I received a survey from an old student of mine from my first youth ministry asking me to answer some questions about how my ministry has changed over the years. I want to share with you some of what I wrote to him:
What do you do more, less or differently.
I read the bible more and church growth books less. I pray more and plan less. It’s not to say that I don’t plan, or I am not interested at all in Church growth, but I have come to the realization that a lot of so called programs to grow your church are just good business principles brought into the church to get more people in the seats and grow the church without needing the Holy Spirit’s involvement.
We coax people into the church thinking that if they are there long enough they will change. In reality, they don’t really change, they just become more religious. They come to church and sing the songs and think they are spiritually ok.
I had to take a hard look at the fruit that was coming out of our church and I realized that a lot of what we were doing, we could do WITHOUT the Holy Spirit’s help. The fruit we were producing was not necessarily evident of God’s power in our midst, it was just the natural outcome after effective outreach and good leadership. But it lacked the kind of power that changes people forever. People were pretty much just better versions of themselves(sometimes not even that), instead of being a new creation.
If you have good programs and your service doesn’t put them to sleep, people will come. Numbers will go up and people will get excited (you hope) about the church. But does that mean God has transformed them? Not usually. Why is that? I believe it’s because it’s the result of our effort and not God’s power.
I said it this way in a recent sermon:
“I need to ask your forgiveness as your pastor. I have put methods and creativity before God. I have depended on my ability to say it right –
I will always be creative and I’ll do anything I can to reach some, but nobody is going to be reached by my or your creativity. God reaches people – and if he is not in it we’ve just created a bunch of false converts who worship themselves and are driven by their own needs and wants and not by what will give God the most glory.”
And then I quoted a sermon by another pastor:
“God removes his hand of blessing and power so we have to resort to all sorts of Madison avenue and Steven Spielberg type gimmicks and idolatries because God’s not doing anything so we have to manufacture something to make it look like something’s going on.”
That hit me right between the eyeballs. That’s exactly what my ministries did for years. I thought I was talented enough to pull it off myself. I would create some great event and then say a 30 second prayer beforehand asking God to bless my brilliance. I had success, but it seemed superficial and not in proportion to the work I was putting in.
I try really hard not to do that anymore. I, and the elders of our church, are meeting twice a month just to seek God. Not for direction – just for Him. Because we know if we have Him and His power displayed in our church, the direction will be apparent and the fruit will be obvious.
So I guess you can say I’ve had a sea change in ministry (that is the correct expression, isn’t it? ) I look at it a lot differently than I used to.
That's a good reminder to me as we head into Sunday. Let's pray that it won't be human ingenuity, but God's power that shows up.