Dissatisfaction in the Pews.

While visiting some blogs that I read from time to time, I came across the posting of a local church in my area.  It reads as follows:

“One of the common challenges that most evangelical churches face is the “Feed Me!” plea.  In a recent nationwide survey of churches from different styles and traditions all found that about 25% of the people in the pews were dissatisfied with their church and one of the main complaints was that they were not being fed.  This survey helped many of us in local church leadership to prepare for a long overdue and difficult conversation with our church families.  The conversation is about how God designed us to be fed.

While the role of the teaching pastor is clear: “Preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:2

But what of the role of the individual believer?  2 Timothy 2:14 Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

The bottom line is that one of the primary roles of the teaching pastor is to remind the people to study for themselves so that they might receive full spiritual nourishment through the ongoing, daily study of the word of God.”

I felt compelled to respond…so I did.  The following was my response:

“While I agree with the assertion that it is the responsibility of the pastor/teacher to encourage and exhort the people to study God’s Word for themselves, it’s important to note that the “complaint” of the people is specifically in regard what they are receiving while in the corporate worship setting.

A good number of people are dissatisfied with the teaching they are receiving while at a church service. Much of this dissent I would attribute to the ongoing affects of the “seeker-sensitive” movement that has been taken to an extreme by many churches. The employment of that movement within evangelical Christianity has led many churches to be overtly concerned with the unbeliever in their midst, while leaving the developing or mature Christian behind. Often, setting an example from the pulpit that would lead many to believe that the solid teaching of God’s Word is not as important as making people feel comfortable and welcomed within the walls of the church building.

The extreme employment of the “seeker-sensitive” movement also conveys the notion from the pulpit, though perhaps not intentionally, that the Scriptures wouldn’t really capture the attention of the people, especially a non-believer. Or even, that God’s Word would simply put people to sleep, so we better find something that will hook them…like a movie clip, or a hit radio single with spiritual overtones performed poorly and loudly by a musically over-zealous praise team.

All of this to say, it is the primary responsibility of the elder/teacher/pastor to not only teach God’s Word, but set an example, from the pulpit, to those in their congregation of how to do so. It’s interesting to note in Acts 6 that when the elders became distracted with other causes, though worthy, they found others to take those responsibilities and said, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (v.4).

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says that he praises God that though those in the congregation had once held an allegiance to sin, they now held a better allegiance to receiving a high standard of the teaching of the Scriptures. Note Romans 6:17, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”

Finally, Paul again notes that it is the responsibility of the elder/pastor/teacher to present his flock mature in Christ through the teaching of the Word. Colossians 1:28 says, “Him [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

Some other helpful Scriptures in this regard are:

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”
(1Timothy 5:17 ESV)

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
(Acts 2:42 ESV)

“And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
(Acts 5:42 ESV)

Pastors cannot expect their people to be unashamed workmen who correctly handle the Word of Truth if they are not setting the primary example. So, while it is important for Christians in the pews to be students of the Scriptures themselves, it is vitally important that their pastors (who display a love of, devotion to, hunger for, reverence of, allegiance to and knowledge of the Scriptures that can be followed) lead them!”

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Dissatisfaction in the Pews.

  1. I just recently watched a video at the Wednesday night bible study we have at my house where John Macarther goes over spiritual maturity and growth. It gave me a new perspective on my sanctification, as well as where the rest of the evangelical church is heading in their sanctification.

    Macarther pointed out three classes of christians given by the apostle John in his first epistle – little children, young men and fathers.

    1Jo 2:12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake.
    1Jo 2:13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.
    1Jo 2:14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

    Macarthur made the claim that an overwhelming majority of evangelical christians today could be called “little children”, while a few are young men and even fewer are fathers. His breakdown of each one was quite interesting. He said “little children” are those who are totally dependent upon the parent. While none of us as christians ever become fully independent from God, this is an emphasis on the dependence upon the elementary, a need to be sustained, one who reasons and thinks like a child and needs support and upholding. Macarthur claimed that the majority of the evangelical church is not only “little children”, but they wish to remain “little children”; they wish to continue being upheld by God and never move out into spiritual maturity where they become responsible men and women. I must agree with this. He said that “young men” are those who have “overcome the evil one”, which is more than an encouragement- it is a great accomplishment not to be overlooked. Those who are “young men” are those who have found the truth, and eat it up. They have overcome the devil because they now discern truth from deception for themselves. They find the truth to be the priority and strive for it. They are the ones who are not afraid to battle against false teaching and error. 2 John shows much emphasis on “truth”-

    2Jo 1:1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth ; and not only I, but also all who know the truth,
    2Jo 1:2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:
    2Jo 1:3 Grace, mercy {and} peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
    2Jo 1:4 I was very glad to find {some} of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment {to do} from the Father.

