The methodology your church uses in its decision-making process will either be primarily based on spiritual reliance or human pragmatism. It is much easier, given our nature, to work in our own strength than it is to deny ourselves, set aside our own plans and thinking and humble ourselves before the Lord… and do His work His way. In far too many evangelical churches, decisions are made through pragmatic thinking and human wisdom rather than through the leadership of the Holy Spirit through God’s appointed means – prayer and the Word.
But how can you know… especially if your leaders tell you that they are “waiting on God for direction,” “prayerfully seeking through diligent study of the Word” and that they are pursuing “God’s direction”? Can one observe whether the methodology used is actually wrong?
Well, yes… you can observe this. What’s more, you should. Jesus told us that we would be able to distinguish between true and false prophets not by their programs or even their doctrine, but by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Even as trees produce fruit in accordance with their nature (apple trees won’t produce pears), so false prophets produce evil fruit… and bad methodology produces bad fruit as well.
So what are the fruits of a human-centered, pragmatic methodology of doing God’s work? I’ll suggest just five things, although there are many, many more. But these five things seem to me to be sadly commonplace in today’s evangelical movement. In evaluating your circumstance, ask yourself the following five questions:
1. Strategy vs. Revelation
In setting corporate direction, does your leadership focus on “strategy” or “revelation”? When pragmatism rules over spiritual direction, strategy replaces revelation in determining direction for the local body. There is much talk in churches about “vision” – you’ve heard people quote the King James Version of Proverbs 29:18 “without vision the people perish…”, and use that thought to discuss the process of articulating a church’s “strategy”. This strategy then becomes the lens through which the church’s plans and activities are filtered. But is that what the Bible is discussing? Consider the ESV translation of the same verse: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint (or are discouraged)…”. I would suggest that the great need of our churches is NOT a strategy – it is a living and ongoing REVELATION… a Word from God. He’s ready to lead us at all times, with regard to all things.
By contrast (and for example), who hasn't felt the effects of the "purpose-driven" model of church ministry? Scan CT or other “Christian” magazines, and you’ll be surprised at the plethora of resources available to churches for strategies for ministry. Too often church operations or growth strategies are marketed to church leaders as “God’s direction for their church” and the hard work of seeking God’s face in prayer and through the Word is replaced for $19.95 through Amazon.com.
God’s plan and purpose is found by those who seek Him with their whole heart. It can not be substituted by man-made plans, gimmicks and clever marketing plans.
2. Authority vs. Servanthood
In leadership style, which is valued in practice more highly: Servanthood or Authority? The road to leadership is a path of decline. Jesus said to His disciples, “if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). The attitude of leadership must follow John the Baptist’s when he said about Jesus that “…He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Too often though, it seems to me that some men in leadership become more concerned about their own authority than in serving those under their care. Leaders who say that they care for “the least and the lost” and then treat the sheep under their care with distain reveal their true heart.
Do you know someone who has left your church? The manner in which they were treated by leadership on the way out is an important measure of the Godliness of the leadership. Assume that the person leaving is completely wrong in doing so… the example of Jesus would be to seek out that one and bring them back into the fold. “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11). Sheep are prone to wander, to stray and frankly, they aren’t too smart. Shepherds don’t get mad at sheep for being sheep – they go after them. All too often in our fellowships, we care far more about the bringing people in the “front door” than we do about keeping them from going out the “back door” – or pursuing them when they’ve left. It is especially telling when the reaction of leadership is based primarily on their “authority.” Sadly, some men in leadership view any disagreement with them as such an affront to their “authority” that they won’t even respond to people who question them! (For more on this, see also #4 below.)
3. Control/Manipulation vs. Integrity
Does your decision-making team value control and manipulation over integrity in reaching a goal, decision or agreement? In making a decision or setting direction, does your leadership sometimes go through the motions of evaluating the options, seeking direction and guidance, asking for input from the congregation while the end has already been determined? Many who have ever participated in a church capital campaign or building program have felt this pressure. From facility decisions to personal decisions to direction decisions, human wisdom says that “good leadership brings people to the right conclusion” – without recognizing that they are being manipulative and coercive in practice. Like Annanias and Saphira before them, the problem isn’t necessarily what they decided… it is the lie about how they did it that is offensive.
