Written by R. Scott Clark |
Friday, September 3, 2021
Ministry is not an exercise of power. It is fundamentally service. It is the opposite of lording it over. The imagery here is not that of glass towers full of the powerful but of the Suffering Servant girding himself with a towel and washing his disciples’ feet (John 13;12).
It is an old habit but on Mondays I often reflect on the nature of pastoral ministry and the challenges pastors face.
In truth, Monday is the second day of the week but for pastors everything leads up to the Lord’s Day. All their prayers and preparations have been pointing toward Sundays. For them it is the culmination of the week. On Mondays they naturally reflect on what happened and on how it went.
Background and Bona Fides
Yesterday and this morning I have been thinking about the church-growth movement in light of what the New Testament says (and illustrates) about ministry. When I was first introduced to the church-growth school of thought, in seminary, I reacted against it but after I was called as young seminary graduate, as an assistant pastor, to a small, near-urban congregation nine minutes north of downtown Kansas City, Missouri my new duties required me to give the church-growth school another look. Perhaps I had been too negative toward the church-growth movement? Perhaps I needed to be more open-minded? For most of six years I tried to learn what I could from the movement. I studied and practiced evangelism. We expanded the diaconal ministry per Tim Keller’s Jericho Road. We tried, within our limits, to implement The Phone’s For You (™) to capitalize on “the law of large numbers,” and Evangelism Explosion (™). I became an EE trainer and taught classes to the congregation and to young people who traveled from across the Plains to Kansas City in the summers for two weeks of ministry and fun. The CRC had SWIM. The OPC had SAIL. We called it Project Jericho. We were going to march around the city, as it were, until the walls fell. Weather permitting (and even when it did not) we stood in parking lots and evangelized. We made fliers for the local St Patrick’s Day parade calling attention to St Patrick’s Christian faith. The ink was not set and my tan gloves turned green. We knocked on doors. I preached in the City Mission. We recorded radio programs and commercials. I imitated Denny Prutow’s idea of a telephone answering machine with a gospel message. We advertised the number in the classified ads in the newspaper (the Craig’s List of its day). I recited that phone number so often that, 30 years later, I can still recite it in my sleep. We sent out hundreds of newsletters each month in hopes of connecting with people and attracting new members. We mailed out evangelistic audio cassettes (think podcasts). We held car washes to raise money for the local shelter for unwed mothers (as an alternative to abortion). Some of us picketed the abortion mill in Johnson County, KS and even the local hospital. I pushed to revise the liturgy and the music to make the church more “seeker-sensitive” and “contemporary.” We became a busy church. Like the Apostle Paul, “I am talking like a madman” (2 Cor 11:23; ESV) in order to say that I am not taking potshots from the sidelines. I gave the church-growth program a fair try.
One day, in passing, one of the young people in my congregation said something to me like this, “You spend all your time and energy trying to reach outsiders but you don’t seem to think about us very much.” That stung but she had a point. I worked hard on my sermons, Sunday School lessons, Bible studies, and catechism classes but I was very much oriented to church growth. I was not very much oriented to what I now understand to be be an ordained means of grace approach to ministry.
For all that I learned and tried one aspect of the church-growth movement, perhaps the most fundamental aspect, always made me uneasy and makes me uneasy to this day: the church-growth model was a theology of glory and it turned ministers, who should be theologians of the cross, into theologians of glory. The selling point of the various methods and mentalities was numerical success: look at this congregation.