Category Archives: Church Life

Driving Between Two Ditches

A Blog Series on the Book of Revelation, Chapter 2:12-17

Part 4 (2:8-11)  ΑΩ  Part 6 (2:18-29) →

I think that the most difficult thing about being a pastor was probably the fact that I often found myself needing to teach on an issue—and teach with passion—despite the fact that I didn’t really measure up on that issue myself.

No one assumes that pastors are perfect. But then again, they kind of do. They suspect that pastors have this being-a-Christian thing pretty much nailed down. After all, they’re professional Christians, right? I don’t think I ever projected perfectionism. I tried to make it clear that I was always including myself in my exhortations to the congregation. But still… How do you preach passionately about giving when you’re not a particularly passionate giver? How do you urge people to be compassionate when you’re not all that compassionate? How do you encourage purity of mind, when that’s really not something you’ve got nailed down?

I once heard someone ask John Piper if he considered himself a joyful person. After all, he had written the book on finding our deepest joy and satisfaction in God. He said something like, “No. It’s called ‘Desiring God.’ Not ‘I Have Arrived at Deepest Joy In God.’ I’m not a particularly joyful person. I just know what I want really badly.”

That’s why it’s taken me so long to write this post. It’s tough to write passionately about something I don’t have nailed down. But I know what I want really badly. When you’re a pastor, Sunday’s going to come whether you want it to or not. The people are going to be there. You have to say something. Blogging is obviously different. There’s not that handy built-in deadline. But I need to write this. I’m not standing up until it’s done.

In Revelation 2:12-17, God turns his focus to Pergamum, the third of the seven churches in Asia Minor. the church at Pergamum had almost exactly the opposite problem of the church at Ephesus. The Ephesians were so concerned with doctrinal integrity and internal maintenance of purity and solidarity in the church that they had become completely ineffective at reaching people outside the church. The church at Pergamum, on the other hand, was so concerned about engaging their culture that they had increasingly begun to accommodate and blend with their culture.

Some of them clearly had stood firm. Despite the fact that the social pressure to participate in pagan worship in the many temples in Pergamum was so intense that God describes the city as “where Satan has his throne” and “where Satan lives” (v. 13), he affirms many of the believers:

“Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city…” (v. 14)

But many had not stood firm. There were apparently some in the church who were leading others into idolatry and sexual immorality. People who in the name of cultural engagement and “relevance” were enticing their brothers and sisters to compromise their convictions and throw themselves into the stream of the ways of Pergamum. John draws on a story from the Old Testament to illustrate what was happening:

“There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (v. 14)

Greg Beale explains: “Balaam was a pagan prophet hired by Balak, king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon the invading Israelites. God prevented Balaam from doing so and caused him to issue a blessing on them instead (see Num. 22:5–24:25). However, Balaam subsequently devised a plan in continued disobedience to God whereby some of the Moabite women would entice the Israelite men to ‘defect from the Lord’ (31:16) by fornicating with them and joining with them in the worship of their pagan gods (25:1–3). This plan was successful, and God punished the Israelites for their idolatrous involvement. …Balaam became proverbial for the false teacher who for money influences believers to enter into relationships of compromising unfaithfulness, is warned by God to stop, and is finally punished for continuing to disobey.”

The truth is that every believer, at some point, is going to deal with either “Ephesus-think” or “Pergamum-think.” Maybe both. My experience is that most people who grow up in the church are trained in “Ephesus-think” and they have to figure out how to break out of it and become ambassadors of Christ who effectively engage the world without slipping into “Pergamum-think.” On the other hand, it seems that most people who come to Christ later in life find “Pergamum-think” more natural, and they have to figure out how to weed immorality out of their lives and build solid Christian relationships without slipping into “Ephesus-think,” where they don’t have a single genuine friendship with a non-believer and are completely ineffective at drawing near to messy people who are far from Christ.

I’ve lived in both kinds of “think” and unfortunately I’ve allowed myself to be burned by both. Apparently I’m not particularly good at living in either Ephesus or Pergamum. I want internal purity and congregational cohesion, but there have been times when those pursuits have made me worthless as an evangelist and “friend of sinners,” like Jesus. And I want to engage with culture and form substantive, genuine relationships with messy people. But there have been times when those pursuits have drawn me too far in to the place “where Satan has his throne,” so to speak.

