A Challenge to Young Pastors on the Fence

It can be a real dilemma seeing methods that seem to work really well, then being told not to use them. This is especially true if your heart beats either out of 1) a passion to reach people for Christ, or 2) an addiction to pragmatic success (if it produced results, I must have done something right). I want to reach as many people as I can like anyone else. I don’t want to miss out on some opportunity to reach more people for Christ using methods presented to me by a new era and more advanced technologies than my fathers had at their disposal. None of us want to miss out on something that could help grow a church and chance appearing to have our heads in the sand.

Due to a desire to embrace methods, I’ve grown attached to the idea of “timeless” because there seems to be real wisdom in staying anchored to any threads that have survived or even thrived through the pressures and temptations of multiple eras. Timeless appeals to me because...

  1. I know how strong the gravitational pull of the spirit of the age is on me, and I need help resisting it since I’m responsible for presenting a timeless kingdom to a trendy culture. It’s too easy to focus on the culture.
  2. Biblical relevance seems more convincing to me because it demonstrates not how much it can change but how little it needs change.
  3. Timeless helps me avoid idolizing “old-fashioned.” Trendy is two years ago. Old-fashioned is 60 years ago. Timeless strives for 2000 years ago.

We almost all agree that our message is timeless. The controversy today is more about how changing methodologies affect that timeless message. There’s a particular aspect of this that we must keep in mind as we formulate philosophies of ministry.

Something isn’t adding up when I see how fast the megachurches are growing yet how far America is falling. We’ve lost so many spiritual battles during the same years that the “relevant” churches are winning so many popularity battles. When education improves in America, people get smarter. When business booms in America, people get richer. When healthcare improves in America, people get healthier. When religion improves in America, people get... more wicked? It doesn’t add up. Maybe growth isn’t equating to an improvement in true religion.

It’s almost impossible not to wonder if there’s some correlation between megachurches growing at the same rate as America’s godlessness. That isn’t very scientific, I admit. I’ll have to defer to your logic and that nagging feeling deep inside that you can’t shake.

I have visited several megachurches, and what distinguishes them the most seems to be the methodologies they have embraced and, subsequently, popularized (let’s call them “mega-methodologies”). Mega-methodologies read like a playbook and usually come in a package, each one with its own unique styling.

Churches have always tinkered with methodology through the ages, no doubt; yet the accelerated rate and boundless reach of today’s ecclesiastical experiments parallel the accelerated rate and boundless reach of change in the culture at large. It has been fast and furious, but has all change translated into progress?

I cannot always wrap my brain and Bible around what’s wrong with each particular methodology. There’s no denying that measuring some mega-methodologies against book, chapter, and verse is difficult (although I’ve heard some very inept attempts to do so). Why am I uncomfortable with some mega-methodologies that I can’t biblically prove either way? I’ve learned through years and experience that it’s not just specific parts that are worth debating. It’s the sum of the parts. It’s not just the pieces. It’s a predictable package that I observed in each of these churches. If you believe these megachurches and their mega-methodologies play a vital part in addressing America’s godless decline (and even addressing independent Baptist’s weaknesses), then you’ll be inclined to buy into their package. If you’re not convinced they produce a biblical Christianity, then it seems illogical and unwise to imitate them through adopting their package.

Many independent Baptist pastors embrace some of these mega-methodologies, believing they’re safe because their own motives are purer than the megachurch’s pastor. Time will likely prove that their motives don’t influence their methods as deeply as their methods influence their members. If you do what they do, be ready to end where they end. I, for one, don’t envy their crowd (especially every Sunday and Wednesday night when we’re packed out without mega-methodologies or beating people over the head). 

Independent Baptists are at a crossroads. Young men coming out of independent Bible colleges are taking the reins. Before each of you chooses which stream to place your boat in, be sure you know where that current takes you. Independent Baptists have weaknesses, no doubt, as every group in every age has. Some of the “new leaders” of young independent Baptists are calling for innovative new ideas that will fix our problems and improve our standing. If you’re listening, you’re not hearing innovation. You’re hearing imitation. It only sounds innovative to independent Baptists, which is not an indictment.

The core of this proposal boils down to imitating those who might have contributed more to the problem than to the solution. God held Judah responsible because she watched what Israel did and saw where she ended up, yet still did the same thing and predictably ended up in the same place (Jer. 3).

We’ve had quite a while to watch other American church groups and where their methodologies have led them. We can only blame ourselves if we follow them down a similar path, just using a different name. If that’s not enough, learn from the Republicans. They won the numbers and now control all three branches, but they gave up some of their most distinctive positions to get there, and there’s no turning back. America needed the Republicans to address their problems without giving up what made them distinct.

America needs independent Baptists to be in a constant state of self-correction, no doubt, while also remaining the most biblical version of independent Baptist churches they can be, with whatever distinction that demands. If the destination of our steps makes us more like American evangelicals or mega-churches or even Southern Baptists, it’s true we no longer possess the weaknesses of independent Baptists. Now we possess another group’s weaknesses, without the distinctives that made us useful in the first place. Independent Baptists will always need improvement, but if our most innovative answer to improvement is imitation, we don’t deserve the name. 

I cannot help but wonder if young men might fall for the classic straw man fallacy at work here. I’ve been in countless independent Baptist churches that depend on doing the basic biblical methodologies extremely well. And they are thriving. They are led by certainly imperfect yet godly men who strive to operate under the influence of the Holy Spirit. To overlook such effective independent Baptist churches and leaders, then redefine the whole independent Baptist movement using a segment of struggling independent Baptist churches or false leaders, creates a very convenient straw man. Who wants to be a part of a movement like that?! The last step is to substitute methodologies pioneered by evangelicals whose record is clear and market these imitations to men who would rather depend on some old new thing rather than cultivate the timeless. In the end, you destroy your own movement while flattering the movements you envied.

Please choose wisely, young men.

This article was originally posted on waynehardy.typepad.com.

If this article was a help to you, consider sharing it with your friends.