Monday, April 11, 2005

An Evaluation of the Church Growth Movement (Part Four)

Here is part four of a repost on the CGM...

III. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE CHURCH GROWTH MOVEMENT?

The CGM has many things to say to us as we near the end of the 20th century, because as Os Guiness has said, "It represents a concern for many of the most-needed components of Christian renewal and reformation." The CGM reminds us of the importance of the Great Commission and of the fact that there are still millions and millions of people, both at home and abroad, who do not understand who Jesus Christ really is. It also reminds us that at the centre of God's plan to reach the world is the church. It is not some optional extra that is more of a hindrance than a help, but is a living growing body of redeemed people who are responsible to communicate the gospel and disciple those who trust in the Saviour. The CGM challenges us with the possibility of growth and the need to work hard to plant new churches and strengthen existing ones. We are not to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, or hunker down and wait for Jesus to come again; we are to take a good look around at the fields that are ready for harvest and pray and dream about the possibilities. More than that we are to plan. Strategy is not "worldly". It is for God's ambassadors as well. We need to start asking strategic questions like: how can we reach our world for Jesus? What do people outside the church think? What can we do, where we are, to communicate the unchanging truths of the Word of God in a way they can understand? What can we legitimately borrow from the human sciences that will help us with our task at this time, which may be as volatile and unpredictable as any time since the Reformation?

At the same time, the CGM dares us to reevaluate what we are doing and why we are doing it and this is very necessary from time to time. It exposes us to other models of ministry that may have picked up something we have forgotten, or may have assumed was unimportant, or may never even have thought of before. Even though many ministers acknowledge the importance of prayer, many still do not pray as they should. If this is the case, we can learn from those within the CGM who have learned the discipline of prayer and meditation and the value of a consistent, humble walk with God. After all, we cannot expect people to do what we are not doing ourselves. Leadership is not just a matter of knowing the right answers, there is also an essential, exemplary component.

In far too many churches, a small handful of people do most of the work while the larger majority are content to come and get "ministered" to. There are many reasons for this, from controlling personalities who love to be in the spotlight and have trouble believing that anybody can take their place, to downright laziness on the part of an assortment of evangelical "pew potatoes". Because of this, we need to pay attention to the CGM when it tells us that it is healthy for a church and its individual members to exercise their gifts and we need to help them do so, and give them opportunities to develop their abilities. Vibrant Christianity is not a spectator sport, nor is it an individual endeavour, it is a team effort and everyone must pull together if the whole body is going to grow and be effective.

While some see the traditional worship services as a "sacred trust" that should never be touched or altered, the CGM at the very least, makes us think through what we are doing. And even if we are not prepared to buy into all of the changes they think are long overdue, let's face it, a biblical reassessment of our priorities would probably do us all a lot of good. The times of our services, the way we conduct prayer meetings, the kind of music we use and the types of sermons we preach are all examples of things that can become fossilized for no good reason except that "things have always been done that way". Whatever we may think about changes in any of these areas, to continue doing things the way we are just because that's the way it has always been done, is not good enough.

I also think the CGM movement is to be commended for its emphasis on excellence in ministry. Sometimes Christians give the Lord far less than their best. How many sermons and Bible studies flop because those responsible did not put in the time and effort necessary to make the truth come alive? How many church buildings are as well-appointed and well-adorned as the homes of the members who attend each week? In this part of the world most Christians come from user-friendly homes where everything is neat, clean and inviting, but few are prepared to contribute the money which they have (and lavishly spend on themselves) and even fewer are prepared to do the work that is required to make the "meeting-place" a place where people want to meet. Until the gap between what we say is important and what we do to demonstrate this is closed, many churches will never be more than mediocre, which is not only dishonouring to God, but in most cases it puts us outside the sphere of His blessing.

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