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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

From Braggish to Brackish*

Braggish: "brashly self-confident"; cockiness; POMPOUS. Brackish: "not appealing to the taste"; arousing disgust; REPULSIVE. I felt like it would be profitable for me to first put a simply definition of the two terms I am referring to in this post. Yes, this is an R.D.S.A. post, and therefore read provocation-ready please (the bathroom is right down the hall if you need to upchuck). I like high quality H20. There is something truly refreshing to a thirsty body to gulp down some of that fresh-tasting spring water on a hot summer day. On the other hand, I have tasted some water that is not that great. For instance, in other foreign countries I have tasted water that has made me sick for 2-3 weeks (intestinally) because of just a few sips. Why? I speculate that the water I drank might have come from the same source of sewer water. I was disgusted to drink it, and my body repulsed as a response to it. This was classic brackish water. That same repulsion I am feeling more and more today as I listen, read, and drive by churches today. I see billboards that say, "The way church ought to be" with a plug for their church; I read marquees that say cheesy statements like "Somebody call 911- this church is one fire!". Again, there is the classic, "The church that is alive is worth the drive." Now, these may be sounding a little harmless and maybe we should not take them seriously, but I believe that there is an underlying disposition of churches today that is pushing this mentality. We seem to think that the church that is producing more numbers is having better success, that the church that can generate a bigger crowd is the way it ought to be, and the church which records an increase in baptisms is "on fire". And all this puts together a self-promotional hoopla for the church to brag on itself. Spare me a moment to share my response to this: 1. Does the Scripture not say, "God is opposed to the proud and gives grace to the humble?" Since when does churches have the right to be so braggish and think that God is being honored? If the true grace of a Christian is humility, then should it not also be the mark of a true church be humility as well? No church has bragging rights. It is Christ who adds to HIS church daily, and He will build his church. This is not about PR, church competition, marketing, or so on. We are about the building up of the Body of Christ, not our own enterprises. 2. As far as baptisms go, there is much that is not being addressed today, so much so that I baptisms have proven to be an illegitimate gage for real growth. By that, I mean that infants are being baptized without discretion, discernment, or evidence of conversion. Even worse, churches are baptizing repeats who are coming for their 3rd or 4th time simply for a "spiritual makeover". I venture to say that many baptisms today are detached from the testimony of heaven. 3. As far as growth goes, the overwhelming percentage of growth today is not really growth at all, but rather sheep-swapping, otherwise known as transfer growth. For whatever reason (be it church splitting, greater "attractions", or more legitimate reasons such as biblical teaching and preaching), churches are "growing" as a result of a fellow church dying. It is a lateral movement, not a touchdown. Tom Ascol on the Founders Blog, has written a two-part series addressing the who numbers issue in the SBC. It is a read well worth your time. In addition, there are several books which address this problem plaguing our churches today. Can it be justified as growth when you as a church are benefiting from another church's defeat? 4. Along the church growth mentality, churches are operating on this capitalistic mentality, that if we offer enough goods and services in the right market, then we will reach more consumers. So what the churches that are "growing" do is simply program more, do more, and facilitate more stuff to appeal to the widest amount of people as possible. I call this the Rev. Sam strategy, taken from Wal-Mart Community Church. Our churches are the one-stop shop for consumer-driven Christians, and they come where they can get what they want in the most convenient way they can get it. There is better entertainment and more attractions to appeal to the checklist. All this to say that we can engineer churches to be nothing more than spiritual malls. Is this how we are to advance God's kingdom? 5. Lastly, let me say that even if there was a reason to brag, boast, or promote your church in an arrogant way as mentioned in the previous quotes, then none of these would suffice, for they are not a product of real church growth but human ingenuity, performance, and profitability from other "competitors". There will come a time (I think soon) where people will want some good fresh water. All this boasting and braggish natures of churches today will be nothing but backwater that arouses disgust in people who are not "seekers" but genuinely a part of the family of God. It's time that the churches possess the same mind/attitude that is in Jesus Christ and not look higher of themselves than they ought, to look more on the interests of their fellow churches than themselves, to approach the world from the towel and basin rather than the billboard and marquee. This is what I am hoping for. There is a thirsty world out there, and I believe there is a thirsty people within the church. I only pray that they will find freshwater in that basin rather than sewer water. For the sake of God's Kingdom, let's not be a part of a church that is braggish, for it will be brackish to Him - and when He spits us out of his mouth, we will wonder why we weren't humbly serving Him for glory of His name rather than the further of our fame. For Tom Ascol's two part series: Honest Statistics: A Large Convention of Small Churches - Part 1 Honest Statistics: A Large Convention of Small Churches - Part 2


Blogger Nathan White said...

Great thoughts. Unfortunately it seems as though everything has become a competition, because so many are pragmatic. Pragmatism has infiltrated modern thinking so much, that success and numbers are translated as being from God. Church attendance, number of decisions, baptisms, money given etc are no indicators of God’s blessings. I’ve often wondered, the Super Bowl sure brings in a lot of people, does that mean God’s in that?

One time a friend kept inviting me to his church Bible study, and because of his continual request I went out of courtesy. It was part of a large church in the area, and I was going to a small church at the time. This was more of a discussion bible study, and one of their deacons started talking about church growth. He basically was saying that small churches were not obeying God in some way because God promises success when His word is preached. I took him up on that statement, and asked for ‘chapter and verse’, because of course I go to a pretty small church. He was upset that I asked for a scripture reference, and basically asked that if my church was close by, then why weren’t more people coming…because after all, his church was a packed house! I then mentioned Jeremiah and how he didn’t have any known convert in 40 years, and he replied: “That’s the old testament!” I knew at that point that there was no hope. Just goes to show how extreme some people view experience and numbers.

I get asked all the time: “is your church growing”? But that’s not the correct question to ask. Maybe something like: “is your church growing…Spiritually?” Let’s get back to the true priorities.

P.S. Thanks for the kind words on Elbourne.org. I was definitely encouraged.


8/12/2005 01:22:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...


Enjoyed reading your comment. I think we are finding ourselves thinking alike on a number of issues :). The Old Testament is not very "pragmatic" for most pastors - that is but one reason why it is not studied. But it is my opinion that to reject 2/3 of God's revelation to us is to reject 2/3 of God. The New Testament cannot make sense without the Old. I could go on with this but . . .
For the past 6-8 months, I have been really thinking about the church growth movement and trying to analyze it objectively and biblically. I have much to say on this (and I already have said some), and I probably will be posting some more in the future.
Yes, I am one of those guys who sticks up for the small churches. I have been a member of the biggest and best as they would say, and I am not in the least impressed.
The majority of the churches are being hung out to dry, and if we are to truly build up the kingdom of God, then I think we should start from the bottom up, not spiritualizing the matter by saying that "if you are not like us, then God is not blessing you". Ironically, it is these arrogant churches that feel like they have to advertise themselves to get an audience. I guess the preaching of Christ and Him crucified isn't enough anymore.

Oh, and one last billboard - this one is from the church I was a member of back in college:

"First Baptist _________, A Fun Place!"

Hmmm. Fun. There's one that will draw sinners to see Christ and repent!

8/13/2005 12:52:00 PM


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