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    Turning Off the Gurus of Guilt


    A number of years ago, a rather influential church growth leader was invited to speak in our church. He was doing a leadership conference on a Friday, and Saturday night. He, and his wife stayed in our home, and we treated them with the respect, which we feel such “ministry dignitaries” deserve.

    When successful and experienced people come to our church to speak or to visit, Bev (my wife) loves to ask them about our services. She asks those questions which cut to the soul: “What could we do better?” “What’s wrong with our church, that we don’t have more people?” “How would you change things, if you were in our place?”

    I hate it when she asks those questions.

    As usual, she asked these questions of this couple, who had come to visit. As usual, I hated it. Well, that’s not true, I actually hated it more than usual. Since they had not been with us on Sunday morning, they asked many questions about our services. How long were they? What was our order of service? How long was the worship? What kind of messages did I preach?

    During this season of time, we did something which would be considered unique in most church circles. We took a ten minute break immediately after our time of worship in song, and allowed people to get a cup of coffee, and a breakfast munchie (croissants, bagels, fruit). They took the time to fellowship a little, and then settled back in, to study the Word of God.

    Our congregation loved this little breakfast break. Our church growth guru visitors thought it was a terrible idea, and let me know rather aggressively. You would have thought, I was teaching heresy. I tried to discuss this issue in a friendly manner, but after a few minutes, I realized that it was not being looked at as a point of discussion, but as a point of correction. And I was the “correctee.”

    The lights were on, but nobody was home. I smiled, but I turned down the volume. I’m sure they knew it, but I didn’t care. I would do the same today. This couple refused to accept the fact, that I may have had a valid philosophy of ministry, which made a short fellowship break in the middle of the service, an acceptable option. I believe that fellowship is a discipline of the Christian life, which must be modeled, and must be given place as often as possible. I believe that it has power. Sometimes as much power as prayer, Bible study, or giving.

    They believed that if you took a break in the middle of the service, between the worship and the word, it would allow the people to say offending things to one another, and thereby diminish the power of the preached word, maybe even chase visitors away.

    Maybe you would side with our church growth gurus. Maybe you would side with me in this debate. Maybe you don’t care which of these philosophies is used to dictate the order of a church service. If you fall into that last category, I would probably agree most with you. That’s what made me so mad. My God doesn’t have a set order of service for a church gathering to follow. He is not limited in power to perform the miraculous, and His performance is not dictated by our little planned patterns for gathering.

    The fact is, that the small church will always look different than the larger gathering. It will usually (not always) have a greater emphasis on fellowship than the larger church. And that is unfortunate for the larger congregation, because much is lost when fellowship is diminished.

    Today, I only listen to successful pastors who have learned to accomplish growth, and yet have retained intimacy in fellowship.

    These church growth gurus may have been correct, if I wanted to fill the seats. But, if I was looking to increase the intimacy of the people, and use that as a magnet to attract others, then our little break was all right. It wasn’t necessary, but it wasn’t wrong either.

    There are a thousand gurus out there, who will tell you how you should run your services. Some of them know what they are talking about. Some of them don’t. Some of them preach about things which have worked for them, but they won’t work for you. Some of them are more dogmatic about non-essentials, than they are about salvation by grace.

    For every pastor who has a vision which empowers your people to serve one another, for every small church leader who believes that he can expect greater things out of average people, for each leader who desires greater intimacy in the life of the church, and wants to see the order of service make room for fellowship — this article is for you. Don’t let the gurus of guilt, put a guilt trip on you. Turn down the volume when they wax eloquent over non-essential elements of church life, and just continue to do your best to serve God, and the people around you, in your own way.

    Sometime later, while I was away on vacation, I visited a service at the church of these same church growth gurus. They asked what I thought about the order of their service. I said it was all right. I lied. Actually, if was the only service in a gospel preaching church I’ve been to, which was so bad, I would never have returned if I was looking for a place to stay.

    If you have been encouraged by this column, if you have any questions or responses, or if there is a subject you would like to see addressed; You may write to Phil Wyman at Church on the Coast – 4740 Dalea Pl. Oceanside, CA 92057. e-mail address – [email protected]

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