For Father’s Day my wife gave me David Wells’ book, God in the Wasteland, The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. Wells contends that our contemporary society has not only passively abandoned the authority of Scripture, but in many areas it has actively attacked it. He goes on to state that it is not only society at large that has devalued the importance of biblical authority but unfortunately, the Church has fallen into the same pit. This is especially true in the area of church growth. Wells contends, and I believe correctly, that today, success in the church ministry is defined mostly by quantitative standards rather than qualitative standards. Simply put, bigger is better. Consequently, success is measured by the number of people in attendance at services, the number of areas of ministry that the church is involved in, and of course, the size the bank account.
With size being the determinative factor in defining success, practically any methodology of achieving it becomes acceptable. And so, rather than searching the New Testament for the will of God concerning church growth, many churches have sought out church growth strategies based on consumer surveys. I found it interesting in the sovereignty of God that just as I am reading Wells’ book, a friend gave me a book titled, Breakout Churches. I was skeptical when I saw the title and sure enough, as I scanned the introduction and first chapter I read of a strategy to create a successful church without a shred of biblical support, but founded upon pure pragmatism.
My purpose in this article (or rant) is not to debate the issue of church growth strategies but simply to use it as an example of how we have replaced biblical authority with human “wisdom” and its consequence of altering the definition of success in the will of God. Jesus stated the He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). His methodology for its construction is found in the Great Commission where believers go into the world and share the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ to the lost. When saving faith is expressed the new believer is incorporated into the church ministry and disciple to spiritual maturity. But modern “wisdom” says there are more effective ways of building the church. Motivating believers to go is difficult, if not impossible. The lost on the “outside” can be more effectively reached by a smart marketing program. And if we change the nature of worship (such as the seeker-friendly and emerging church movements have done) we can draw the unsaved to attend and the church will grow.
A good friend of mine (I will not name him but his initials are Wayne Smith) once said that the church is only mentioned twice in the gospels. The first time is where Jesus said He will build it and the second time is in Matthew 18 dealing with church discipline. Our responsibility is to maintain purity and Jesus will build His church. We have reversed the roles believing that our methodology is far more successful. It may be that the modern methodology will produce greater numbers in the church but that does not mean it will be successful in accomplishing the will of God.
In Matthew 7, Jesus laments about many who will stand before Him in judgment. His words can be applied to the issue of success, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done MANY [emphasis mine] wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
The answer to the question asked in the title of this article is simply this: Success is defined and achieved by doing what God commands in the way in which He commands it regardless the results.