God’s Grace or Mere Methods?
Willimon, in The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized writes:
The challenge of being an evangelistic preacher is the precarious willingness to allow God to use us to assemble the church, which is often a church we would not have assembled if assembling a church were only a matter of methods of church growth rather than a matter of God’s grace.
Church as Merely Agency
Today is an era of church growth methods. We go to the champions of church growth to attempt to learn a “one size fits all” method of growing a church. We get energized. We hear buzz words like: “seeker-sensitive” and “unchurched charley.” We learn that we need to de-emphasize some fundamentals and simply ask people what they want, and give it to them. That way we will be sure to address the “felt needs” of our communities. The church under such a model becomes a social service agency that reflects the attitudes and desires of the community it finds itself in.
Using such an approach, we simply look at the kinds of people we want to attract and provides services to them. If we want to attract the young late 20s crowd we provide child care and have hip services. Maybe we get rid of our trappings of denominational garb. Maybe we preach without our ties or robes. In short, you attempt to pander to the wants and desires of those you wish to attract. The goal being to pack your church full of those who will like such things.
Yet Willimon reminds us that there is a flaw in such methodologies. A flaw that demonstrates itself in the call to whosoever will come. We simply give the call of God and let whosoever come, come. Another problem is that it gives people what they want (felt needs) rather than what they need (real needs). When we preach the message God has given us to preach you will end up with a community of believers who look forward and work towards and live in God’s future kingdom.
Don’t Trade Your Birthright
As preachers, we must never succumb to the subtle idolatry of using methods to supplant God’s grace. There is nothing wrong with methods, but always make sure that your methods are not detrimental to your ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is not to pack a church full of half-converted consumers of religious entertainment, but to build an alternate community of believers who have the audacity to think that God’s coming Kingdom will supplant this present world. Let us not trade our birthright for a mess of pottage…