January 11, 2018
Church Growth Consultants -- Selling Carnal Leadership Paradigms
By Anthony Wade
Dissecting the latest offering from the purpose driven church growth industrial complex...
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. -- Acts 2: 46-47 (ESV)
Carey Nieuwhof is a church growth consultant and leadership guru. This industry grew out of the Purpose Driven Church revolution that has been occurring over the past several decades. The past few generations of young gun pastors have been raised on Rick's Warren's heretical view of how to grow a church business. It has made cult of personality pastors millionaires many times over. It has ballooned into a billion dollar industry. This despite the fact that at its heart it is simply unbiblical. The key verse is the formation of the New Testament church and it makes it abundantly clear who adds to the number of the saved. -- God. The people worried about attending service together, breaking bread together, and praising God. He added to their number as He saw fit. So it was until Rick Warren's new vision for the church came along in 1995. Warren taught that it was the responsibility of the vision casting CEO Pastor Dude to grow the church. Beloved, what man is responsible for he must maintain and what God is responsible for, God will maintain. One of the first things man did when he took over these responsibilities from God was to shift the focus of the church from the sheep to the goats. Once again, any reading of the key verses or the New Testament shows that the church was established for the saved, not the lost.
With the church now firmly focused on the people who think the things of God are utter foolishness, the church did what it had to in order to draw the goats -- it compromised. The unsaved did not want to see the cross? They were removed from the sanctuary. They did not want to hear about sin and repentance? Fine, let's talk about improving their sex life or their communities. So the lost came in by the thousands. Why not? To get the promise of eternal life without having to change anything? All for just 10% of your income? It was a deal they could not refuse. Plus hot music, a great light show and a motivational speech by a great orator? Do you think 50,000 people show up each weekend at Lakewood Church because Joel Osteen preaches the Gospel? No! It is because he preaches what their itching ears want to hear!
So every now and again, Carey Nieuwhof publishes an article that brilliantly highlights the heresy of building a church while ignoring the kingdom. Today's offering, linked above, is entitled; "Five Hard Truths About Healthy Church Growth." Let us reason together to find out what is really true and healthy.
"Most church leaders I know would love to see their church grow. Similarly, most leaders I've met want their church to grow for what we might call the 'right' reasons: they sincerely want more people to encounter the love of Jesus Christ. That's amazing." -- Carey Nieuwhof
Right from the start we see the true disconnect that Rick Warren has institutionalized. In the blind pursuit for numbers preachers have lost sight of the fact that narrow is the path to eternal life and few are those who find it. Remember, Paul, Apollos and you can plant or water. Only God gives the increase. Romans 1 teaches us that only the preached Gospel has to power to save someone! The job of the preacher is to be faithful to the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit give the increase. Sincerity here is irrelevant. You can be sincere and sincerely wrong.
"And yet there's a strong reaction against growing churches by many leaders. For some reason, many people love to take pot-shots at growing churches and large churches. Some are categorical denouncements. I don't know what to do with those. Sometimes I sense that underneath the anger are jealousy and resentment on the part of leaders whose churches aren't growing." -- Carey Nieuwhof
The myopic arrogance of people like Nieuwhof staggers me. The thought that maybe his way is not right never even crosses his mind. To him if someone criticizes a large church then they must be haters who are just jealous. What garbage. A truly secure leader understands God grows the church. The resentment is in all of the people being led down the broad path to destruction skipping and singing hallelujah. The anger is righteous out of a compassion for the lost within the walls of a "growing church." I once counseled a local pastor who was feeling down about the "lack of growth" in his 200 member church. My message is simple. If 170 of the 200 are truly saved and get into heaven you will hear well done my good and faithful servant. If you led a church of 50,000 and 45,000 end up in hell, I think you will hear depart from me.
"But in the midst of it all is a polarized and often unhealthy conversation about church growth.