I want to be better. I want to be stronger. I want to set a better example. I want to drive the road between these two ditches without ending up in either. And here’s what I’m clinging to:

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (v. 17)

This is God’s promise of blessing and reward to those who are victorious. And victory, in this case, is navigating the opportunities and dangers of Ephesus and Pergumum while remaining “true to my name.” (v. 13). Those who have lived too long in Ephesus should not go be citizens of Pergamum. And citizenship in Ephesus is not the answer for those who have lived too long in Pergamum. As our lives bring us through the temptations and blessings of being both a citizen of the world and of heaven, our call is not to plant feet firmly in either until heaven comes to earth. Rather, our calling is to faithfulness in both.

To the faithful, God promises “hidden manna”—sustenance, provision. Life. And he promises a “white stone with a new name written on it” (v. 17). Wright explains: “Pergamum’s great buildings were made of a black local stone. When people wanted to put up inscriptions, they obtained white marble on which to carve them. This was then fixed to the black buildings, where it stood out all the more clearly. …The fact that nobody knows this name except the one who receives it [means]… Jesus is promising to each faithful disciple, to each one who ‘conquers’, an intimate relationship with himself in which Jesus will use the secret name which, as with lovers, remains private to those involved. The challenge to avoid the false intimacy of sexual promiscuity is matched by the offer of a genuine intimacy of spiritual union with Jesus himself.” (Revelation for Everyone, 23)

So, God, make me faithful to you through Ephesus and Pergamum. Make me true to your name as I navigate the church and the wider world. Forgive me for the times I have failed to engage the world without being infected by the world, and for the times I have become so insulated by the church that I haven’t loved the lost well. Wash away my filth, heal my wounds, and help me to do better for you this time around. Amen.

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The “Perks” of Being An Exile

A prevalent theme in Leslie’s and my heart and mind lately is what I’ve come to call the “exile theme.” As I read through the Old Testament this fall and winter, I continue to resonate more than ever with the story of Israel’s exile. It reflects in so many ways the road Leslie and I have walked over the past months. I so hope that nothing I say below sounds in any way melodramatic. But the exile theme has been a great source of strength and encouragement for me, and I’m writing in hope that it will be for some of you as well.

When Israel was on the brink of exile—the previously unimaginable removal of God’s promise people from God’s promised land on account of their persistent rebellion—Jeremiah reminded them of all the ways God had pleaded with them to turn from their sin:

For the past twenty-three years—from the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah, until now—the Lord has been giving me his messages. I have faithfully passed them on to you, but you have not listened. Again and again the Lord has sent you his servants, the prophets, but you have not listened or even paid attention. Each time the message was this: “Turn from the evil road you are traveling and from the evil things you are doing.” (Jer. 25:3-5a)

I see a reflection of this in the way I ignored the Lord’s messages for a very long time. I’m sure some of you can relate. God pleads with us repeatedly to turn from our rebellion and forsake our sin, but we ignore the Holy Spirit’s warnings and continue on the “evil road.”

When God’s patience had finally run out, Jeremiah announced the inevitable coming judgment:

And now the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: “Because you have not listened to me, I will gather together all the armies of the north…. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever. I will take away your happy singing and laughter. …This entire land will become a desolate wasteland. (Jer. 25:8-11a)

I see this reflected in the way my wife and I sometimes feel when we are with friends from our previous church community from which we had to be removed because of my failings. We love being with them. But it can also be very hard. We love it because we have deep and strong and life-giving relationships with them (see my post on April 21). But it can also be heart-wrenching to hear about the good things happening in the church community we so love. And we love our new church home. But it can also be very hard to be there. We love it because we feel so very warmly welcomed there. We resonate with the worship and teaching styles and content. Our kids love the Sunday school class. And yet, we don’t feel at home yet. We will. But we don’t yet.

It also occurs to me that there must have been some (relatively) innocent people in Israel who also had to go into exile despite their innocence. Surely not everyone in Israel sinned in the same way. Surely not everyone committed idolatry to the same degree and rebelled to the same extent. But they all shared in the fate of the worst of them and had to suffer the heartbreak that some were much more responsible for because they all shared in the covenant together.

Again, there is a reflection in our experience. It breaks my heart that my family has had to endure the heartbreak of exile that I was disproportionately responsible for because of the fact that they are in a covenant with me.