    Fathers are those who have learned the truth, but have come to the realization that all of the theology and knowledge they have gained are second to their personal relationship with Christ. They live each day wanting to fulfill the will of the Father, and place their selfish motives aside. A true example of a father would be Paul. He was independent as a Christian – He led others and encouraged others, he was mature in his thinking, and he was sold out for Christ.

    I mention all of this because I believe it puts such claims as “dig your own well” in perspective. While each and every person is responsible for their own sanctification and will stand before the Beema Seat of Christ with nothing but their own actions, this also includes our actions in accordance with our work in the Church. What I mean is, those who are pastors will surely have to give an account for the oppotunities they were given to lead their flock. Did they lead them into spiritual maturity, with scriptural teaching and prayer and a focus on the truth? Or did they simply teach the elementals and leave it up the individual to become mature? It is quite obvious that the goal of a pastor should be to lead his flock to spiritual maturity. But apparently it is not today. There seems to be almost no encouragement to become mature, to devote outselves to the reading, teaching, and memorizing of the scriptures. No, this has become second, maybe even third, to gaining acceptance in the public eye. The church of today is in fear of being outcast, so they conform to the secular world and make compromises with it. This has led to all sorts of faults in the modern church which I will avoid in this post.

    MY point is this: The pastor and church IS responsible to feed those who come in their doors. But take this with a grain of salt; those who are fed should also be taught to “dig their own wells”, and hopefully will do so without having to be told, by the sheer power of the teaching which has been presented to them and has encouraged them. It is a both/and, not an either/or. Both the church and the individual are to be working together on the road to spiritual maturity. The church is to edify those who walk in her doors (1 Cor 14:26), not to simply make them feel welcome, and not simply evangelize to those who do not know of Christ. I believe the truth of the matter is found in 1 Cor 14:23-26, that if we devote ourselves to the teaching and exegetical preaching of the scriptures in the Church, then those who come in our doors who know not of Christ will surely see that we are who we say we are: followers of Christ. We should not have to make an overly purposed attempt to evangelize those who are unsaved that walk into the Church – that should automatically happen when they hear the truth, see us walking in the truth, and are convicted by it. It is not highly thought-out plans and motives and tricks and techniques that save people – it is the work of the Holy Spirit, who regenerates and gives life to those by grace apart from works. Therefore, our actions cannot possibly save one apart from the work of the Spirit. So why are churches trying to do so with “secularizing” themselves? DO they not know that they are only hurting themselves? The goal is to become spiritually mature, and to lead others into spiritual maturity. Once that is established, I believe everything else falls into place.

    I have to say that I am somewhat angered by the view of the modern evangelical church. The scriptures have been almost completely abandoned; the goal now is our own personal peace and happiness. When I am in churches that teach this way I have to hold myself back from standing up and yelling out at them. I do not claim to have reached some ultimate goal, and I do not believe that I am “holier than thou” so to say, but I do believe that I have found truth and strive for it, and I see the church of today relatively does not.

  2. The following was sent to me via email (as well as posted on the church’s blog) in response to my post on the church’s blog:

    “Always glad to have different perspectives on the life and practice of _____ Church. The following is our response…

    In Defense of the Pastoral Role of Evangelism
    Lead Pastor
    September 2008

    Throughout the course of church history the pendulum of practice seems to swing about every 25 years. Regarding the roles of the local church pastor this seems especially true. The pendulum swung in a big way in the early ‘80s as there arose a movement within the church that reminded pastors of their role as an evangelist. Over the course of the last twenty years there was a healthy movement to revitalize the role of evangelism in the local church.

    The Import of Evangelism in Building a Mature Church:

    So what is the conclusion to this important discussion? If the primary responsibility of the pastor is to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:12) then where does the role of evangelism fit? Since it is listed along with the role of the apostles, prophets, and teachers it appears that it has a role of equal import. Here are some possibilities…

    • A mature church is a balanced church. One of the most poignant descriptions of the vitality of the early NT church was given in Acts 16:5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily. It seems that the role of instructing believers and evangelism are both present in the balanced and mature church.
    • A mature church is a reproducing church: healthy things reproduce themselves. Just like with any family, reproduction is a central part of the life of the family. This was certainly true of the early church where it says that there were “daily added to the church those who believed.”
    • A mature church understands their role as salt and light: The church is commanded to be “salt and light” in a corrupt and dark world. These two analogies offer the balance for which the church should seek. Salt has a preserving agent which keeps culture from complete moral decay. This comes through the purity of the church which is built by the preaching of the word and the practice of the holiness of Christ. Light dispels darkness which is equally a responsibility of the church. This is accomplished when we hold high the light of the gospel message in a dark world. The mature and balanced church demonstrates passion and excellence in both endeavors.

