Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"By My Spirit," says the Lord

Dear Friends,

That cartoon makes me laugh but the truth is that it's often difficult for me to relate to books and articles in ministry magazines about church growth. In the world of professional ministry, “megachurches” are 2,000 members and up and a “small” church is 300 or less. Most of the articles are about the megachurch that has become the pastor’s version of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” But we’re not coveting a 10,000 square foot estate, we’re coveting the 10,000 member church. In a recent article, a megachurch  celebrity pastor gives up his secrets on how to grow your church. He says, “The quality, consistency and personal impact of your ministry environments define your church. We need to provide a compelling setting and presentation for people who come to our church. Engaging presentations are central to the core of our church’s mission. You need presenters who can entertain and hold an audience’s interest. You need to use visuals and videos to engage your audience.” The author sums up his article by bottom-lining how to grow a megachurch, “’s all about the presentation.” Really? It’s not about God and a timeless and eternal Gospel message?

I do know a guy whose ministry looked very different. And what’s interesting is that, based on what we know about church growth today, this guy did everything wrong. Without consulting his logistics team, he returned to his small backwater hometown to preach at the local church. Now you’d hope that this would have been a very positive and encouraging experience for this new preacher. But he must have needed to work on his presentation skills because as soon as the sermon was finished, his good friends and neighbors tried to kill him. (Read Luke 4:16-30)

I’m thinking this guy that I know (by the way, you know Him too) should have toned down His politically incorrect doctrine and maybe worked a little harder on some nice graphics to illustrate His message. You can’t blame Him for messing up of course because He didn’t have magazines and professional consultants to show Him how to grow His ministry into a megachurch. He was clueless about how to maximize your message during a fund-raising campaign. And, He could have played off His popularity more effectively. He kept doing these awesome miracles and then told people to keep it a secret! Wrong!! Marketing quantifiable achievements in a high-value publicity campaign is foundational to the ministry’s success.

If Jesus were a celebrity pastor today, His people would book Him into the biggest sports arenas. His advisors would tell Him to eliminate all references to “sin” from His messages because sin is just an insensitive value judgement that can hurt another person’s feelings. On YouTube, the Sermon on the Mount would be short, memorable, funny, poignant and filled with quotable sound bites.

Jesus spoke the words of eternal life but a church growth consultant would have told Him, “J.C., this whole focus on repentance and redemption doesn’t speak to people’s felt-needs. You really need to preach abundance and prosperity. People don’t want a spiritual life, they want the good life..” And, the problem was that Jesus preached the most politically and religiously incorrect message that had ever been heard. He said that He was the Messiah. He said that He was the “I AM” meaning that He was God. Jesus didn’t promise prosperity to His followers. He promised the Kingdom of God. That unadulterated, unadorned, uncompromised Word of God was as hard to hear then as it is for our modern culture to hear today.

According to church-growth experts today, Jesus really made a bad church management decision by selecting non-professional and unskilled laborers to carry out His mission. His ministry staff was just a ragtag devoted band of misfits. Ordinary men and women who struggled with sin and temptations. Just like you and me. Twelve average men and a few women. But that was all it took.

How was it possible that such a small “church” of ordinary men and women were able to ignite a holy fire that was to change our world forever? The Kingdom of God advances “..Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6

Both then and now, God’s strategy for advancing His Kingdom depends not on casual followers but on devoted Spirit-filled disciples dedicated to the cause of Christ. The Gospel message spread not as a result of the Apostles’ compelling and charismatic presentation skills but through the power of God. It was the unadulterated, unadorned, uncompromised Word of God, spoken by faithful disciples, powered by the Holy Spirit, that drew people to Jesus. And 2000 years later, it still does. Amen?

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