Nevertheless, even in exile, I’m reminded, there is hope and there is a mission. The hope for the exiles is God’s promise that the exile will end:

Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. I will rebuild you, my virgin Israel. You will again be happy and dance merrily with your tambourines.” (Jer. 31:4-5)

We know that the sense of loss and heartbreak will dissipate and that at some point we will feel fully engaged and fully invested in a church community again. We know that at some point we’ll look back at this season of life with even more gratitude and understanding than we already do. And we trust that we’ll have more joy and fruitfulness in the future than we otherwise would have had because we’ve gone through this. We’re hoping and trusting in that promise. That’s what it means to believe in an all-knowing, all-good, sovereign God.

The mission for the exiles was to serve the Lord where they were, rather than wasting time lamenting that they weren’t where they might like to be. As Jeremiah wrote to the people of God in exile:

Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare. (Jer. 29:5-7)

My family and I are being sent into some new places in this season of “exile”—most notably our new worship community and my new professional field. We want to seek the peace, prosperity and welfare of these places. We want to plan to stay. It wouldn’t be surprising to us if God had us here for a long time. So, we’re planning to be here for a long time and if God opens a new path for us at some point, we’ll walk it. We want to serve our church and its community, and I want to be a missionary in the new profession God has opened up before me. I get to put my money where my mouth is. For years I’ve been exhorting men and women to be missionaries to the “9 to 5 window”—everyday apostles to the places God has sent them during the workday. I know God is now calling me to live out that exhortation myself. And I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Being in “exile” doesn’t mean God isn’t with us or with you. He was with Israel. He is with us. He is with you. And we’ve already begun to see the fruit and opportunities for the gospel that God has opened up for us in this new season of life. What an amazing privilege. What an amazing grace to continue to serve the one true God as his ambassador.

May God give me—and all of us—strength and boldness as we live out our calling as his messengers to a broken world in desperate need of its King.

Divided: A Youth Pastor’s Perspective

Hello TWOG readers.  Just in case you were wondering if my role here was more of an honorary or emeritus position, I actually do plan on posting occasionally.

You should know that, while I am a youth pastor, I don’t plan on having all or even most of my posts related to the subject of youth ministry.  Something recently came up, however, that I thought might be a nice introductory post.

I had the opportunity to view Divided, a somewhat controversial new movie about youth ministry produced by the National Center For Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC) and directed by the Leclerc brothers.  You can actually watch it free online for a limited time.  The premise of the entire film is that “modern youth ministry is contrary to Scripture,” but really, the film goes way, way beyond that.  I’ll explain below.

It’s important to point out in the beginning, however, that this isn’t a new argument.  The idea that youth ministry is not only unfounded Scripturally but opposed to the Bible has been argued ad nauseam.  At the same time, however, I am deeply troubled by how youth ministry has been done in many contexts in America, so when a proponent of the Family Integrated Church (FIC) movement writes a book, I’m in the habit of reading it.  I have always found voices like Voddie Baucham to be incredibly helpful.  This is why I was eager to watch the film.

So what about this movie? As someone who not only has a youth ministry major but also has been a youth pastor for the past five years in the Twin Cities area, am I now convinced that my college major and ministry position are somehow deeply unbiblical? That I have wasted not only my four years of undergrad work, but my previous five years as a youth pastor?  Not hardly.  I’ll tell you why.

A Fun Movie to Watch

First of all, let me say that in many respects, Divided was a fun movie to watch.  The Leclerc brothers are obviously very talented filmmakers, and their eye for cinematography makes the film not only engaging, but, dare I say, entertaining (which itself is ironic, considering that using entertainment and “worldly tactics” to get students interested in what you’re saying is a method that the movie lambastes, but I digress).

I also agreed fully with many of the ideas presented in the movie: the mandate for men in the church to raise up and disciple their families; the family being the primary place where discipleship of children/adolescence takes place; the need to get away from program based ministry and engage more intentionally in an organic, and at times even integrated, model of church; the destructiveness of entertainment-based youth ministry and the wrongheaded tendency of teaching in youth ministry to be based on the lowest common denominator.  All of these are major themes in the movie and I whole-heartedly agree with them.

