes and hearts, they will always find the gospel irrelevant."
Moderator - "Oh Philip, that is so out of fashion. Your ideas will kill the Church. So many churches are dying for change. Philip, you've got to market your message. You've got to find out the hurts, the needs, the burdens of people, and then use humor, drama, stories, and clever techniques to draw people to your church to minister to them. You might even have to relocate your church, maybe more to the area where all the Roman-boomers are moving."
Philip- "1'm not against change if the changes don't compromise the message or violate scriptural teachings and precedents. I'm just not convinced that what you all are saying really has "biblical" warrant to do the things you are suggesting. For example, shouldn't we be concerned about spiritual needs first before we try to address other needs? If all we do is run around meeting needs, maybe the greatest need of all will be neglected. And what about the geographical location of your new churches. You tell me "Go where the Roman-boomers are." What about the poor, the racial minorities in our towns, those who are not so attractive, educated and wealthy - what about them? Is the gospel just for this little segment of elitists called ‘Roman Boomers?’"
Moderator - "Well, I think we should adjourn this meeting. Philip, it's clear you don't appreciate what we're trying to do. Maybe we should meet next time without you being here."
Philip - "I'm sorry you all feel that way. But I'm determined to be a workman approved unto God. Your acceptance or rejection of me means very little. I'm living so that when I appear before God I'll hear him say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
Moderator - "Gentlemen, this meeting is adjourned.”
This satire was designed to get us to think. To think about worship, about evangelism, about church growth. What did the early church do to reach people with the gospel? Here's a multiple choice test.
A. Dial 1-800-Campus-Roman Crusade.
B. Ask a Jewish Marketing Consultant to advise them on how
to sell Jesus to Jews.
C. Develop user friendly synagogues.
D. Just pray, trust God, live holy lives and preach the gospel.
I believe that many of the current methods of church growth are tragically defective and misguided. I believe they are doctrinally unsound and are producing shallow converts that won't stand the test of time. Although the proponents of these new methods say they are aiming to reach the unchurched, they are, in fact, just drawing the disgruntled, dissatisfied members of other evangelical churches.
In these churches that are using these modern techniques we must ask, “How many non-Christians (truly pagan) you have brought to Christ?” I think it will be seen that very few unchurched people will be found among them. The vast majority of their constituents will be professing believers that were drawn away from other evangelical churches.
I believe this whole movement is just another misguided fad that will eventually burn out, but not before it does great harm to the body of Christ by spreading confusion and division among Christians and filling churches with unsaved believers. As Daniel Rowlands, a great Welsh preacher once said, "Wherever God builds a church, Satan is sure to build a chapel by its' side." The great lesson we should learn is this: whenever wrong methods based on incorrect theology are used to build the church, the true work of God is confused and hindered.
May God grant a true revival and out-pouring of His Spirit that will bring His glory back to the church. When the presence and glory of God returns, so too will Spirit-filled preaching, reverent serious worship, and music that is worshipful instead of the shallow and emotional music of these contemporary churches. It will produce a generation of holy, dedicated believers who are lovers of God and lovers and worshippers of His Son, Jesus Christ.
It will be a revival based on the Scripture and the great doctrines that are expounded and taught by Jesus and His Apostles. Doctrine will no longer be viewed with suspicion and contempt. And the pure gospel of God's sovereign and justifying grace will be exalted and held in high esteem.
Oh that such a day would soon come. Amen!