February 2008


Before starting on today’s tirade, I’d like to link you to some great discussion on what church is (or ought to be). Trot on over to Paul Littleton’s blog at Caught in the Middle to get a good taste of thoughtful posts on the church. You won’t regret it.

 

One of my favorite topics is kingdom building. So much so that I’ve purchased books on the topic. I’ve even read some of them. What does this have to do with “Mercenary Christianity”? you say. I’m glad you asked. What I have discovered over the last decade or so is that kingdom building has turned from building the kingdom of God to building other kinds of kingdoms.

 

I first noticed this trend—at least it first struck me like a boulder in the head—when I arrived on the mission field to serve as a missionary and church planter in eastern Europe. My assignment was to develop and implement strategy to reach an unreached people group with a socially Muslim background. I was pumped. Doing something new. Feeling the charge of new life surge through me once again. Then I discovered that the brothers with whom our missions organization had a strong, on-going relationship with practiced this pattern:

 

  • Pastors must be seminary trained.
  • Training requires time—therefore the young pastor is a man of at least 42 years. Younger men need not even try to be church leaders.
  • It is important to reach the world (our part of it anyway) with the gospel. Since I am the only one “qualified” to be a pastor, then I will start all the preaching points, all the Bible study points, and I will not trust the work to someone else—after all, they aren’t qualified.

 

The result of this pattern is that there were growing congregations that all had one pastor. I knew one man who was the pastor of 14 congregations at once. He complained about needing someone to take over some of the work, but was unwilling to trust anyone to take it. Furthermore, I saw little desire to provide the necessary mentorship that would help new leaders to grow. An outgrowth of this common practice was the growing on one’s own kingdom in the name of God. Rather than planting new local churches that would be part of the city’ church network, men were busy amassing their own expressions of what they thought looked like church.

 

Upon witnessing this selfish desire to grow one’s own congregation, it dawned on me—isn’t this what American churches and pastors have been doing for years? For years it surfaced every time that a group of pastors gathered. Here’s the typical conversation with my own interpretation:

 

“How were your services Sunday?” (How many people were in your church?)

“Good, real good.” (I’m not going to tell you, because you’re church is bigger than mine and I don’t want to be embarrassed.)

 

Jealousy became the secret sin of many pastors in just this way. The tragedy is though, that we haven’t moved beyond the “building my kingdom and call it God’s” syndrome. I see it taking on a variety of expressions in the church in America today—varieties that span the denominational gap.

 

  1. The MegaChurch—Churches that grow beyond the size of three to five hundred simply become religious conference centers. I believe that if we really want to see true exponential growth, we’ll begin raising up new leaders to start new local expressions of the Church that are not personality driven. I know that many people like to get lost in the crowd so they don’t really have to express their Christianity, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the church?
  2. The Multi-location church—Most of the examples that I have seen of this type of church could really be two (or even three or four) churches with local leadership. As a matter of fact, most of them have their own local leadership with sermons being piped in so that the church members can claim the big-name celebrity preacher as their pastor.

 

Now, I’m not saying that the pastors of these church patterns are insincere (I have a great respect for many who are leading in just such situations). Nor am I assuming that God cannot use or bless these styles of worship centers. The question that nags at me is this: Whose kingdom am I building when I jump on one of these bandwagons?

 

Certainly, I would like to see steady, fast, and lasting church growth—especially in my local church. I pray that as I begin to see that movement of God where I am, I will be honest enough to know that it’s Him and not me, and that, in order for it to be genuinely His kingdom that is growing, I will facilitate the starting of new local churches that train leaders who train leaders.

 

For those who are helping me think through these issues, be sure to leave a comment.

It probably started long before I ever accepted God’s call to become a minister, and it will continue long after I am retired, or dead, and gone. Pay for preaching. There is a constant tension for the one called of God to minister the gospel in the world that keeps the question alive: ought I to be paid for what I do? And if so, should I charge? And if so, how much?

The Apostle Paul did not help as he gave us instruction because at one point he told us that those who “receive instruction in the word must share all good things with” those who teach (see Galatians 6:6). And then in another letter he assured us that

those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 15But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. (from 1 Corinthians 9 ESV)

So, which is it, Paul? Should we be paid? (apparently, yes) Or are we to make the gospel free for all? (again, apparently, yes)

Bottom line: as a church we must provide for the physical needs of those who open the word and expose it for us to free them from the worry involved in meeting those needs and giving them the time to honestly dig into the word and justly offer it in a public manner. When the church does this, she is proper in her expectation of the pastor to do more than fly by the seat of his pants. I see abuses to this biblical mandate on both sides of the pulpit.

The fact that we have US Senators leading investigations of major ministries tells me that there are ministers who are moving from accepting the gift of support that their church can afford to collectively provide to milking the sheep (can we do that?—how about shearing the sheep) for extravagances not necessary either for their personal need or for the ministry of the gospel, but only of the building of their own kingdom (more on that at another time). The desire of the plastic preachers to build their audience removes from them the focus required to rightly handle the word of God.

On the other side of the dais is the congregation who would rather use their position as “employer” of the preacher to direct him in what to say, or to simply leave it up to the preacher to “do what is right” without expecting excellence from his study.

This question, which hit me between the eyes during my seminary days, can be extremely divisive. There were different schools of thought I encountered:

  • Set your “minimum requirement” and talk to no church who will not meet your magic pay package number.
  • Don’t ever talk about support package, it will influence whether you talk to a church or not.

And complications ensue because preachers become mercenary in their approach to ministry. Two things strike me: First, if indeed God has called me to the ministry, then I must approach this task of handling His word with excellence so that I will be a workman who is worthy of the task I am hired to do. I don’t need to set a fee chart for the service that I provide to the church, but ought to expect my needs to be met in as far as the church has the ability to do so. Is it valid for me to be a minister without having to work outside the church for any sustenance? I would ague, yes. At the same time this does not negate the validity of the one called to work with the word, and lead a congregation while at the same time fulfilling responsibilities in the business world to meet family financial needs. There are churches at both of these financial levels with validity in their existence—one that can well afford to meet all the physical needs of their leader, the other able to work with a leader who has less free time, but as much of a calling, and can work with the local church who has a smaller coffer to pay from.

Secondly, I see a need—a drastic need—for the local church to determine their level of ability and not over- or under-step that level as they look to fill an empty pulpit. The church should look honestly—neither miserly nor unrealistically—at the resources available to her, and offer to the possible candidate accordingly. The old joke is that the church wants the new pastor to be thirty-five years old with fifty years’ experience. The reality is that many churches expect the pastor to preach like Adrian Rogers, write like Max Lucado, and shepherd like Jesus although they’ve called Buddy M. Leikum to fill the pulpit.

What do you think?

. . .For a bit of shameless self-promotion. I addressed the question of what to do for my blushing bride at Valentine’s Day by completing, publishing, and dedicating my first book of sermons to her. You can order your copy from Lulu.com for $7.50 plus shipping (or download for $1.00–note that the download is only electronic and you won’t have a pretty book to wrap and give to the missus).

The book is a collection of sermons I preached when I first came to Mulberry Grove, and is entitled So, This Is Church. It’s not the final word, or even the best word on it, but for those who like to read sermons, maybe it’ll give you some quick food for thought.