Thanks for your kind letter. I appreciate your willingness to reach out to me for advice concerning recent developments in your church home. Your question to me was pretty direct. Given your pastor’s recent declaration that he intends to grow the church membership by 10,000 in five years, how should you express your concerns that numbers have now replaced the Gospel as the focal point of your church’s mission?
My answer will also be direct. In my view, you should not bother voicing your concerns to your pastor. You should leave your church immediately. That may sound extreme so please allow me to explain.
Whenever pastors get together in groups they make small talk just like anyone else. It isn’t long before one pastor asks another pastor the size of his congregation. If a pastor has a large church he tries to conceal his pride when he reveals the size of the congregation. If a pastor has a small church he is almost apologetic when he reveals the smaller number. Their interaction is similar to children arguing on a playground – each asserting that his dad is bigger and can beat up the other guy’s dad.
Of course, the pastor who has the biggest congregation eventually starts to think it is a reflection of his greatness – as opposed to the work of the Holy Spirit. He begins to take pride in church growth and would consider it to be a failure on his behalf if the church did not continue to grow. Once his ego becomes wrapped up in the size of his church, the numbers will never be enough to satisfy him. He doesn’t realize this unless someone brings it to his attention. But no one ever does. So he starts setting numerical growth goals and target dates for meeting them.
This is where the disaster begins. It always manifests itself in certain symptoms. Specifically, you can expect these five things to happen once a pastor becomes numbers driven instead of Gospel driven.
1. Politically correct ministry – First, the pastor starts some sort of politically correct ministry that is meant to grow the church by showing that it is culturally engaged. A safe ministry is usually chosen – something like a fund aimed at combatting human trafficking. This is a safe option because no one in the congregation is actually engaged in human trafficking.
2. Avoidance of hot button issues – Second, the pastor will start to avoid engaging hot button issues in the culture war. After Planned Parenthood is caught trafficking in human body parts, the pastor will refuse to speak out about that kind of human trafficking. People actually disagree on the abortion issue so taking a stand would risk offending people. Since abortion is actually happening in his church it isn’t safe to talk about it. Ironically, this means that future church members will be aborted because the pastor is only interested in growing the size of the congregation. Numbers-driven pastors are too obtuse to realize that forsaking the truth is always self-defeating.
3. Use of small group leaders to deflect criticism – Same sex marriage is one of those topics that cannot be avoided altogether. But the empire-building pastor cannot risk being quoted when expressing his true beliefs on the issue. That might make the papers, which might drive away potential members. Therefore, he will punt to the small group pastor who will instruct small group leaders on how to address the issue. In other words, the pastor will ask the small group leaders to say the things he simply lacks the courage to say. Thus, he can avoid talking about sin and try to keep things positive, keep people giving, and keep the numbers moving in the right direction.
4. Self Help Books – To bolster the pastor’s image and expand the church’s reach look for him to write a book in the near future. The book will not be Gospel centered. It will be person centered. It will focus on the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. Thus, the title of the book will contain a personal pronoun rather than a reference to God. Small group study guides will follow. Since the material is focused on self-improvement and popular psychology, your pastor could try selling them to local businesses for use in management training sessions.
5. Neglect of Staff - In order to help expand the pastor’s empire and drive up his numbers, the church will start to acquire real estate. This means that staff salaries will be frozen for years on end. Consequently, staff members who are working full time for the church and trying to raise a family will have to take second jobs working on the weekends just to survive. Meanwhile, the pastor’s empire expands. Or so he thinks. The seeds of discontent are being sown and the foundations of the church are beginning to crack.
In short, I would urge you to think about the big picture, rather than focusing on your own drifting church. There is a much larger cultural drift we have been experiencing as a nation. I am not the least bit surprised at the direction or pace of that cultural drift. Drift happens when people are not being led in the right direction. It is clear that many pastors have turned into absentee fathers pursuing their own interests while their children are being led astray. It is what the Enemy intended.
Our pastors must wake up and realize that ministry is not a profession. It is a calling. If they don’t know the difference then they need to do something else. In the meantime, make sure you are not dropping money into the offering plate of the numbers-driven church. To do so is to enable the Enemy in his mission to water down the church and fundamentally transform our culture and our children.
Thanks for writing, Raymond. I know you’ll do the right thing.