“All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Man’s Expectations Have Crippled the Growth of The Kingdom

“…It would seem that this has all occurred because of the expectations of those around us, the expectations of other Christians. It is these false, man-centered expectations that have caused the dilemma we are in today. The expectations of God, and the challenges of the scriptures are diluted to fit into our easy, comfortable, certain, and risk-free lives…”

I am a people pleaser. Some might accuse me of loving attention, and being in the center of it. As a young man in the midst of “ministry”, “church planting”, or whatever you want to call it I am haunted by what the world deems as effective ministry. (Most define effectiveness by the numbers of people we are able to draw to ourselves, and into our weekly events). I have chosen to pursue the narrow path, though difficult, and seemingly impossible. By no means do I have it figured out, and will spend the rest of my life seeking to stay on this path. This is the path that seeks to pour into a few others at a very deep level. Loren Cunningham, in one of his books, breaks down what it would look like if each Christ follower spent three years pouring into 11 people, sending them out, and then starting over again. By the end of the 13th three-year cycle the entire world is reached with the Gospel of Jesus. The problem with this is that no individual could receive credit for a movement of God like the one described above. Only God could be traced back, and given credit for such a thing happening. I often wonder if any human will ever live in such a way that does not expect credit, or glory for things they think they have done, but insists that God be glorified.

I am convinced that man’s expectations for numerical growth have crippled the growth of the kingdom of God. I know far too many burned out “church planters” who sought to plant a church, but could not meet the high expectations of the “mother church”, or other supporters. On the other hand, I know far too many “church planters” who have “succeeded” in the numerical growth of a “congregation”, therefore, meeting man’s expectations for success, but generally speaking, have failed to raise up true disciples. Of course, the “success” puffs up, and leads to pride. God is soon squeezed out of the picture, and little Glory is given to His name. Man’s kingdom is grown, and God’s kingdom is seemingly ignored. The type of success described above usually revolves around a single person who is a type A, driven leader. (Please know that I am not referring to ANY one church in particular for either of these examples. If you are suspicious that I am speaking of YOUR church then you may be seeking the approval of someone besides God, and the mere fact that the word “YOUR” is before the word church should bring conviction from the Holy Spirit). Once again, I feel there is a healthy balance with everything. I do not think large churches that grow fast are bad. I simply feel that when the pursuit of numerical growth at a weekly event takes priority over discipleship we have strayed far from the example Jesus has left us in scripture. Of course, I do not know a single pastor who would actually admit to pursuing numerical growth over discipleship, but a simple glance at a church’s budget, and how much energy is put into weekly services is a simple way to reveal the truth.

A new metric for success: One challenge I frequently submit to myself, and others who seek the narrow path is this: “If you were to, hypothetically, remove the weekly service from the picture, what would be left? Clearly, if there is not a large ‘chunk of meat’ remaining (Home teams/small groups, local/global investment, outward focus, and other things that should function outside of a weekly event) then there is a problem.

The scary thing is that so many of us fall into the trap of what man tells us is “effective ministry”. I have, and continue to struggle with this daily. Though we say with our words, in theory, and on paper that we hold discipleship, accountability, seeking the welfare of our city, intimate relationships, etc. as highly important, our default is to focus on how smoothly run, and attractive our weekly service is. If we can successfully fill a room full of people once a week then we have accomplished success. Our vision begins to get cloudy, and we trick ourselves into thinking that our brilliantly communicated “sermons” are what is primarily needed in the lives of those involved in our churches.
Just one example: Barna Group research disturbingly shows that less than 25% of weekly church-goers attend a small group with other believers during the week. The good news is that this percentage has almost doubled since 1994. However, in 14 years we still have less than a quarter of our “congregations” plugged into an environment that allows for intimate, accountable, discipleship relationships. (http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=45) Scary.

