Yesterday a friend sent me a link to a video of a performance by a particular well known mega church’s worship band. I am far from a prude, and I have zero issue with modernizing a worship service and playing contemporary music, but this video seriously disturbed me. The video I saw was more akin to a scene from a Broadway show as opposed to worship in a church. The song was a popular song from pop radio, and the stage was filled with dancers jumping around on stage. As far as I could tell, the entire thing had absolutely nothing to do with God, or praising the name of Jesus.
It may sound as if I’m angry. I suppose there is a bit of that going on…but even more than that I was sad. Here was this church that has thousands of attendees. Not only that, even more people tune into this “worship” service online. On top of that the “pastor” of this congregation sells tons of books all over the country. Other churches and pastors look to this church and pastor as models of what they ought to be doing. Even in my own city there are churches and pastors modeling themselves in the mold of this “church”. The entire thing is very sad to me.
Some would look to this church as a success. But is it really?
Certainly it is a great thing to have thousands of people in a church. But what if this church fails to preach Christ? Sure it can be a great thing to have a popular pastor with a lot of visibility. But what happens if he fails to instruct his people in the Word of God? It is a great thing for the church to get excited about worship. But what if this worship has absolutely nothing to do with God?
Coincidentally, as my friend sent me this video I happened to be reading in 1 Timothy. In 1 Timothy the Apostle Paul is writing to a young pastor named Timothy whom he had mentored and instructed in the faith. Timothy was sent to Ephesus in order to lead the church there. Ephesus at one time was a very successful and faithful church. It was started by Apollos who was a brilliant preacher/teacher. (Acts 18:24) This was a church in which the knowledge of God, and the Word of God was being taught and was flourishing. (Acts 19:20) Yet, as is so often the case, problems started to arise in the church. We aren’t sure exactly what was going on, though we do get clues from the text both 1 and 2 Timothy…but it is evident that Ephesus as a whole had gotten off track and the culture around the church had started to creep in. Worldly religion was invading the church and was threatening to destroy it. The church had begun to stray from the Gospel.
So what was Paul’s advice to this young pastor? Did he cleverly devise church growth strategies? Did he tell Timothy to implement certain programs that were guaranteed to turn things around? Did he tell him to revamp his children’s ministry? Did he tell him he needed to modernize worship or be more culturally relevant? Absolutely not, in fact, you could almost argue the opposite, especially on this last point. It doesn’t seem the problem with the church in Ephesus was that it wasn’t culturally relevant, but in fact it was too much like the culture around it.
**Side note** I have to be careful here, because I’m not saying that the church needs to be stuck in the 1950’s. What I am saying though is that the church must be distinct from the world. If you can’t tell the difference between a church, and a social club or a bar…I think it’s a problem. But, back to my original point.
Paul didn’t have a bunch of clever schemes and strategies for Timothy. As you read Paul’s advice to the young pastor he lays out three things for Timothy to do. I think all pastors and church leaders in our own time would be wise to follow this advice. So what did Paul tell Timothy he needed to turn this church around?
-Right Living (Practice what you preach)
So, if you are a pastor and wondering how to build a successful church or how to turn around your struggling church. I believe this is where we have to start. Take a look at your church, and take a look at your own ministry.
Are you a man of prayer? Are you on your knees daily seeking the Lord for direction and asking him to bless your people? If your work as a pastor isn’t drenched in prayer, it simply won’t work. God is the one who must bring about the growth. Sure, you can get more people in the church by following an x, y, and z formula…But are your people growing spiritually? Are they seeing Jesus in your church? We must be in prayer asking God to reveal himself amongst our congregations and we must plead for him to lead us where he would have us go.
Are you living what you’re preaching? Do people both inside and outside the church see you as one who is walking with Jesus? Now none of us are perfect…But do you honestly seek to honor God with all that you are? How are you loving your wife and kids? How do you spend your money? Where are your priorities? Again, you won’t be perfect, but do you seek to honor God with your life? Are you focused on God, or are you focused on you?
What is the focus of your teaching? Do you preach Christ? Are you faithfully teaching the Bible? Will people walking into you church be able to tell this is a Christian worship service as opposed to a self-help motivational speech or quasi-spiritual pep rally? Are you faithfully teaching the full counsel of God? Are you accurately teaching the truths that have been passed down for centuries within the Church?
This post ended up being much longer than I planned, but my point is this. As a pastor or leader in the church, if you want a successful church, and a God honoring ministry…there is no grand secret. You don’t need the next “big thing” in ministry. You need Jesus. You need to be seeking him in prayer, you need to be walking with him in your life, and you need to be faithfully preaching him from the Scriptures.
It really is that simple.