So here's my bias: when you see baptism after baptism and hear life-change story after life-change story, it's hard to be against church growth. Why would you stand against the expanding mission of the local church?" -- Carey Nieuwhof
Glad you asked Carey. First of all because God has not instructed us to expand the mission He has laid out. Nowhere in the Bible does it even vaguely imply that the pastor is responsible for devising schemes to bring in the unsaved. Instead it clearly says that he will be held to account for the sheep -- not the goats. His responsibility is in provision for the sheep. Protection for the sheep from wolves, and direction through this dangerous world. You know, like a shepherd is supposed to do. You never see a shepherd secretly eyeing other groups of animals wishing he could lead them as well. Never. I served in the baptism ministry at my old church and it was the most rewarding ministry but to pretend it did not reveal the flaws of the purpose driven church is to not only be myopic but blind. First you always had a slew of children, who could not possibly understand sin and repentance. They were relentlessly coached by their Kidz Church teacher to say how they loved Jesus. The sad thing was they had better testimonies than the adults. This is the end result of the altar call theology that demands a seven word prayer to be saved. Do not gloss over this beloved. Watch a Joel Osteen program. After a 20 minute sermonette where there was zero Gospel presentation and relatively no mention of Jesus Christ he looks into the camera and tries to lead people in a sinner's prayer! After three sentences he pronounces that he believes if they said that prayer they were born again! It does not work that way! So Carey, I am not against seeing lives transformed. I am against seeing false conversions. I am against contributing to the line of people who will stand before Christ and say, "Lord Lord." Let us now review the five hard truths about healthy church growth from the Purpose Driven Industrial Complex.
"1. Healthy Churches Grow. But Not All Growing Churches Are Healthy Churches. You've heard the line before "Healthy things grow." Fundamentally, I believe that's true. But even as someone who wants to see every local church thrive, I would agree that not all growing churches are healthy churches. Yes, healthy churches do grow. But not all growing churches are healthy." -- Carey Nieuwhof
It is crucial that we examine the underlying disconnect that Nieuwhof displays because it is so prevalent in the church today. While I am glad he can recognize that not all growth is healthy he fails to see that not all growth need be numeric in nature. His assertion is that he wishes to see every church thrive but he only has one definition of the word thrive -- more fannies in the seats. Not more genuine salvations. Not more enrolled in ministry courses. Not more mature saints in the congregation. These are the things that I would consider a thriving church. If it leads to more numbers great but that is God's portion not mine. If the Gospel is being proclaimed, people are getting saved and sheep are maturing in Christ then that is a thriving church. If the sheep start doing the work of a Berean, stop following TV icon false teachers, and have a genuine zeal for the uncompromised Gospel -- then that is a thriving church! Not for Carey Nieuwhof and the purpose driven crowd! Success is only measured in carnal increments. How many people attended? How many in membership? How many for altar call? How many for baptism? How much was tithed? Ted Haggard pastored a church of 14,000 when he fell from grace. Rob Bell had the same when he decided there was no such thing as hell. Bob Coy, Mark Driscoll and the names just go on and on. The size of their churches had zero impact on their ungodly behavior and was not indicative of any real "thriving." Ask someone who survived Driscoll in Seattle and they will tell you about a devastated community where thousands of sheep still wander the purpose driven landscape; sheep without a shepherd. Spiritual success is not measured carnally.
"2. Healthy Small Churches Usually Don't Stay Small Forever. There's also a thread of this discussion that suggests churches should stay small. The challenge is it's hard to stay small when you're reaching people." -- Carey Nieuwhof
This is an outright fallacy. I know many small churches that are healthier than the cult of personality mega churches but never seem to grow beyond the space God has allocated for them. People leave churches all the time and not always for negative reasons. People move. They pass away. Maybe you spike up one year a hundred and then lose fifty the following. To Carey Nieuwhof the year with 100 up is a sign of a thriving church but the fifty down means you are doing something wrong. Nonsense. The preacher has one consideration from the pulpit and that is to preach the Gospel. He has one consideration outside the pulpit and that is to shepherd the sheep. If he is doing these two things faithfully he need not worry about how God will or will not grow his individual church building.
