At first, I had no idea how to respond. They’d heard me speak about the gospel and its implications for several hours. But, with a big smile on my face, I said, “First, let me just tell you that you repent because Jesus is the only way.” There was some nervous laughter across the room, but this wasn’t what they wanted to hear. They wanted a pragmatic solution that could solve their decline. They wanted more churches simply because they needed more churches.
Obviously, this was an extreme example, but there is a temptation for any church leader to focus so much on the pragmatics of reaching their community that they forget their theological grid.
2. To what are we winning people?
There are others who are not as extreme. They have good motives, but without stronger theological convictions, they can lose their way. These church leaders go into the situation with an “anything goes” mantra that will cause trouble later.
They pastor, plant a church or engage a people group using any means necessary because “people need Jesus.” They use whatever it takes to draw in a crowd, gain attention or reach the lost. Pastors in some places come up with shocking sermon series or surprising stunts in the community. The goal is to gather people in and let them hear about Jesus and nothing is off limits.
I understand that desire (or the temptation) to reach people and then worry about teaching and discipleship down the road, but church leaders must think long term from a Kingdom perspective. Theologically, church leaders have to recognize that they, like all other believers, have been called to make lifelong disciples of Jesus, not temporary converts.
You can do lots of things to gather a crowd or reach a community, but are those things consistent with scripture and the Gospel? In the end, you have to ask the question, to what am I winning these people? Or better yet, to whom am I winning these people?
3. Pursuing Balance
When leading a church through pastoring, planting or being a missionary, theology matters. What we believe has implications for how we behave. If the gospel is not properly understood, it cannot be persistently proclaimed. If the teachers of the church are not well-engaged, a bibilcal church will not be present.
Pastors, planters and missionaries need to be grounded in the theological grid of the gospel. There is no long-term relevance outside of the eternal things of God. Furthmore, they need to work from a theological grid as to what church is, what evangelism is, how discipleship matters and more.