A False Dichotomy

But here’s the problem.  Why does any church, anywhere, need to choose between actively discipling the parents in the church and having additional supplements and outlets for the training and equipping of young men and women?  In other words, I’m not saying that the FIC understanding of church is wrong.  Far from it. As a youth pastor I often find myself resonating with the FIC model, and refreshed by authors and writers who advocate for the primary role of the family in the discipleship of students.  However, the Leclerc brothers and the NCFIC make it sound as though any age specific model that any church has ever offered is contrary to the Scriptures and therefore offensive to God—that it has been influenced by Darwin and paganism but not the Bible.  This is unquestionably the point of the entire film.  This assertion, however, is not only untrue, but a false dichotomy.

We don’t need to choose between the primary role of discipleship that the family plays in the lives of students and a ministry that teaches, preaches, and lives out the gospel specifically with students.  A church can (and sometimes even should) do both.  That is to say that the church should always be raising up fathers to disciple their families primarily. But sometimes, and depending on the context, the church should spend at least some time building specifically into young people with the gospel.

One of the ways the film sets up this false dichotomy is arguing two points throughout, and these points can, at times, seem utterly contradictory.  For instance, one individual taking the FIC point of view on youth ministry argues that the reason that youth ministry in the church is dangerous is because it keeps youth from having many fathers, many grandfathers, and many brothers and sisters in the family of God (and I agree that this is a danger, incidentally).

But the very next person interviewed says that the reason youth ministry is dangerous is because it turns the hearts of the youth away from their fathers and toward many different people in the church—such as youth pastors, adult youth workers, and peers.  But which is it?  We need some clarity here.  Are they saying that youth can and should have many fathers, grandfathers, mothers, grandmothers, and brothers and sisters (mentors and peers) in Christ, but none of those people are a threat to turning hearts away from fathers unless that person is a youth worker?  If so, what specifically about a “youth worker” makes him or her dangerous in turning hearts away from fathers in comparison to others in the church?  Something seems strange here.

I would suggest that the reason they sound contradictory is that they’re setting up a false dichotomy.  Why can’t it be both?  Why can’t a child have their hearts turned in a positive, loving, respectful way to both their parents and their pastors?  After all, even if youth ministry is non-existent in the church, children and students in the church are still going to have pastors and pastoral authority.  And the Scriptures still command everyone in the church to submit to their pastors.  So what do we do with that?

Do we really want our students not to have positive, loving, growing, engaging, respectful, and equipping relationships with their pastors for fear that it will turn their hearts from their fathers?  Is it really an either/or situation?  Or is the idea for children to have both a healthy relationship with the pastor/elder role in the church and have a deep relationship and love for their parents, who have the primary role of discipleship?  In other words, I don’t understand why students can’t be influenced in a meaningful way by a pastor without that relationship threatening the family.  But this is exactly how the movie portrays the student/youth pastor relationship.

Actually, this is only one of many false dichotomies presented in this movie.  According to this film, you probably cannot both have age-specific classes and be a biblical church, believe in an old earth and have a high view of Scripture, or attend a rock concert and be committed to teaching against worldliness. And the list goes on.

A False Representation

If you have seen the film, at this point you might be saying, “okay, but Jeremy, didn’t you watch the movie?  Both sides were presented and the FIC model clearly won out.”  My answer to this is that yes, I did watch the movie, and both sides were presented in the same way that both sides are presented in a Michael Moore film, such as Bowling in Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11.  You have to be cautious when viewing any documentary, because they obviously are crafting an argument.  Granted, it’s more beneficial when a film says at the outset that they are crafting an argument rather than stating that the filmmaker is simply a person “on a journey” who is looking for answers, but we have to expect this when viewing documentaries.

The producers of this film were obviously very careful with who they selected for interviewing and equally as careful in the editing process. Straw men are easy to knock down, and the NCFIC create their share of straw men in this film.

Are there problems with the way many churches do youth ministry?  Absolutely.  Does that mean that all modern youth ministries are the same?  No.  Does it mean that there is only one biblical model of ministering to youth and family?  Absolutely not.

Tim Challies, who wrote a review of the film a couple of weeks ago, is absolutely correct when he says that “there are many conservative, biblical Christians who reject FIC and I am sure it would not have been difficult to interview a couple of them.”  So why didn’t they?  If it is true, as they claim, that nobody is able to make a reasonable argument from Scripture for youth ministry, why not simply interview some people who reject the FIC model? The reality is that if biblically faithful pastors like John Piper, Tim Keller, and Josh Moody, to name only a few, all have churches that from time to time use age specific models as a supplement to family discipleship, it is uncharitable not to let them explain why they think this is biblical before charging them with sowing “pagan seeds.”  It’s one thing to question the timeliness of certain methods for today.  It’s another thing entirely to assume that these men do not have any biblical grounding for the way they do ministry.