    The responsibility of the local church pastor is to ensure that neither of these important tasks is neglected. We are to discipline ourselves to both model and motivate others to understand the word and evangelize the lost. Excellence in both honors God and transforms people. Together these two ministries ensure transformation rather than accommodation. When both are in play and practiced with excellence the local church can effectively offer hope to the world.

    Now it seems that there is an equally strong movement to reclaim the pastoral role of training the Christ follower. There is certainly validity in this emphasis since we are living in a post Christian culture that is generally biblically illiterate. While these periodic corrections are instructive, and the current move is probably a healthy one, I would like to stand up in defense of the role of the pastor as evangelist.

    Structure and Process for Achieving Maturity in the Church:

    When God set out to build a mature church his primary method was to establish a structure of leadership that would accomplish this:

    Ephesians 4:11. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
    12. to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13. until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

    There are four distinct roles described in this passage…

    • Apostles: who built the foundation of strong doctrine
    • Prophets: who declared the prophetic word of God and called people to lives of holiness based upon this word.
    • Evangelists: who not only performed the work of evangelism but built this value into the corporate structure of the church.
    • Pastor/Teachers: who shepherded the flock and proclaimed the truth of the word, modeled the life of Christ, and seek to transfer this to the church.

    The Lost Art of Balance:

    Over the course of my lifetime I have seen the tension regarding these different roles. While few in the evangelical church question the foundational role of the apostles and prophets; there seems to be open tension over the two prominent roles of evangelists and pastor/teacher. This tension is significant enough that most churches over-emphasize one at the expense of the other.

    In fact some would say that the role of the pastor within the gathered church is only to teach the word of God in its application to the believer and that evangelism is something left outside of the meetings of the gathered church. The argument is that the “teaching of the word” for believers is the only method of producing maturity in the lives of the Christ followers. Others err on the opposite side with nearly every service focused upon the sharing of the gospel of Christ for the sake of the spiritually lost.

    It seems by the very nature of the structure that both gifts are to be expressed, in full, within the context of the life of the church. In fact the instruction given by Paul in his epistles to the pastors of the first century church was very balanced:

    2 Timothy 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.
    3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

    There seems to be a clear charge from the apostle for the pastor of the local church to perform both tasks…”preach the word” which includes rebuking, encouraging, and careful instruction; and doing the work of an “evangelist” which is included in the command to discharge “all the duties of your ministry”.

    Interesting to me that Paul makes the distinction between the “gift of evangelism” and performing the “work of an evangelist”. While it is possible that the individual pastor may have one spiritual gift or the other, (teaching or evangelism); he is still remanded to perform the work of both teacher and evangelist within the local church. It is quite natural to lean toward the role that is empowered by our spiritual gift while neglecting or diminishing the other, it is clear that this practice leaves the body unbalanced and less spiritually productive than they expected to be.

    Findings in modern studies of the western evangelical church bear out the fact that we are unbalanced and therefore lack spiritual productivity and therefore are lacking in maturity. The average church in America has on average 78 people and sees less that two decisions for Christ in all of their spiritual efforts each year. Most evangelical churches have not only put evangelism outside of the four walls of the church building but have successfully exported it to the foreign mission field. In essence we are trying to export that which we do not practice or possess.

    The Strategy Question:

    The strategy question remains. How will the local church pastor approach these two vital tasks? There is certainly less debate regarding how the pastor is to preach the word while he instructs believers. It seems that much of the debate is dedicated to how he is to conduct the work of an evangelist. There seem to be two primary positions:

    The first position is that Evangelism has no role in the meeting of the gathered church: This philosophy is based upon the belief that the church is a gathering of believers only and therefore evangelism is unnecessary or at the very least not a fundamental responsibility of these meetings.

    The rest of the positions are simply variations on style regarding how evangelism is to be conducted within the meetings of the gathered church. These various views involve strategies ranging from purists who would restrict evangelism methodology to the pure preaching of the Scripture while others would seek to employ strategies that to them seem to present the unchanging message of the gospel with approaches that change in order to achieve relevancy within the current culture.

    Maybe the best discussion regarding evangelistic strategy in teaching is set forth by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:

    16. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 19. Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

    There seem to be several key principles that every pastor can look to as a guide for his own ministry of evangelism.

    • We are compelled to preach the gospel to the crowd in front of us: failure to do so comes with a strong warning.
    • The goal of preaching the gospel is to win as many as possible
    • Our strategy and style are dictated by the culture of the crowd in front of us. Paul differentiated the style that he used based upon ethnic, and religious culture. We who live in a post-christian, media driven, self oriented culture must be instructed by that when formulating the strategy for preaching the gospel in this culture.
    • All of this is done in service to the gospel
    • Our motivation is to share in the blessings of the gospel

    As a pastor of a local church and one commissioned with the responsibility of the work of preaching and evangelism, I want to be equally obedient to both tasks. Woe to me if I fail to preach the word to the Christ-follower or preach the gospel to the far from God. I long to share in the blessings of the gospel, in this life and the life to come and long at the same time to assist the body in its responsibility to attain maturity and spiritual productivity.

