Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Rethinking the Successful Church - Part 1

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Chapter 1: Megachurch Mania
Our obsession with Ministry Success

Rethinking the Successful Church
by Dr. Samuel Rima is a much need antidote to minister's obsession with numerical growth. Ministers justify their obsessions as a genuine desire to reach the world for Christ, but what really fuels much of this obsession is actually a desperate desire and need to succeed in one’s chosen field of endeavor. Pastors all have our dark issues that drive them to achieve it is they have determined success to be for them. Success to most local church pastors requires substantial numerical growth that is obviously noticeable to others. This “bigger is better” syndrome is supported and fed this obsession. Samuel Rima is not advocating an anti-church-growth philosophy of ministry, but see positive benefits to American evangelicalism coming from the Megachurch. What Samuel Rima is advocating is that we should promote a healthier middle ground from which a pastor can pursue a more spiritual balanced ministry.

Samuel Rima wants to move from Mania to middle ground in ministry philosophy. This is becoming more necessary because the obsession with the megachurch has lead to episodes of burnout for many ministers that have sucked the joy and fulfillment out of their ministry. The cost to the church of this irrational obsession is heavy. Causalities have included the builder generation (who build most of our churches right after World War II), congregational and individual spiritual formation, financial debt, etc. He expresses how he fell into this obsession, as well as an example of Dean (who came out of Seminary in the late ‘80s.

What Dr. Rima is concerned about is our tendency to reduce the church of God to a mere product that can be manufactured by our own efforts while neglecting the process God uses to expand his universal church. Ministry should be an experience in which God is sovereign and we get the satisfaction of being a small part of God’s process. What Samuel Rima is advocating is that the church growth movement refocus on God’s sovereignty in this amazing process. Pastors can experience a certain degree of serenity in ministry when they recognize the role God’s sovereignty plays in the process of church growth. God grows his church for his own glory and not to satisfy our neurotic ego needs. God is not on a five year growth plan when it comes to his church. Pastors must discover God’s purpose for each church they are part of and then facilitate his plan. This will remove a tremendous burden from pastors’ shoulders that pastors were never intended to carry.

Chapter 2: Recipes for Success
Just follow the Formula

Dr. Rima in this chapter deals with our technique and method driven mentality toward ministry. Recipes are loved because they remain the same regardless of the location, in spite of changing equipment and the passing of time. Following a recipe will always yield that delicious, mouth-watering meal! A favorite recipe becomes a favorite because it works!

Recipes are not just for food. There are recipes for virtually everything imaginable today. Just turn on the TV and see the countless recipes or formulas that promise to produce a specific, desirable result. Samuel Rima believes that this same mentality has found its way into the church and has begun to influence Christian leaders in their practice of ministry. He is afraid that many American pastors have succumbed to this mentality.

Most pastors try methods that have promised surefire results that only left them frustrated and possibly angry with the congregation that God had called them to serve. Some of the methods he reviews are: “The Phone’s for you” campaign, Expository preaching (turned into a recipe for growth), church marketing, seeker-sensitive services, and seven-day-a week churches.

It is interesting to note that inspite of the current emphasis on the various formulas for ministry success; the Scriptures are all but silent on the subject of church growth. There is a silence on specific recommendations of church growth strategies. Instead there seems to be an almost an obsessive focus on faithfulness in ministry and standing firm against the pervasive pull of a crumbling and godless culture. There is nothing said about attempting to appeal to popular culture. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul emphasis is almost exclusively on engouraging church leaders to lead a godly life and assist their congregations in doing the same. Their lives provide a powerful confirmation of the gospel realities that they preaching (see also 1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Samuel Rima points out that rather than giving advice on how to grow the church, Paul seems to discount the impact of human ingenuity and technique attributing the growth of the church in Corinth. Paul had determined to deliver the message in straightforward simplicity, relying on the power of God to make the message effective and produce growth. Later on in 1 Cor. 3:4-7 Paul astonishes and scolds the Christians at Corinth because of their apparent tendency to latch on to the techniques and methodologies of different leaders. God is important because he is the one who makes the seed grow. Dr. Rima wants us to ask “have we placed more faith in the current technique or formula we are using in an effort to produce growth than we have in God?”

Paul did employ different methods of proclamation at different times and with different audiences (Acts 17, 1 Cor. 9:20-23). We should use different method but we should never reduce the various methodologies into formulas for success, and place more confidence in them than we do in the simple power of the Gospel. People just have a tendency to take something God is doing and elevate it to an unhealthy level, so much so that their affections become attached to the method instead of God. We need to remember that it is God and God alone who is the source of genuine church growth. Our job is not to discover the right formula and then attempt to flawlessly implement it. Rather our job as leaders of God’s church is to listen for God’s voice and determine what he is calling us to do in our unique ministry setting.

I agree with Dr. Rima that we need to understand that the wild card in all of our efforts at church growth is the sovereignty of God. God causes the church to grow for his own pleasure and to advance his sovereign purposes not ours. Dr. Rima encourages leaders to come to grips with the role of God’s sovereignty over the growth and expansion of the church, so that they will begin to more consistently experience a measure of serenity and joy in the exercise of our ministry, regardless of the tangible outcome.

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