In the past several decades we have seen massive church growth. Church attendance in the world is at an all-time high. Yet, in most places of the world, cultural decline keeps accelerating at an alarming rate.
For example, in spite of now having numerous megachurches with over 20,000 attendees, social issues that undermine Judeo-Christian values like abortion, same-sex marriage and threats to religious liberty continue to be on the rise. This has often troubled many people who wonder why a nation like the United States could have so many people who claim to be evangelical, born-again believers (some estimate as many as 45 million, not including Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal and mainline Protestant churches) and yet far-left political leaders continue to be elected by people of faith.
This is because many believers view entitlement programs, access to political power, skin color and economics (the Keynesian view) as higher priorities than public policy issues grounded in God's nature, character and law (for example, the Ten Commandments). This includes sanctity of life issues.
What is the reason for this? For the most part, many pastors do not train and equip their leaders with a biblical worldview as related to public policy. Much of the preaching and teaching today is bereft of sound doctrine and amounts to nothing more than self-help messages, free (cheap) grace and great rhetoric without doctrinal substance. Many churches have no real process of theologically grounding believers to make them disciples of Christ.
In essence, church growth, the raising of tithes and offerings, and making people happy enough to want to keep coming back to church are more important to many pastors than preaching the whole counsel of God and turning wimpy, whiny saints into the army of the living God, who goes forth to withstand the hosts of hell by bringing the power and truth of the kingdom to every realm of society! The church Jesus said He would build would assail the gates of hell, not succumb and make peace with them (Matt. 16:18-19).
In reality, many of the attendees of our churches have made a truce with the world and adopt worldly values because they deem it easier than being counter-cultural and not fitting in with their ungodly friends. This is in spite of the apostle James telling us that friendship with the world is to be an enemy of God (James 4:7).
The following are signs a pastor is merely gathering a crowd and not building a church.
1. Their preaching is meant to make people happy, not holy. I learned a long time ago that God doesn't really care if I am happy! His goal for me is maturity into sonship so I can be led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14) rather than merely remaining a child (Rom. 8:17). When training our children often they cry because we don't always give them what they want. Any pastor whose main goal is to make people feel good with his or her preaching cannot possibly stand in the pulpit as a prophet speaking the very oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11) because sometimes God's Word is meant to correct, adjust and rebuke us so we will repent.
2. Their goal is to fill church seats, not make disciples. In my over 30 years of ministry I have noticed that many local churches don't have a goal of processing new believers through a rigorous, hands-on grid of discipleship. Consequently, they are churning out flibbity-jibbity church attendees who constantly drink the milk of the Word—depending on the hype, excitement and emotion of the worship experience to carry them through till next week—rather than God-fearing mature believers whom God can place in positions of influence to bring cultural transformation. If a pastor's only goal in preaching is to be seeker sensitive to fill up every seat, then his or her preaching will be a mile wide and an inch deep resulting in church attendees who will be a mile wide and an inch deep!
3. They would rather offend God than men. Some preachers intentionally avoid using biblical words such as repentance, hell, sin, the cross, judgment and other words that evoke a negative emotive response in the crowd. Consequently, they are more concerned with offending the people than they are concerned with pleasing God!
4. They gauge their success by cultural acceptance and large crowds. Pastors building a crowd rather than a biblical church often gauge their success by things like having a good relationship with the mayor; having every political and community leader liking them; having large gatherings on Sundays and special events; and by having large amounts of money collected in the weekly offerings. I have a hard time seeing these issues as the primary biblical gauge for success.
When a large crowd was following Jesus He didn't give them a seeker-sensitive message that appealed and appeased them so they would continue to follow Him. He spoke bluntly and boldly to them to make sure they counted the cost of discipleship and knew what they were getting into before committing to following Him (Luke 14:25-33)!
5. There is no process in the church for biblical discipleship. Churches that are merely gathering crowds don't care about making disciples. This is opposed to Scripture because Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not merely bring in new converts (Matt. 28:19).
6. They allow people to become members without vetting them. Pastors merely concerned with gathering a crowd will allow any and all attendees to become official members. Those pastors who are building a biblical church will have a godly standard of membership so that those unwilling to repent will not dare join themselves to the church (Acts 5:13), and those who do become members have proven their repentance with good works (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20).
7. Their focus is on the Sunday service more than releasing people to their vocation in the world. Pastors merely building a crowd care more about filling every seat to show their influence and popularity than about equipping and sending church attendees into the world as missionaries and ministers of the kingdom. To them, it is more important to get their community into the church building for Sunday services than it is to send the church attendees into the community to serve according to their vocation.
8. The worship service is meant to entertain the flesh instead of convert the sinner. Pastors merely building a crowd put much time, money and technological effort into making each Sunday service an existential experience that entertains and touches the emotive part of each person more than believing for the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit to come through the worship and preaching to bring brokenness, repentance and transformation to both sinner and saint alike. I have heard some worship teams with excellent musicians, sound and incredible polish who only touched my intellect or emotions because they were entertaining man instead of ministering to the Lord!
In closing, although I believe very strongly in evangelism, church growth and having a spirit of excellence in worship, media, technology and the arts in regards to worshipping God and preaching, our goals must be to please God, convert sinners and equip the saints to change the world and manifest kingdom power and influence on the earth.
We cannot tolerate anything less than this to merely attract a crowd rather than allow Jesus to build His church! Only a church He builds can withstand the gates of hell!
Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, futurist, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He leads several organizations, including "The United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (uscal.us)." He also has a blog on Charisma magazine called "The Pulse." To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter go to josephmattera.org.
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