    The Import of Evangelism in Building a Mature Church:

    So what is the conclusion to this important discussion? If the primary responsibility of the pastor is to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:12) then where does the role of evangelism fit? Since it is listed along with the role of the apostles, prophets, and teachers it appears that it has a role of equal import. Here are some possibilities…

    · A mature church is a balanced church. One of the most poignant descriptions of the vitality of the early NT church was given in Acts 16:5 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily. It seems that the role of instructing believers and evangelism are both present in the balanced and mature church.

    · A mature church is a reproducing church: healthy things reproduce themselves. Just like with any family, reproduction is a central part of the life of the family. This was certainly true of the early church where it says that there were “daily added to the church those who believed.”

    · A mature church understands their role as salt and light: The church is commanded to be “salt and light” in a corrupt and dark world. These two analogies offer the balance for which the church should seek. Salt has a preserving agent which keeps culture from complete moral decay. This comes through the purity of the church which is built by the pre aching of the word and the practice of the holiness of Christ. Light dispels darkness which is equally a responsibility of the church. This is accomplished when we hold high the light of the gospel message in a dark world. The mature and balanced church demonstrates passion and excellence in both endeavors.

    The responsibility of the local church pastor is to ensure that neither of these important tasks is neglected. We are to discipline ourselves to both model and motivate others to understand the word and evangelize the lost. Excellence in both honors God and transforms people. Together these two ministries ensure transformation rather than accommodation. When both are in play and practiced with excellence the local church can effectively offer hope to the world.”

    I did my best to edit this article to protect the identity of the church/pastor, as they neither requested or prohibited my posting of this response. I have included it simply to further the discussion.

  3. I think this response is kind of pointless. It is quite an extremist view (that probably very few hold) that evangelism should be strictly performed outside of the church walls. Few pastors would agree with such a statement. The argument shouldn’t be whether evangelism should be present within the church, rather it should be what a true balance of discipleship vs. evangelism looks like.

    No where in the passages given does it say anything about how we ought to evangelize within our church services. They just give support that we need to be evangelizing. The whole issue is what that balance looks like. My problem is that churches today think that balance looks something like this:

    – playing secular music before and after the service
    – modern audio/visuals to capture people’s attention
    -topical sermons relating to daily life of the average person (like money, marriage, managing familes, etc.) that are both applicable to the christian and non-christian so a distinction is never made
    -adding a few verses for the “spiritually mature” into the powerpoint

    How is this a balance? It’s not. Rather it is a compromise. It is saying something like “we can’t get you to keep coming with scripture alone, because that convicts you. So instead we’ll make you feel like nothing is different about this place.” While I don’t think any pastor literally thinks that, I do believe that is essentially what they are doing. They are trying to make the people who walk in their doors feel less like they are “at church” and more like “they are at a motivational conference”.

    I think a balanced service looks like this:

    -modern worship music before and after the service
    -corporate prayer at least 3 times during the service
    -biblical exegetical preaching containing doctrine
    -directly addressing the christian and the lost separately, not collectively
    -an invitation made (if not every service, every other) for the non-believer to accept Christ

    I see this as a balanced service. We have modernization to relate to the non-believer as well as the believer. We have prayer and preaching to relate to the believer, to build them up and edify them, and also to evangelize to the non-believer and testify on our behalf to them that we are true christians. We have a healthy dose of scripture which is applied separately to both the believer and the non-believer. And we have the invitation to anyone and all who wish to make a decision for Christ.

    I agree with the idea that usually extremes exist; either one church is too evangelistic in their approach or one is too traditional (or whatever you want to call it). But I have to say that I am in defense of those who are too traditional. I would rather see the church so caught up in the Word of God and make a defense for it each week than see a church set it aside and try to organize a fun sunday morning extravaganza in order see numbers increase.

    I’ve been reading some of the early reformers, such as Calvin’s Institutes and Luther and Edwards… it convicts me just looking at their life’s work and seeing how dedicated they were to learning and teaching. But I just can’t help taking those people and putting them in one hand, and placing the evangelical church of today in the other and comparing them. It makes us look pretty pathetic, doesn’t it? For some reason we aren’t interested in learning the deeper things anymore. We just want to know how to manage our money and be healthy. We have forgotten to “set our minds on the things above” so much that it seems we are purposely “setting our minds on the things on earth”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s