Monday, November 28, 2011

Concepts in Church Growth Philosophy Which Dumb Down Love

Not long after our church began, we bought a bus and started giving kids a ride to church.  God loves the world.  God loves children.  We wanted them to be saved.  I grew up in a church that did the same thing.  I'd seen other churches do it.  Nothing is wrong with picking people up for church.  I never put time into evaluating whether the whole or the parts of it were scriptural.

We could get people to attend.  We had 500 in one week.  It required knocking on every door in targeted neighborhoods of a particular demographic.  We could also "get" professions of faith, and we did believe in repentance.  We never used worldly music.  We did use extravagant puppet programs I wrote and produced and lots of other incentives---prizes, ice cream, toys, competition, games, and changing them up to add a little suspense.  It also involved a well-crafted and alluring flyer.

And then I got far enough into the New Testament, the example of Jesus and the Apostles, and the instruction of the Gospels and the Epistles, that I knew the promotion was wrong. I concluded that the invitation philosophy was wrong.  We still loved the kids.  That never stopped.  Before we quit going out to invite people, we ceased giving them things when they came.  When we stopped the handouts, the attendance trickled down to almost nothing.  This affected the motivation of workers.  Workers' invitations weren't effective unaccompanied by incentives.  When there were big results, it seemed to them like God was using them more.

Did we stop loving the kids?  Of course not.  God is love.  Obeying Him is not less loving.  God defines love.  We are always more loving when we follow the pattern God has set for us.  We are always less loving when we don't follow it.  We love other people by doing what God says for them.  They might not see it as loving.  We are often less loving when we give people what they want.  Because people like getting what they want doesn't mean that we are loving them when we give it to them.

I called a pastor a month ago and asked him to consider the affects of the above strategy on an even more massive scale.   I didn't tell him everything that was wrong with it.  I was concerned about one particular bad result for his church.  Using this method, a church can easily bring in far more unsaved people into it every week than saved people.   Church becomes about unsaved people.  The plan and presentation and program is adapted to unbelievers.

Two bad effects occur that result in that about which I was warning.  They are bad for everyone, but I was mostly concerned about his own young people and both the short term and long term consequences upon them.  First, unsaved people affect the church.  They corrupt.  It's why we practice church discipline.  We don't want unsaved people into the church, but this method brings them in droves.  They come because they are being offered what they like, so when they come, we must give them something that at least approximates what they like too.  Nothing in the way of serious exegesis will suffice.  The biblical method is to go out and preach.  That's as loving as you can get.  It's what Jesus did.  He left heaven's home to come to us, to reach us.  We come to Him through salvation.  If we use that biblical method, then they come to church because they are saved.  Now they have a reason to come and we don't have to change things up to conform to them at all.  All of these unsaved people week after week have a cumulative effect on our kids.  We're bringing it right into the church.

The first one isn't as serious as the second one, and that is the way that this philosophy of ministry changes the nature of the gospel.  The deep plowing of the soul through thorough gospel preaching doesn't occur.   Can someone be saved through the above strategy?  Probably.   The norm is a lot of professions with a very high turn over rate.  The gospel is minimized to fit the target group.  And this happens week after week.  People feel sorry about this after hundreds, even thousands, slip through the cracks.  But they had their chance.  And we move on.  No.  This isn't right.  We shouldn't move on.  And that's just the kids we drive in.  Our own young people also hear shallow after shallow gospel presentation that doesn't test the worldliness and stubbornness of a child's heart, that doesn't challenge his true desires.  It doesn't explore whether he truly even wants Jesus more than anything.

And so the kids in the church make professions.  But many are not saved.  And then later that starts showing up in behavior.  The answer from leadership isn't conversion or methodology.  The answer is parenting tactics.  More spanking.  Less television.  More grounding.  Big threats.  Public embarrassment.  Pushes to conform.  But you can't get an unsaved person to act like a saved person.  And if you do, he won't keep acting like a saved person.  He can only maintain that act so long.   Some drop out mid high school.  Others in college.  Some will even make it through college, as long as it's the same type of environment that forced them through to this point.  And if they don't make it, it's probably because of either bad parenting or not supporting church authority.  They didn't listen.  If they'd listened, things would have worked out fine.

Could it be the unbiblical methodology?  Could it be that something internal is being avoided due to methods that can only veer away from it?  Shouldn't that be considered?  Could it be that the parents should be trained in actual evangelism and discipleship instead of how to promote and market their way into a bigger bus attendance?  I think these questions should be asked.

When I called this pastor in private about the above, he was gracious and receptive, no signs of anger.  The next few Sundays, outside of my presence and in public, he was angry and mentioned the phone call in his sermons.   He and his church were not going to stop loving these kids.  That was what he got out of that part of my phone call---that I wanted him and his church to stop loving kids.  But they wouldn't stop loving kids like they do!  Circle the wagons!  The private phone call attacking us has come!

