Monday, February 07, 2005

Worship and Church Pressures

Mere Comments has been dealing with the topic of worship recently, and while I am not part of a liturgical tradition, I have found a great deal of what has been said to be helpful and certainly insightful. Below I have quoted from one of their posts in length due to the train of thought contained in the passage as well as the importance of what they are saying for the evangelical church.

As an evangelical pastor I can attest to the fact that there is always the pressure, either overtly or covertly, to grow a church. Clearly large churches can be God’s will for many congregations, but what I find important about this pressure is that it is far more prevalent than the pressure to be a good, or doctrinally accurate, or deep pastor. As the following passage rightly notes, no humble and behind-the-scenes pastor of a small, non-expanding church is ever seen as successful, and thus as a model for emulation. I am afraid we are becoming (have become?) captive to a “size equals success” mentality which may work great for capitalistic business ventures, but really has no place, as a philosophy, in the church.

The following passage was written my M. Hutchens. Enjoy:

The practical measure of a pastor’s success among pastors is the size of his congregation. This is especially true among conservatives, the liberals, whose theology is killing their churches, having for the most part given up on it. Faithfulness, however, which is God’s measure of a man, does not translate directly into numbers, and pastors of un-large or un-growing congregations, who may be admitted in theory to be great and godly men, have little visible proof of their worth. They are not asked to speak at the conferences. They do not write slick little books on how to do ministry. They do not hold court in assemblies of their peers. The presumption that a large church is a sign of God’s favor (which it may be) is far, far stronger than the leveling suspicion that it might just as well be the sign of a Judas who has bargained away his Lord for an ephemeral reward, or an unjust steward, or a con-artist, or simply a talented showman.

Nor, in this context, is the question often raised of to what degree doing the right thing will make a man popular or expand the boundaries of his ministry. I know an Evangelical pastor who has made a strong attempt to moderate and control the runaway praise service, and he, one of the finest preachers I know, whose church has an ample and varied music ministry, has lost a third or more of his congregation to the far more exciting local megachurch, “where the action is.” A loss from Gideon’s army, perhaps, but readers will understand I think something is wrong here.

Having a service in good order does not secure the favor of the God who looks upon the heart, nor does silliness or confusion drive him away. But he calls upon us to seek and secure the good, true, and beautiful, to worship him in the beauty of a holiness to which sinners must learn to conform. While the reactions of those outside the Christian communion to its worship are to be considered, their understanding or appreciation can never be a principal goal or concern—it will always be a by-product of worship that must involve difficulties for them, not only because it will inevitably contain hard or unwelcome teaching, but because they cannot take part in its central Act. These are unavoidable facts of Christian worship, which cannot therefore be “seeker friendly” in the way this is customarily understood, and at the same time “worship.” Christian worship is not for seekers; it is, at its center, for believers only. It cannot avoid becoming malformed as such if it is designed around the perceived needs of others.

The actions of Christian worship are the actions toward God of Christians, that is, of the Church, and cannot take place properly outside the life of the Church as a universal, historical, theological, pastorally-ordered communion that is in its present form nearly two thousand years old. One cannot, in the name of the Spirit, do anything “new” in the way this term is customarily used among us, for the Spirit of God is not only new, but old, his newness and oldness being one, and not in contradiction.


6 comments:

Steve said...

Hey Phil-

Thanks for sticking up for us little guys!

I keep having to remind myself that it's not about the numbers, it's about God's call on my life and faithfulness to that call.

Noah preached for 120 years and didn't grow much of a church, but he was faithful! (BTW - did you know your blog was mentioned in this week's Internet For Christians e-newsletter? Way to go!).

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