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.

Advertisements