Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The "Curse" of the American Church - Success

In the first blog initiating this conversation I quoted a megachurch pastor who said the "the American church wants the shortest possible route to success".

I have loved being in my third decade of walking with Jesus and "watching the tide rolling away" [With all due apologies to the songwriter]. Over this time there has been an ever evolving description of what this "success" may look like. From the Jesus People movement, salvation was the true measure of success as1000's rolled into the kingdom. The Charismatic Renewal captured us with the person, presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Success was the priesthood operating and the gifts flowing.

Well I could trace the history of the last 30 years and show how each major divine visitation took that moment as the "true" measure of success - at times it was prayer, then healings, then again it was church planting and so the list goes on.

For the American church beyond any doubt, the most consistent yardstick of success is statistical growth. The more 'butts in chairs' in gatherings over the weekend, the greater was the 'success' of the leader and his church. That dear friend is the tragedy of this unfolding story.

As I have sat with planters and replanters aground the USA, many have wanted to give up. Between the tears and heartache, the ultimate reason often is simply given "Chris we are not growing". This is extraordinary. When one looks over their shoulders, one sees community doing life together. The word is preached, they have over 60% of their congregation in prayer, they are loving and serving their community in true missional love... yet their growth is negligible, so they are slowly getting crushed by this great cultural demise.

Dear reader this is not a lightweight matter. The Damocles sword hangs over them day and night fearing that the dreaded call will come when someone will leave the community and they will again be faced with the raw reality that they are not successful because they are not growing.

Conferences are shadowed by the "successful" pastor who has gathered large groups of people. Their loud inaudible whisper is that you have to grow like me to get to speak at this event, write your book, sell your DVD.

Applause at feedback times swiftly jump to 'so-n-so' who has grown by 20% this last year - raucous and loud. Yet the genius who plods with diligence and obedience, feels the embarrassing silence of being forgotten and neglected.

I do believe in the role and value of large churches -  M and I labor with many of them. However it is not the size of them that measures their true biblical "success". It includes these textual plumb lines:

1.   Is there a clear gospel focus and hub in all that is done?
2.   Are they Trinitarian in theology and practice,
3.   Is their mission clearly communicated and embraced by the largest part of the body?
4.   Is there true community, doing life together in real, honest and transparent relationships?
5.   Is there true sacrificial devotion to worship, prayer, fasting and the scriptures - personally & corporately?
6.   Is there a culture of generosity that includes tithing but outstrips it as a revelation of God's giving nature?
7.   Is there a conviction and intentionality to recognize, raise up and release leaders for the church, the city, the country, both marketplace as well as for the church community?
8.   Within the theology of multiplication, is there a passion to see churches / campuses planted that advance the kingdom more than they replicate the brand?
9.   Is there an urgency to 'eager desire the greater gifts', a priesthood desperate for a greater collaboration with the Holy Spirit,
10.  Is there a passion to see this gospel "go to all nations". to disciple all nations, so that the end will come?

These are the true measures of success - then we can let God take care of the growth factor, as that is His part of the deal.

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