We live in a church world were pragmatism sometimes trumps biblical instruction. This doesn’t seem to be done intentionally but ignorantly as we sometime adopt good values that drive us away from biblical values.
Usually, this drift comes from a pragmatic approach to ministry. In other words, from asking questions like, “What’s working? What’s not working? How can we do it better?” Those questions are excellent and can greatly enhance the level of ministry a church does; however, unfiltered, those questions can cut the rope of biblical fidelity and send a church slowly drifting down a dangerous current.
Many church leaders have not had the privilege of studying the Bible formally in a Bible College or Seminary; nevertheless, every believer is fully equipped by the Spirit of God for studying the Word of God. Church leaders specifically have a responsibility in ensuring that the practices of the church are in keeping with the instructions of the Word.
Thus, the purpose of this post is not to cause us to shy away from leveraging culture, implementing change, utilizing technology, or seeking to do ministry in more effective ways (the Lord knows that the church should probably be doing a lot more of all of these); rather, the hope is that this post will cause us to remember that at the end, the church must evaluate its values and practices based on the Scriptures.
So, what are some examples of “drifting” in pragmatism?
Church growth at the expense of church health. There is nothing necessarily wrong with having a big church. A whole lot of people were saved at Pentecost and the church was exploding in many ways throughout Acts; however, we must not neglect the purity of the church in the midst of growth. Church discipline is important. I was in a conversation with a pastor one time about church discipline and he said, “You can’t do that. If you do it, you’ll lose people.” My response was that not only “can we,” but “we must!”
Leadership structures grounded in tradition. Who makes the decisions? Who determines church discipline, health, growth, strategies? Who is leading our churches? Notice, the question isn’t who’s preaching, but who’s leading. Today, some churches are led by church councils made up of lay people, others pastors, elders, or deacons. I once served in a church lead by a council of lay people. The sad thing was that they were not held to any biblical qualification for serving and many were unqualified. They were “good” people. They were “leaders.” The system “worked,” but it was unbiblical. While those reading this may be of various persuasions, I believe the biblical structure is elder-led. If you disagree, that’s fine. Just be sure that you are reasoning from the Scriptures and not from tradition.
Good music that just isn’t sound. Some songs are more catchy than others. Some songs just get us “in the Spirit” so to speak. And, what is the role of the musicians at our churches? Whether we admit it or not, it is usually to entertain. Oh, we would never say that, but we will leave and say, “Oh, wasn’t that good this morning.” We usually mean, “I liked the style of music they played and it made me feel good, sounded good, and stirred my emotions.” It’s all about our preferences. Nothing is necessarily wrong with being more responsive to certain styles or songs, but what about content? An assumption is often made that musicians did their job in preparing a biblically sound service. Some do, but some don’t. While we all want “good” music, we must insist that it is biblically accurate in its words and ultimately evaluate our music based on its content.
Good communication at the expense of substance. Preaching should be Bible-centered and Christ-centered, yet rarely do people leave evaluating the accuracy of the message. After all, the pastor is the “paid sage on the stage.” We have paid our “membership dues” and he had better get us ready for our week. Think about it. We have a battle to fight week in and week out, so he should stir us and give us the confidence we need to be successful. He should “feed” us. I once heard someone tell a pastor that they have it hard enough during the week and that the pastor is too heavy and convicting. He was told that he should tell more jokes, because people need to feel good when they come to church. (Yes, I heard this conversation! Crazy!) Well, unfortunately, too many of us are bloated, self-indulgent, spiritual gluttons who need more conviction and more living. We are like the Dead Sea with lots coming in and nothing going out. We dare not seek a rock-star, entertainer pastor, nor evaluate the pastor on the basis of one. We must seek to be sensitive to the right teaching of the Word and insist that it be grounded in the truths of God’s Word rightly interpreted and presented while upholding the majesty of Jesus the Christ.
So, are our churches drifting? If so, we must quickly seek to tether them to the clear teachings of God’s word. If not, we need to occasionally check the rope for frays or loosening knots.