I often read Karl Vater’s blog. Yesterday’s was especially sad. I would encourage you to go to his blog and read it.
It was sad because of what he reported in it. Perry Noble, pastor of the American megachurch NewSpring Church located in Anderson, North Carolina, was removed from his position as pastor because of a problem with alcohol. I am not familiar with NewSpring Church or with Perry Noble but there is something in his final words to the congregation that make me both angry and sad.
It makes me sad because another pastor who I have no doubt deeply wanted to touch lives for Jesus Christ has for the time being at least been put on hold. Any time that that happens it is cause for sadness.
It makes me angry because once again a distorted view of the purpose of the church has created problems that a pastor wasn’t able to handle.
The sentence that brought about my anger
As part of a larger statement Noble made the following statement.
“However, in my obsession to do everything possible to reach 100,000 and beyond, it has come at a personal cost in my own life and created a strain on my marriage.”
Those of you who are reading this blog entry probably have no desire to build a church of 100,00 members. You would probably be satisfied with a few hundred but the number isn’t the issue.
Noble simply has a greater capacity to dream than most of us. He was dreaming of 100,000 people. Most churches dream of a few hundred. The issue isn’t the number that we choose. The issue is that we focus on numbers at all.
Whether we dream in the hundreds of thousands or we dream in the hundreds, numbers shouldn’t be the focus of our dreams.
Churches have bought into the idea that God’s purpose for his church is to grow it big. God’s purpose for his church is to grow it healthy.
God does not call men and women to churches so that they can be CEOs of a corporation. He calls them to a church so that they can be pastors whom he uses to produce mature, passionate followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.
The impact of wrong thinking
Why does this make me angry?
I don’t get angry about a lot of things. I’m not someone who flies off the handle every time anyone disagrees with me. I love to have theological and ecclesiastical discussions in which people take a different perspective than I’ve taken.
So why does this particular issue make me angry.
It is because real people in real churches get hurt because they or people in their churches have bought into the idea that numbers are what it is all about.
Most pastors do not possess the combination of gifts, personality and drive to grow a church into thousands of attenders.
Many churches don’t want to make the kind of changes what would be required to grow to that size.
As a result, far too often pastors are expected to do an impossible job to which God has not called them and as a result they fail to do the job to which God has called them.
The task to which God has called most pastors is not that of growing a large church.
The task to which they have been called is that of growing a healthy church made up of passionate followers of Jesus Christ.
Karl Vaters puts it well in the blog I mentioned at the beginning of this entry:
“Our numbers obsession continues to leave victims in its wake. From small church pastors who feel defeated when they can’t hit the numbers they’re told are inevitable, to big- and megachurch pastors who chase a thirst that can never be quenched.”
Whenever wrong teaching leaves “victims in its wake”, that is cause for sadness and a little anger.
A final message
This has been more of a rant than a blog entry but it is something about which I feel strongly. Every time that I encounter another victim I feel a little more strongly than I did before.
There is nothing more deadly than being convinced that wrong teaching is right teaching.
It is one thing to be wrong. I don’t think that anyone is going to get to heaven and have God declare that he was the one person who got it all right. One aspect of eternity that we don’t often think about is that it will be the place in which we will have all of our wrong beliefs corrected and there isn’t going to be anyone who isn’t going to have to change her view on some theological or biblical point.
Often our wrong views aren’t a serious problem but when people or churches get hurt because of those views then they become a huge problem.
This idea that numerical growth should be the goal of every church is a wrong idea that has caused great harm and desperately needs to change. Churches need to remove that pressure from their leaders and encourage those leaders to do the job which the Bible calls them to do – that of being pastors.
Perry Noble turned to alcohol as a result of an emphasis on numbers.
In many cases pastors get fired because they aren’t producing numerical growth.
In other cases they just live with the constant pressure of having to produce that kind of growth.
In too many cases young pastors walk away not only from the church but from their call to be pastors.
It is wrong and it has to change.
We need to allow pastors to do the job to which they have been called. They need to be pastors.
We need to put business principles aside and allow the church to be what it is called to be – a place in which new believers are turned into passionate followers of Jesus.
We need to aim for a healthy church rather than a large church.
If we do, then our churches and our leaders will be better off as a result.
Thanks Ron! This is a really clear (and disturbing) picture of what can result when the focus is on the wrong thing.