A lot in the world that is called "loving kids" is actually hating kids.  You don't love kids by using unbiblical methodology.  You love them when you go and preach to them.  If they want the gospel, they'll come.  If they don't want it, they won't.   That is what Jesus did.  And He is love.  He defines love.  You don't love the people of your church more when you involve them in unbiblical methods.  You love them when you teach and train them to live by faith.  Living by faith is operating based upon what the Bible says.  They see what it says and do it.  It takes faith to go out and preach the gospel.  It's foolishness to the lost. The lost don't think that a snocone and a kite and a rodeo and a carnival and a trip to the zoo and a bag of candy and a McDonald's hamburger are foolishness.  When it isn't foolishness, it also isn't something that needs to operate by faith.  You can do that by sight just fine.

There is a lot more that I would want to say, but you get what I'm talking about.  This world is dumbing down love and churches are helping the world do it.  People think they have a superior love, but it really is nothing more than sentimentalism.  It makes the people doing it feel like its love and the people receiving it that they are being loved.  But they are not.  Love takes the hit.  And since God is love, His attribute is diminished in people's minds as well.  Love rejoices in the truth.


Joshua said...

Solid point.

No one had the opportunity like Jesus did to generate a massive hoopla of enticement and worldly excitement to get people to come and hear him. Christ could create food out of nothing. He had over 100 people following him. He could have had disciples all over Jerusalem with carts bringing children to hear him, tempted with fresh grapes and figs that Jesus created out of nothing.

Christ could control the weather, so every day could be a perfect show-day, and He had the ability as God to put on a man-pleasing show like no fundamentalist will ever come close to. Why didn't he keep going with the feeding of the 5000 - that routine was packing them in. Surely it was worth more than 2 goes! If He made food every day for a month he'd be at the feeding of the 50000 in no time, and just think of all the opportunities to witness that would have brought!

Did Christ choke? Did He miss the boat? Did He fail to realize that all His divine powers should have been concentrated on tempting men to come to Him? If Christ knows the end from the beginning, then surely even at the time He was on this Earth He was aware of the "tactics" of 20th Century Christianity. Why didn't He practice what He knew then we are doing now?

It's not a culture thing. It must be that He rejected then what He rejects now - carnal cajoling for spiritual aims. It's never been God's way, and thus is comes as no surprise that it's not found anywhere in His Word.

Okay, soapbox time is over now. Getting a little carried away.



philipians2511 said...

I happen to agree wholeheartedly. I may get burned at the stake and run out of town. But, I agree.

First, unsaved people affect the church. They corrupt. It's why we practice church discipline.

I have come to the same conclusion. While listening to Br. Mitchell's sermon at a WOT conference he stated that the Church is exclusive. The Church is a body of born again regenerated believers. The Bible affirms that much.

Do the saved need to come and hear the gospel message? Yes, they do. But, if they refuse to be converted and continue to sow discord measures must be taken.This is love.

It really cheapens the Message when we turn the church into a circus.

Where would our churches be if we measured our services according to the Word of God? I believe that while we may not bring them in in droves we'd doubtless have as many troubles.

Respectfully Submitted,

Br Steve

Gal. 2.20

Bobby Mitchell said...

Amen to this post. Because it is the position of the Scriptures.

Thinking of the parable of the wheat and the tares and also Jude. "While men slept . . . certain men crept." In some cases it is "while men entertained . . ."

There is always the potential of a root that takes place in the local church--a root that produces bitter fruit. Some churches practically make themselves a greenhouse for such roots. You can listen to my message on the root of bitterness from the WOT meeting to understand what I'm saying here.

So often the warning passages about separation, church purity, false teachers, etc. are applied to the emergents, the liberals, modernists, etc. Friends, those passages were written to NEW TESTAMENT CHURCHES. NT CHURCHES ARE AT RISK of false teachers in their midst!!! NT CHURCHES MUST BEWARE!!! Let's be on guard.

Let's minister the Bible way.

Jonathan Speer said...

A few years ago I wrote a paper on this I'd like you to read if you have the opportunity or inclination. Can you let me know how I can send it to you?

Terry Reed said...

I agree with the spirit of your post. However, the church is also for the lost. Paul told the church at Corinth how to behave with the gift of tongues because of the unbelievers that would be there and the effect it would have on them. But you are right on that too often the saved let the lost bring them down instead of helping to raise them up. Far too many churches have allowed worldly practices to be a part of their services because it appeals to the world. God bless!
Terry Reed
Small Church Tools

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,


Something else that is worth mentioning is that there is nothing in Acts like the promotion/marketing methodology. Consider the actions of the unsaved vs. saved in Acts 5:13-14:

"And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)"

d4v34x said...

Amen, Bro. B.!

Anonymous said...

Tremendous article, Bro. Brandenburg. Thank you!

Luke Mace

Anonymous said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

Would you allow us to post this article in our blog at

Luke Mace

Anonymous said...

Parents in Paedobaptist churches love their children very much. So they believe that they should be baptised into the Covenant as Hebrews were circumcised into the Old Covenant. Then, though they profess differently, they consider these baptised children as saved. But most are not really saved. But what happens, usually within a generation, is that the children mature and replace the believers, and the assembly becomes apostate.

This is the same type of thing that happens when the church proclaims, based upon an emotional confession, that people are saved. The baptisism of many churches consists of the pastor making the confession for the individual being baptised, and sometimes without ever hearing a real confession from the person being baptised. This is especially true of children being baptised.

But baptism is the ordinance which establishes the believer's confession of salvation!

Look around. Read history. Interesting post!

Joe V.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This article is much needed.

Chad Bernick