"3. An Outward Focused Church Ultimately Creates the Healthiest Insiders. So what creates a healthy church? Many factors, but outward focus is non-negotiable. It's a bit of a paradox, but an outwardly focused church ultimately creates the healthiest insiders. Why is that? An inherent part of the Christian faith is death to self. And that also means death to selfish preferences. In an insider-focused church, no one sacrifices anything for the sake of others, because people believe others ought to sacrifice to please them." -- Carey Nieuwhof
What utter ridiculousness. An outwardly focused church means that the church markets to those who are not saved. They call them "unchurched" so as to not offend them. It is quite telling and disturbing that this is the non-negotiable item. The purpose driven church movement has successfully stolen the church from the sheep and now they draw a line in the sand over it and say returning it is non-negotiable. Then to lend an appearance of piety over it, Nieuwhof butchers the biblical concept of dying to self. Dying to ourselves has nothing to do with living for other people. It has nothing to do with deference to the unsaved. It has to do with deference toe to Jesus Christ. We die to our old self before Jesus and live for Him now. While there certainly is the one verse regarding the Great Commission, there are far more about growing in Christ and maturing as a believer. That was why Jesus built His church. The church exists for the sake of the believers. It exists for the maturing and edification of the saints. Do we want the unsaved to attend? Sure because the church is the only place they are likely to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the only thing that has the power to save them. An outwardly focused church is not aligned with God's Word so there is zero chance it will be healthy inside.
"4. Decline Can Happen For A Season In Healthy Churches. Like any living organism, churches go through seasons. Sometimes that means a healthy church will stall out or even decline for a season. That can be because of a leadership change, hitting a new growth barrier, the need for systems to catch up to where the church has grown, and sometimes, for no clear reason at all (some of this truly is mystery). But healthy churches recover from that plateau or decline, adjust the sails and continue on with their mission." -- Carey Nieuwhof
Once again, Nieuwhof only views church through a carnal lens of measurement. Poor attendance? You're in decline. Tithing dipped? You're in decline. It is sad that they cannot see their own indifference to God. The purpose driven church teaches pastors that it is ok to "blessedly subtract" someone out of your church if they do not like your vision. So it is ok for man to decide a sheep has to leave but if they decide on their own it is a negative statement on the church and pastor. As if God cannot be afforded the same luxury given to the purpose driven pastor. Once again, if you are focused on the Gospel and shepherding the sheep then God will take care of the increase. If it is tenfold -- praise God! If it seems nothing ever increases, - praise God! We ought to measure success by spiritual growth and not with the carnality of this world.
"5. Healthy Leaders Produce Healthy Churches. I've been leading in the local church for 20 years. We've had seasons where we've seen 30% growth year after year, and seasons where it's been flatlined. Over the last two decades, we've gone from a handful of people to over 1200 today (plus more online), with a new location launching this month. Most of the people who come to our church for the first time self-identify as having no regular church attendance background.
When I look back at almost 23 years of leadership, I see a trend. When I wasn't healthy, neither was our church. Even in seasons where our church was growing, that growth wasn't the healthiest (lots of turn over) when I wasn't the healthiest. Unhealthy leaders can't lead healthy churches. Not over the long haul." -- Carey Nieuwhof
I will not argue with the concept in general that a leader leads better when healthy but I think Mr. Nieuwhof and I are speaking about two different types of healthy. In reading other articles from Carey I know that he equates pastoral health to having enough time off, delegating pastoral duties to other people and generally absolving the shepherd from shepherding responsibilities. This is consistent with the outline of the purpose driven church as well. My sense of an unhealthy pastor is one who is more concerned with carnal measurements then the maturity of his sheep. That is the bottom line beloved. Carey Nieuwhof's theology is unhealthy. It focuses the church away from the bride of Christ in the desperate attempt to increase carnal metrics and then any increase in those metrics is somehow equated to spiritual success. Beloved, God decides the increase. God grows the church horizontally. There is a reason why He chose the shepherd imagery to describe the pastor. The shepherd holds a staff to help guide the sheep and a rod to beat away the wolves that would seek to devour them. When you preach the Gospel and shepherd the sheep you do not need a church growth consultant. You just need to be you and let God be God.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- January 11, 2018
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.