C. S. Lewis said “You don’t have a soul. You ARE a Soul. You have a body.” I think that we could also say to fellow Christians “You don’t GO to church, you ARE the church.” The New Testament even says that. For example, in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul says…
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you ARE that temple.”
I read a blog post this week from a long time pastor friend. It struck me as odd for two reasons. First, it is so far removed from the man I grew up with since 1980, a man who loved to share the gospel to see people come to Christ, and a man who really cared about people. Secondly, because it revealed a clearly problematic theology that is found nowhere in Holy scripture.
After reading my friend’s blog, it seemed clear that the pastor’s focus is simply on building a mega church. It is not on caring for the flock, and not on being a pastor or doing the work of an evangelist. From his own words I read “growth, growth, growth.”
Here is a quote from that blog posting…
“One of the most interesting comments that I have ever heard, was while meeting with a church strategist, who said that ‘a church is only able to grow in proportion to how much pain that the pastor is willing to take.’ That statement is absolutely true, because, there is a lot of pain involved in the growth of a church. There are so many things that you have to do. There are people that you love and that you care about deeply, who work with you, and who you care about, that may not work out, and may not be able to adjust to the growth.”
He continues with…
“There are different levels of growth, and sometimes the people that brought you to the current level may not be able to get you to the next one. So you have to make a choice to either stay where you are, or to suffer through the pain of growth in order to reach more people.”
On the surface, that sounds great. When you dig deeper, and know the fallout of pain inflicted upon those who were the recipients of that “pain” you realize there is an insidious side. What he is really saying is this: “these servants of God are not good enough to be of any further value, so let’s dump them and get a fresh crop of ‘American Idols’ to keep on growing.” What the pastor has forgotten, is that these faithful ones who worked alongside him, who prayed for him, who put in their time and talents, who were the very vessels God used to bring this church “to the current level” ARE the church, and as such they deserve more from their pastor than to be mere stepping stones toward building a stairway to Heaven. I do agree with my pastor friend: there are many levels of growth… two come to mind: numerical growth and spiritual growth.
In God’s economy, the end does not justify the means. Nowhere does the Lord admonish us to hurt others for kingdom growth. This mentality is more akin to those building the Tower of Babel than building the Kingdom of God. Not all growth is good growth. If it was, Kudzu would be highly prized. At one time, kudzu was useful; being introduced to control erosion, but unbridled growth has caused it to be less than desireable. Additionally, having large crowds does not indicate God’s blessings. If it did, football stadiums would be some of the most spiritual places in the nation in the Fall. Anyone who has attended one of these games knows there is not much holiness there.
The thing that is missed in this pastor’s blog is found in John 13:34-35. The question to ask is… how did Christ love us? He died to pay the price for our sins. Does Christ discard us because we are not growing his kingdom fast enough? No. Does Christ command us to do that? No! When cell groups grow abnormally in the human body, we call it cancer. When churches grow abnormally, by throwing out faithful supporters, trashing friendships and hurting people for growth’s sake, it is like a spiritual cancer. It hurts the entire body of Christ. Oh, the tumor may grow big and strong, but ultimately it will bring harm to the body of Christ.
Where does the Bible provide a model for such behavior? Did the early church hire a marketing director or did the Apostle Paul tell his young Pastor friend Timothy to “do the work of a church strategist?” Here is what Paul admonishes Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 4:1-5. It summarizes the REAL role and “pain” of the pastor…
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
So, how is the church to grow in a healthy manner? I think the answer to my friend’s quest is found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. The Apostle Paul says…
“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but GOD MADE IT GROW. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
Save yourself some self inflicted pain my dear pastor friend and resist the urge to crush more brothers and sisters in Jesus name. Just like kudzu, some “growth” chokes the life out of a beautiful landscape. Take the high road and seek spiritual growth rather than mere numbers.