To continue to listen is essential because Jesus is still Owner-Operator of the church. It is, after all, his ministry, his authority, not ours. Our job is to cooperate. It is the Lord who adds to the church – not men – and he graciously stoops to use our clumsy efforts (Acts 2:47). Church growth theory and practices, though helpful, only tell us where to prune, what fertilizer to use. In no way do they cause or even explain the miracle of conversion growth. John Wimber
Our Theme: ON CHRIST AND HIS WORD.
The truth is that John Wimber, who was the founding pastor of the Vineyard movement, was much more than just a church growth specialist. As I see it, he was, first and foremost, a radically obedient servant to Jesus of Nazareth. For John, church growth principles, were simply tools that pastors could use in removing obstacles to growth. As John’s quote here so clearly points out, only Jesus can cause his church to grow. And quite honestly, I believe that John never expected pastors in the Vineyard to become so obsessed with church growth that we lose our primary focus on becoming faith communities that place Jesus and his kingdom ministry at the center, rather than programs and ministries designed to focus exclusively on numerical growth.
Case in point?
Recently, I talked with a pastor friend of mine who had just returned from a regional pastor’s conference. We’ll call him Bill to protect the innocent! The leader of the conference (a very good man who happens to pastor a very large, successful church in the area) closed the meetings by asking all of the pastors in the room to dream with him. He asked, “What dream do you have for your church?” After a few moments of prayer and reflection, the leader encouraged each pastor to huddle up with at least one other pastor in the room before leaving, asking them to join, one-on-one, to hear each other’s dreams for their churches and then pray for one another before hitting the door.
Bill, our pastor friend, who has struggled over the years with the typical ins-and-outs of shepherding a smaller church, found the suggestion of dreaming a bit intimidating at first. To be honest, for most pastors of smaller churches, it’s hard to dream with God after numerous years of serving in churches where attendance and offerings go up and down like a yo-yo. But pray, he did.
By the time Bill looked up to find a fellow-pastor, everyone was already paired up. The only guy available was the leader of the conference. Our friend felt a bit sheepish stepping up to this pastor, knowing that his church is a multi-site, several-thousand-member church. Bill’s church has struggled to break the 200 barrier over the years and at the time of this meeting, his church attendance was running well below 100.
Bill took a deep gulp and stepped up to the successful pastor. “My dream,” Bill said, “is to make my church into a training center, raising up leaders for the cause of Christ.” Without any hesitation, the leader of the conference smiled, and knowing our friend’s church very well, he said, “Bill, that’s a great dream. But let’s get your church over the 200 barrier first and then we can talk training center.”
Bill walked away from that conference frustrated. When I heard his story, I was mad. Really mad! Maybe this story affects you that way as well.
As I see it, it’s this kind of approach to pastoral ministry, where mission takes a back seat to numbers, which is producing a generation of 3-B pastors.
What is a 3-B pastor, you ask?
A 3-B pastor is any minister or church leader who is addicted to measuring his or her “success” (or failure) in ministry using three major components, utilized in many of our churches, large and small, across North America. I call this triad of components, the 3-Bs: (B)uildings, (B)ucks, and (B)utts in the seats.
If a church is doing well in all of these 3-Bs, hallelujah! God is good and so are we! But pity the poor pastor, ministry overseer, or church, for that matter, who is struggling in any or all of these 3-B numbers! Sadly, in the eyes of much of the Westernized church, if your church meets in a smaller, under-equipped facility, takes in less than $15 to $20 per person on any given Sunday morning, and/or has less than 200 butts in the seats on any given weekend, you’re in deep doo-doo, just as my friend Bill found himself on that fateful day at a recent pastor’s conference.
John’s quote above is a great reminder that it’s time for me, and other pastors across North America, to stop our church-growth-at-all-cost madness and return ourselves to becoming churches that measure success by using Jesus’ standards, rather than those that are built on principles that, quite honestly, are torn from the pages of successful corporate models of great business practices across the good ole USA.
Jesus, as Wimber states, is still the “owner-operator” of the churches we pastor. What do you say that we move out of the executive chair in our boardrooms, allowing Jesus to be, once again, the President and CEO? In the meantime, you and I, as pastors and ministry workers, can get back to being simple, humble servants of the Master, following his plans for ministry success, not ours!
Father God, I quickly confess that the 3-Bs, where the size of (B)uildings, the total of (B)ucks in the offering, and the number of (B)utts in the seats have consumed me as a pastor. I choose to lay down those church-growth measurement tools so that you can show me once again how you measure success in the church that bears your name. For your name’s sake. Amen!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO PONDER
- Am I truly seeking the manifest presence of Jesus in my church over and above the pursuit of success with the 3-Bs?
- What might it look like for me to lay down some of the popular church growth principles long enough to focus on greater kingdom purposes, like the care of souls, the making of disciples, the equipping of the saints, loving “the hell” out of our communities, and practicing the on-going presence of God?
So, what is God speaking to you today as you ponder the Wisdom of Wimber?
Between Easter 2016 and the end of August, we are sharing with you a blog series we call The Wisdom of Wimber: As I See It. In order to keep all 64 blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our Wisdom of Wimber page for ease of use. Might we also suggest that you order a copy or two of our book by the same title! It’s available in both paperback and e-book formats…and will soon be available in Spanish! Click here for more info. ENJOY!
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