Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Justifying the Decline

A friend posted a link to this on Facebook:

There are some places I absolutely agree.  Especially this:

Sentimentality and pragmatism are the one-two punch which has the American Church on the ropes, while a generation of church leaders acquiesces to the demands of our consumer culture. The demands are simple: tell me something that will make me feel better (sentimentality for the churchgoer), and tell me something that will work (pragmatism for the church leader). Yet it is not clear how either one of those are part of what it means to be the church.
Feel good Christianity certainly isn't the pathway Jesus taught.  Church growth for the sake of growth certainly isn't the path of Christ either.  But Mr. Suttle does get a little bit off base.

The fundamental problem with the one-two punch of sentimentality and pragmatism is, of course, the church's job is not to affirm people's lives, but to allow the gospel to continually call our lives into question. The church's job is not to grow -- not even to survive. The church's job is to die -- continually -- on behalf of the world, believing that with every death there is a resurrection. God's part is to grow whatever God wishes to grow. Growing a church isn't hard ... being faithful as the church, that's a different story.
Number one, the Church's job is to fulfill the Great Commission found in Matthew 28: to make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.  The grace portion of the Great Commission indeed affirms peoples' lives, but there is also a call to transformation--to discipleship--to be covered in the dust of our Rabbi, to coin a phrase used by Rob Bell. 

What Mr. Suttle misses in his little diatribe is number two: a congregation engaged in doing number one does not die, at least numerically.  Of course, it does die figuratively.  It dies to self.  It dies to self-interest.  It dies to the "what's-in-it-for-me" attitude.  These things are not resurrected.  They are battled against continually as God molds us into a new creation--those who imitate Him and are Christ's body in the world.

Suttle argues that this faithfulness leads to shrinkage:

Convincing the church she does not exist for the benefit of her members, but for the life of the world is a bad church growth strategy. It's also exactly what the church must do. It's a tough sell because crucifixion seems like a losing strategy unless you believe in the resurrection. Faithfulness seems like a losing strategy unless you believe that the power of the gospel trumps our ability to come up with all the right answers to all the right questions.

So, God save us from the successful church. Give us churches who shun sentimentality and pragmatism and aren't afraid to face the inevitable shrinkage which comes as a result of following Jesus. God save us from church leadership strategies. After all, it takes zero faith to follow a strategy, but incredible faith to pursue the kingdom of God and leave the rest in God's hands. If I've learned anything as a pastor, it is this: faithfulness flies in the face of sentimentality and pragmatism, and if you pursue it you have to expect small numbers.
Here is my rebuttal:

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  --Acts 2:37-42 (The Day of Pentecost)

Authentic teaching of Christ crucified.

Led by the Spirit of God.

Equals numerical shrinkage?

I don't think so.

Mr. Suttle's diatribe is simply Prozac for those denominations who are in decline.  It's disguising a failure to follow Jesus' Great Commission by self-justification.  "We're not growing because we're being faithful."  I call BS!


Kathy said...

Pastor Kevin -- Who is the leader of the Apostles in your rebuttal?


P.S. Great post, BTW.

Kathy said...

Here is a quote from the article:

"I'm the pastor of a church called Redemption Church in Olathe, KS. Our church was planted in 2003 and founded upon church leadership principles that worked like a charm. We grew from 2 families to around 200...."

In my church (Sts. Peter & Paul, Miami) we have 200 families at any of our 8 Sunday masses. (We have 2 daily masses.) We have 4000 families. At every mass, we have the Real Presence in the Eucharist and the Word of God interpreted through the Tradition from the Apostles. That's the "secret."

In an article about size, Suttle doesn't even mention the by-far largest Church in the US and world -- the Catholic Church! What blindness! What total prejudice! What can you expect from the Liberals at the Huffington Post?!