This misrepresentation is actually the most disappointing part of the entire film, as Challies Explains.

“Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the film, then, is it lumps all non-integrated churches together.  Those that have Wednesday evening classes for children end up in the same category as churches that have entire Sunday morning services geared specifically to entertaining the teenagers.  Churches that have an evening set aside for youth fellowship end up in the same category as churches that build their whole youth ministry around partying and Christian rock.  This is not only uncharitable, but also utterly ridiculous.  According to the subtle suggestions of this documentary, even the best youth programs are utterly unbiblical and will cause most of the young people to fall away from the faith.  That is complete and utter nonsense.”

Challies has put his finger on the fundamental problem with this film.  It is this misrepresentation that robs it of its credibility and therefore decreases its effectiveness.  This is heartbreaking and unfortunate, as the movie has so many great things to say—but it was completely avoidable.

A Few Remaining Problems

There are actually several other key problems with the film itself, such as (1) the statistic upon which the entire movie is based (the claim that roughly 70 percent of churched students will walk away from their faith in college), (2) the remarkably absurd claim that the movie actually devotes considerable time to that youth ministry is founded on paganism, and (3) the unconvincing attempts to make the FIC model of doing ministry a biblical mandate for every church.

For further thoughts on the trouble with this statistic, I would suggest an article by Kevin DeYoung entitled Beware the Over-Hyped Stat, where he actually calls this statistic of 70 percent of young adults leaving the church “a classic example of a good statistic gone bad.”  Tim Challies also writes an excellent piece on this stat entitled I Am Unalarmed, where he states that “far fewer than this number abandon the church when they have been raised in homes and churches that treasure and model and celebrate the gospel.”  Christian Smith, professor of sociology at Notre Dame, offers a general warning in his article entitled Evangelicals Behaving Badly With Statistics, where he claims that statistics in the church are commonly abused by individuals who “are usually trying desperately to attract attention and raise people’s concern in order to mobilize resources and action for some cause.”  While I am certainly not attempting to make light of this problem, we would be wise to heed DeYoung’s warning and “beware the over-hyped stat” that is at the core of the film.

For further thoughts on the biblical nature and history of age specific ministry, I would suggest the book Four Views on Youth Ministry and the Church, edited by my seminary advisor, Mark Senter.  It not only contains an FIC argument, but three others also, and these authors charitably and directly interact with one another in the book, leaving the reader in the end to realize that no ministry model is perfect. The reality is that the ministry model that works in our context in New Hope might not be the right model for a church in Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, New York City, or anywhere else.

Final Thoughts

So overall, this movie presented two extremes: Entertainment based youth ministries that exist primarily to give students a fun experience, and family integrated churches that believe age specific ministries to be completely unbiblical.  My position would have to be somewhere in the middle.

On the one hand, entertainment driven youth ministry is destroying the spiritual life of students in America.  There have been numerous articles written from youth pastors on this topic.  As Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean have noted well, students in our generation don’t hold to the gospel as much as they do a moralistic, therapeutic deism.  The hard reality is that we do need to continue to head toward a better way of doing youth ministry that expects more of students.  As Mark Driscoll notes in his book, The Radical Reformission, “the American concept of adolescence excuses immaturity among young people and welcomes rebellion and folly as rites of passage.  In our kingdom culture, young people are identified not as adolescents but rather as Christians of whom Christian living is expected.”

Youth ministries need to give students the truth—the gospel of Jesus Christ—as the gospel is not only what brings them into the kingdom, but what brings them transformation.  If I only have three years with students, I’m going to spend those three years relentlessly teaching the gospel.  And we certainly need to recognize the role of the family.  The family is the primary discipleship force in the lives of students, which is why we have ministries at our church that are designed to come behind the family in this role and to train up men to take on the leadership of their home.

I also completely understand when churches see the need in their context to not have an active youth ministry.  Youth ministry can become dangerously over-programmed to the point where the mission force of the church is stripped from their community because they’re always at church. This is one of the reasons why I think FIC is one among many models that is seeing real fruit and benefit for the kingdom of God.

