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Plumbline #23: “In Light of Global Lostness, Excellence Must Be Balanced By ‘Good Enough.’”

I hear it said a lot that because God deserves our best (which he does), everything we do on the weekend should have the highest quality—music, videos, lights, etc. Our performance should out-dazzle rock concerts and make MTV producers drool.

I certainly can appreciate the sentiment, as God does deserve our best.  Jesus told us that everything we do we should do as unto the Lord.  But there are 3 counter-balancing realities to go along with that. The first is that we are people of limited resources, and for every dollar we spend on making something excellent on the weekend, that’s one less dollar we can give away to seeing the gospel spread throughout the world and the needs of the poor alleviated. Jesus did not intend for us to spend the majority of our money on enhancing our production, He told us to give it away for the broken. We should spend our money cognizant of what Jesus really cares about. To spend all our money on production at the expense of the orphan, the poor and the lost would certainly offend him. In other words, our top-notch lighting system, while effective at drawing a crowd, might be (in some situations) deeply offensive to Jesus.

This is not to say we can’t ever spend a portion of our money on our production, or that in some cases it is a strategic and wise investment. It certainly can be. But we must do so in balance with the command to give ourselves away for the poor.

The second is that Jesus did not tell us that the power of our ministries would come from our soundboards. The real, life-changing “wow” factor of the church is not in its programs or performances, but in its members living together with the love and generosity of Christ. That’s what really opens the eyes of community to the gospel. You can impress people with your programming, but true lasting change comes only through the preached word and seeing the gospel lived out in a church. Building an audience and producing true, lasting disciples whose fruit remains are not the same.

In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul explained that he deliberately chose not to do his ministry with the “technological wow factor” of his day, which was Greek oratorical flourish.  He says, “I did not come to you in wisdom.” In those days, pre-technology, if you wanted to pack a stadium, get a Greek orator. It was their equivalent of our emotive worship experiences. And Paul is not against that, per se—Apollos, after all, was described as an eloquent man, meaning he had that ability. But Paul knew the real, lasting power to change lives was in the preached word, not in emotive oratory or savvy production.

It’s not that have to choose either the word/incarnational church or technology. We can seek both. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking the real power is in the technology.

The third reality goes along with the second-real, lasting fruit occurs through the development of leaders within the church. I think it is unwise to spend an inordinate amount of money getting the programming to top quality if its done at the expense of equipping and empowering people to lead in ministry in the community. The Apostles’ strategy was not building facilities or pulling off performances, but in making disciples. Again, that’s not to say we shouldn’t do top-quality performances or build facilities, just that they should not be at the expense of making disciple-leaders of our congregation. We should seek to pursue these objectives with the weight given to each in the Bible.

At the Summit Church we have used a lot of money we could have spent on programming to hire pastors who would do the work of equipping members for ministry, because the main focus of ministry is not in the church through the pastor, but in the community through the members. And the real power is not in the light show, but in the word and in the Spirit. This ties into Plumbline #9, that the church is an army, not an audience, and Plumbline # 8, “The week is more important than the weekend.”

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.