We must stop treating people as numbers on our weekly attendance records, and start focusing on individuals. In order to do this we must drastically change the way we do things. We simply cannot continue doing the same things over and over expecting different results. One practical way to do this is to allocate more time, energy, efforts, and resources on things other than our weekly gatherings. I wonder what would happen if we shifted our view of “church” off of a weekly large group gathering, and onto developing intimate relationships with other believers in order to be Jesus in our neighborhoods, jobs, schools, lives, etc.?

Have our church buildings, and services become our idols? Have we accidentally allowed them to replace the pursuit of deep, Biblical community with others?

7 “In that day men will look to their Maker, and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. 8 They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles [a] and the incense altars their fingers have made. 9 In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation. 10 You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines, 11 though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain.” Isaiah 17:7-11

“Jesus set us free from ourselves. Turn us to you, and your expectations. Empower us, by your Spirit in us, to grow YOUR kingdom, and not our own. Teach us how to seek your approval through our faith in you. Amen.”

4 thoughts on ““All Mixed Up, Don’t Know What To Do” – Man’s Expectations Have Crippled the Growth of The Kingdom

  1. Great post, Aaron. LOVE the Isaiah passage!

    You ask:
    Have our church buildings, and services become our idols?
    The more I have considered this over the past year or so, I think that it is the “service” that has become the idol and the building is seen as a sort of indispensable part of our worship, like the altars Isaiah mentions. No one worships an altar, but many people feel that you must worship AT an altar. As you even mentioned in this post, even most of our emphasis on the building is centered on how it relates to the weekly gathering. So to me, the building is a tool that can be used well or used poorly, but not an idol to very many folks.

    As far as the service becoming our idol, I think we are often guilty of the same sin of Israel when they made the golden calf. I’m convinced that it was not the calf that the people were so jacked up about, but simply the emotionally charged experience that accompanied its worship. They were not content with a covenant relationship that sometimes existed without warm fuzzies, but demanded for themselves some soft of emotional “proof” of their connection to God.

    I think that’s why we place so much emphasis on the large gatherings. It’s easy to generate emotion in that context, and that’s what most people are looking for – not a connection with God and His people, but PROOF of such a connection.

  2. Aaron,

    Enjoyed reading your heart and seeing some of the things the Lord’s been teaching me being typed by you. An interesting thought is to see where Jesus placed the focus of his ministry. Was it on 12 individuals who He did life with deeply or was it on the crowds? Clearly, His sermons to the crowds were important aspects of His ministry and were used greatly to further His kingdom and give Him glory but in the end, the Gospel went forth to the nations through the testimonies of 12 men (plus an extra terrorist who got knocked out by the power of the Gospel). So, the pour into a few deep relationships and them send them out after 3 years methodology definitely was the M.O. in the earliest Church.

    Good stuff man. Look forward to talking to you soon. Let me know when you would be available to talk over the phone and I’ll give you a call some night. Love you buddy!

  3. I think another aspect of this is not simply “religious.” Times have changed for us as a society because people are not interested in anything anymore. There are so many causes out there that are dying because people are working for that next big house and trying to stay out of debt because of our consumerism. It is a sign of the times that a war rolls on and no one says a word about it except the occasional’ “this sucks,” but they know nothing about it. I think the problem partially lies with the church as a whole and not the institution.

    I also think that people use the church as a safe place. They can sit back and complain that the world is not being reached because their church isn’t doing enough. It takes away from the personal responsibility of the Great Commission to live out the words of Jesus everyday and beat ourselves into submission of His commands.

    You know this stuff….I just thought it when I was reading.

  4. Aaron, You wrote in prayer,
    “Jesus set us free from ourselves. Turn us to you, and your expectations. Empower us, by your Spirit in us, to grow YOUR kingdom, and not our own. Teach us how to seek your approval through our faith in you. Amen.”

    Aaron, I love this & rings so personally true to me, especially this week.
    Reminds me that as much as we often want to help and/or fix people/situations…..none of it is possible without our faith in Christ. And that without Him, we are more often trying to fix “it” agisnt His will.
    Hindsight…..’tis a beautiful thing, huh?
    Thanks for the reminder
    Love “Aunt” Stacey

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