On the other hand, I think that describing the FIC approach as the only biblical model is uncharitable and disingenuous.  Paul’s words have to be pretty strained in Ephesians and Colossians to somehow make them mandates for family integration in all situations. The reality is that we need to have many different models of family ministries in order to figure out what will be most effective in different contexts.

But that could be (and probably should be) another post altogether.  The bottom line is that while Divided offers some great thoughts about ministry, it may actually cause needless division—more division, actually, than the age specific ministries they are challenging.  So, while it could be great to watch this movie (there are so many great challenges throughout the film, especially in the last few moments), I’d suggest that you do so cautiously.  Normally I’d advise viewing a movie like this with a grain of salt.  For this movie, though, I’d bring the whole shaker.

The Perfect Church

frustrated1.jpgNo such thing.

I am more convinced than ever.  Despite the claims of this place (which seem to be grossly exaggerated), I am more sure than ever that there’s no perfect church.

While I’m at it, let me go a step further—because I doubt that many will dispute that there are no perfect churches.  I’ve actually become fairly sure that most churches that are “successful” (whatever that means) aren’t even really sure why they’re successful and, conversely, most churches that aren’t successful can’t really be sure why they’re not.

Obviously, there are some sure-fire “church killers.” If you stop focusing on Scripture and the biblical gospel, your church is gonna die.  Maybe not soon.  But it eventually will.  The biggest church in America is going to die.  Even huge churches that stop focusing on Scripture and the biblical gospel are not immune.  Whole denominations are not immune.

I was part of a conversation at lunch today that focused mainly on how to “do church” well.  What does “success” mean?  Is there one thing that is biblical success, or do different churches have different and valid meanings of “success”?  What do “numbers” mean?  How do you measure what’s really going on when you have lots of people at your church or have few people at your church? (Hint: You can’t.) What is “church”?  Do programs work?  Always?  Never?  Sometimes?  What about these churches that have a charismatic (not that kind) speaker and a rockin’ band and they get thousands of people?  Is that necessarily good or bad?  Are huge churches doing something right or something wrong?  Are small churches doing something wrong or something right?  Is it possible to know?

Every week there is a new article or program or book that promises huge results and has promising people promising huge results from it.  Just this morning there was another oneThis one was all the rage not long ago.  There’s also this one and this one and this one and everything from this guy. They all have good ideas.  They all make valid points.  And none of them will necessarily do much to help your church. That’s the truth that is never spoken. Sometimes you’re faithful and you get sawn in two anyway (Heb. 11:37).

Here’s what I’m (close to) convinced of: No one understands our culture perfectly.  Therefore no one understands the subculture/demographic they’re trying to reach perfectly.  And no one understands what reaches that subculture/demographic perfectly.  And no one implements perfectly what reaches the subculture/demographic they’re trying to reach.  And no one has a perfect grasp on what “reach” means.

So… where is this rant going?

Here’s what I think: I think church leaders need not be so frustrated.  I think we need to think carefully about what we want to do.  We need to come up with an imperfectly conceived, imperfectly thought-out, imperfectly implemented plan and then pray, submit ourselves to God, and see what the Holy Spirit does with it.

I deeply appreciate the humility of people like Matt Chandler, whose church has grown to 6,000+ in six years and he admits that he doesn’t know why.  He’s actually surprised.  And he admits that there are both a lot of committed followers of Christ as well as a lot of uncommitted “Christians” at his church.  And he doesn’t like it (the latter, that is).  I suspect that he’ll never try to write a book on how to “do ministry” because he and his staff don’t know what happened.  Matt started preaching, he hired his friends, and the church blew up.  He accepts conference speaking invitations with a certain amount of disdain because he knows he’s doing nothing differently than a thousand other pastors whose churches aren’t going as well. But no one asks pastors of churches of 200 people to speak at conferences—even if they are doing exactly what Chandler is doing.

On the other hand, I think it’s hilarious that so many pastors with big churches think they know why their church is big.  I don’t think they do.  I really don’t.  Not fully. There are too many factors involved – some known and some unknown.

So, am I saying that “how to do church” books are worthless?  Of course not.  Am I saying that Ed Stetzer isn’t a genius. Of course not.  Am I saying that the numerical “success” of megachurches is always hollow?  Of course not.  Am I saying that the smallness of small churches is always virtuous? Of course not.  I’m saying that “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (3:8).