Frankly, I don't care how it comes out. Neither side is my business.
Whichever way it goes, people will leave the church. Maybe the church and its hundreds of ministries will survive, or maybe it won't. Either way, the church universal loses.
As a committed evangelical, may I suggest that at least some of the problem lies with a fundamental flaw in our own movement? American religion is overwhelmingly evangelical. We have a long history of revivals and great awakenings. But is there something missing in Evangelical religion that lends itself to scandal? I believe there is. Our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness.
George Marsden, writing on the evangelical movement in American culture, points out that we have acheived the dominance in American religion by a crusading spirit. Evangelicals have thrown themselves behind a succession of social reforms--Anti-slavery, dropping the gold standard, temperance, anti-Communism, abstinence, and anti-abortion. We define ourselves by our ability to move the masses to change. Marsden suggests while Evangelicalism has been effective in changing culture, it has been poor at maintaining change when it has happe ned. I believe he is correct.
The thrust of our message has been a social, not individual. Joining Jesus means joining the church. Joining the church means joining a cause. We are invited not only to come to the Cross, but to join the people who are crowded around the cross, and to act, think and vote just like them.
We measure success by numbers. How many people came the altar? How many people joined? How many people voted? How many CD's, books or study guides were sold?
As these movements grow in size and self-importance, we no longer are a facet of God's work--they become God's work. Following the cause becomes identical with following God.Social movements need institutions and institutions need money. leaders must become symbols, ideas become slogans and, illustrations becomes icons to clearly promote a brandable caused. Everything becomes symplified and sloganized in order to attract a crowd. The pastors cease to pastor. Instead, the pastor becomes the "fundraiser in chief". He must push vision constantly in order to keep the workers and money coming.Preachers must dedicate their lives to maintaining the growth of the institutions instead of being humble followers of God. Modern religion centers as much around hero worship as God worship. When the hero fails, people blame God and abandon the church. The sins of the leader become the sins of the church.
No one can take this kind of idol-worship forever without it going to their head. When we put our leaders on a pedestal, sooner or later they will stumble and fall.
What's the solution? There's no easy one. Here are some suggestions, though
Stop thinking of the pulpit as a pedestal for super saints. Lifting up leaders sets them up for moral failure--it practically guarantees it. Attention is as addictive as heroin to many preachers. The more they get it, the more they crave it. e need to quit lifting up leaders and do a better job of lifting up Christ. The primary relationship in God's economy is that between Christ and Christians, not Christ mediated through the leadership of a high-profile leater.
Encourage real humility and vulnerability in church leaders. Humility a missing virtue among evangelicals. We seldom hear preach on it. Instead, we preach about how important we are, how visionary we are and how desperately God needs us, instead of how desperately we need God. Our preaching tells people that God must have their money and their participation or his work can't succeed. This is a denial of the power of the living God. We celebrate saints basde on how they transform the world, not on how they were transformed by the Gospel. Mose young seminarians see themselves as world-shakers and is terrified that God may send them to minister in small places in slow-growing communities.
Break up big churches. I know this is a radical and unpopular, but even so. The larger the church, the more it acts like a corporation. Leaders of large churches have little time to be pastors. Their minds must be in keepoing the institution going.Leaders of large churches have a harder time staying humble before Christ when they are givenn so much attention and control. Members are not individuals so much as cogs in the big machine. There is little accountability to the members. People never get close enough to see their real hearts. They only see the image that is projected on the screen.
There are strong arguments in favor of big churches. One of them is that big churches are able to accomplish so much more than small churches. They have excess money and members who can be devoted to the works of transforming the world. But being a Christian isn't about what we contribute to the world. It is about who we are in the world. Big projects and big accomplishments can warp our perspective when it comes to Christ. In our concern for outer action, we neglect the virtues of inner submission--silence, solitude, self-examination, contemplation, and most of all humility.
Small churches have the same problems. It doesn't matter what size the church but who is in control. They are often just as worldly and power-hungry as big ones. But in small churches, everyone knows each other, and at least have the possibility of praying for each other, loving each other, and calling our bluff when we become too self-important.
If we must have large churches (and we probably must), then we need to make sure that there are small groups of people who hold each other spiritually accountable within the big organization.
Build people, not programs. Programs in the church are things we do to help fulfill the calling of Christ. But programs are not the end of anything. Building people into people who look, act and think like Jesus is the goal of it all.
If we have a successful youth program with hundreds of young people, yet one child feels excluded or left out, then our youth program is a not doing itt's job. If we have a hundred men coming to our men's breakfast, but those who come are not becoming better people, we are not bing what we should be. if we have a women's Bible study that fills the sancruaty, but our women are still lonely and isolated, and are divided by gossip and backbiting, we are not successful. Being successful in ministry is not about being larger but being more Christlike. It isn't about keeping institutions going, but becoming more like Him.
It doesn't matter who runs the church, so long as it is Christ. His the one true leader. The rest of us are just folllowers.