It is sufficient to say that any organization that claims to be seeking the Lord’s guidance and direction over a decision when the end has already been determined by leadership, and those involved in the process are directed, or even bullied to come to the pre-determined conclusion is not being led by the Holy Spirit.
4. Acquiescence vs. Authenticity
What is, as a practical matter, the quality of relationships in your fellowship? Do superficial relationships (marked by tranquility and silence about any disagreement) replace genuine growing relationships – particularly from the perspective of leaders to those under their charge?
Lucy, in the Peanuts cartoon was quoted once as saying “I love humanity, its people I can’t stand!” Sadly, that is all too often true in church leadership structures. Leaders talk about loving people, wanting to reach them for Christ and to serve them, but show little practical tolerance for those who show up in their fellowship and raise questions or have a different opinion than leadership. Someone said sadly once, the way to be loved in their church was to never attend. Services would then be designed for you, your opinions would matter, people would be friendly to you when you visited. But in some churches, once you commit and become part of the body, you’re no longer important as a practical matter.
When questions or differences of opinion are met with anger and even hostility from leadership, that’s a bad sign about relationships. It is a sad fact, but a fact none the less, that lying about disagreement – pretending things are well when they are not – is often rewarded in practice while seeking to work through disagreements is discouraged.
Jesus said that being in right relationship with each other is something that is more important even than worship itself (see Matthew 5:23-24)! While it is not always possible to work through every disagreement, it is the heart cry of all of God’s people to do so. It is the characteristic that demonstrates that we belong to Jesus (John 13:35)… and when the desire to work through issues is set aside for other purposes, it is evidence of something terribly wrong in the body.
5. Compromise vs. Clarity/Consistency
Is God’s Word preached plainly and without compromise, or is it filtered to screen out the portions which are perceived to be offensive to the “target audience” or otherwise uncomfortable? For example, when repentance is taught without reference to the required changes in behavior that demonstrate repentance, an important portion of the teaching is missing the whole counsel of God is not being taught.
Just as one example, when was the last time you heard a sermon on the topic of Hell? The doctrine of the eternal damnation of those apart from Jesus is clearly taught in Scripture, but rarely from the Evangelical church pulpit. If you’ve never heard this doctrine actually preached, I’d recommend that you spend 9 minutes of your time and watch this video clip (I’d also highly recommend the article discussing this clip).
Further, even when God’s Word is preached, and Biblical truth is proclaimed with clarity, failure on the part of leadership to conform to that truth – or at least to be grieved by their lack thereof – is a self-evident demonstration of a serious problem. And the fact that that lack of conformity is not widely known does not change the fact that it exists, and that it is dishonoring to the Lord.
It is the responsibility of church leadership to faithfully preach, and to live, the whole counsel of God. When the message is filtered, or denied in practice, the methodology is wrong no matter how “right” the message.
When the Holy Spirit is NOT in control, human pragmatism replaces spiritual power, and this is evidenced by:
- A focus on corporate strategy without personal revelation from the Lord;
- Exercises of authority in leadership being more prevalent than demonstrations of servanthood by leadership;
- Group decisions being obtained through control and manipulation at the expense of honesty and genuine agreement;
- Relationships are marked by an unwritten rule of “getting along at any cost,” with silence about disagreement and acquiescence ruling over honest relationship; and
- Biblical Truth is filtered or inadequately applied by leadership.
No matter what one’s talk is, or WHAT they are doing, the HOW matters. Their walk and practice demonstrates whether the Holy Spirit is leading or not. And when He is, your leaders will seek spiritual wisdom through dependence primarily on prayer and the Word as the practical methods of decision-making rather than relying on their own wisdom. This will be evidenced by leadership that:
- Earnestly seeks God’s revelation and does not rely on human strategy;
- Leads as servants, not authoritarians;
- Values honesty and integrity, and sets aside controlling, manipulative techniques to reach agreement;
- Demonstrates humility, evidenced in genuine relationships with each other and the body; and
- Loves all of God’s truth – even the “hard” parts – and are honest and direct in their self-assessments of how they follow it.
If God’s work is worth doing, its worth doing God’s way, isn’t it?
“Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).
Next time: “WHO” – Are We Wrong?