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Autumn Red peaches.jpg

“. . . let us press on to maturity. . .” Heb. 6.1

I recently ate a peach purchased from a nearby store. Peaches just don’t taste like they used to, and it’s not just my opinion, it seems everyone pretty much knows it. The reason for less tasteful peaches is that today’s peaches come from commercial farms that grow peaches that have more to do with their aesthetics and durability rather than taste. Believe it or not, it’s more about how they look than flavor. The biggest problem, however, is that they regularly harvest peaches before they are fully ripe. The idea is that they will transport better and then they will reach maturity at market; consequently, there is less waste in transport. Less waste means a better bottom line. There is just one major problem with this approach with respect to peaches; generally speaking once a peach is harvested it stops ripening. Consequently, if a peach is harvested before it is fully ripened it suffers “arrested development,” and the end result is that they just don’t taste as good as they should. You may be wondering whether peach growers know this. Of course they do, but it’s more about the business of staying in business. People will always eat peaches, so who cares if they don’t taste as good as they used to.

Unfortunately, the same can be said of many Evangelical churches. They are in the business of “Evangelicalism” and its aesthetics, which today has very little to do with actually producing mature believers. This is also a fact and not an opinion. Those of us teaching at seminaries are increasingly confronted with students who lack a genuinely mature faith, a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, and a functional understanding of theology. This is true whether they are 22 or 42, or 72. For many churches Christian maturity doesn’t seem to be highly valued, much less an important goal or concern of the average church’s leadership.

Many ministries are more worried about what their buildings look like, the number of people showing up, who is participating, the images they project, and what is going on rather than evaluating the “products” of their efforts. I had a telling conversation with a friend in seminary some years ago, and he was bemoaning that his church was dying, but he had hope that things would soon change. I asked him what was the reason for his optimism, and he said that the church had decided to paint its sanctuary a different color. I didn’t have the heart to say anything, but I remember thinking of how the early church grew while enduring severe persecution. The persecution was so bad that at times believers meet in the catacombs under Rome to avoid detection. They met in underground graveyards with corpses surrounding them; nevertheless they continued to reach more and more people with the gospel. I couldn’t believe my friend was convinced that painting his church’s sanctuary a different color was going help solve the problems facing his ministry or have an impact for Christ.

Unfortunately, more and more churches are obsessed with similar approaches to ministry. We are into the aesthetics of activities, and the unspoken attitude is that if we have the “right” aesthetics or do enough of the “right” activities then God will inevitably bless our efforts and we will see growth and have an impact. Such an approach to ministry usually requires “all hands on deck” (which generally never happens as anyone involved in church activities knows). Such urgency regularly involves recruiting individuals for these activities who usually have no idea about why the event was planned, what the “goal” of the event is, or even of how to properly carry out the event. In essence, we regularly “pick” people to participate in our activities and “transport” them into “leadership” roles and responsibilities before they are really fully equipped or trained for ministry—which in and of itself can have a detrimental effect upon the success of any event. That being said, there is a more sinister outcome with this approach to “ministry,” which is that we inadvertently create within those we recruit the false impression that what they are engaged in is “ministry,” and that this is how “real” ministry occurs. We unfortunately create within them a false paradigm of what truly makes up real ministry.

When we carry out church activities with this approach we are not discipling people in their relationship with the Lord or equipping them to become effective ministers of the gospel. Ironically, we are doing the exact opposite; in reality we are arresting their development not only in their relationship to the Lord, but also how to reach others for Christ. We are training them to be busy, to be active, and to be seen. We are not training them in how to minister with Jesus and in his name. And what usually happens with this approach to church growth is that sooner or later many—who might have otherwise continued to grown in their relationship to the Lord and might have become mature leaders of ministries—inevitably burn up and drop out of the entire “church thing.” Often they become victims of our desperate need for manpower rather than people who become excited about reaching others for Christ. And when the next person comes along and asks them to get involved at church often the reply is “I’ll think about it,” or “been there and done that.” Church leaders need to wake up and realize that ACTIVITY does not equal MINISTRY. Ministry can happen at any activity, but simply scheduling an activity does not mean that ministry will actually occur. So, if you are wondering what kind of role or impact you are having at your church then here is a quick test. Take out a sheet of paper and write what you are responsible for at your church. If what you write down resembles more of a “to do list” then a list of names of people you are investing in, then you are on your way to becoming an “event coordinator” rather than a “fisher of men.”

by Monte Shanks

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2012

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