There really is nothing new under the sun, as these quotes from Brethren, Hang Loose ably demonstrate:
“Every ministerial convention is more of the same. The pastors of the big, successful churches are there to tell you how it’s done, how to organize, promote, advertise, preach and handle people so the ‘you too can be a success’.” (pages 64-65)
Bob Girard wrote these words 45 years ago; for the historically-curious, that’s before Willow Creek, Hillsong, Saddleback or (insert your go-to example of a mega-church model here) ever existed or began holding conferences.
From this, we should take heart: the cycle of church renewal has been ongoing for many, many years. And 2015 is no exception.
If there is a growing sense of dis-ease with the current state of the church, that should encourage us: we are walking in the footsteps of fellow Christians who have gone before us.
The hunger for a deeper walk with Jesus — even if it is initially voiced as discontent and disillusionment with “church as we’ve known it” — points out the incompatibility of “success” with “discipleship”.
Girard goes on to observe:
“I’ve never been asked to fill out a report evaluating the spiritual depth of my people. Or their prayer life. Or the effectiveness of their personal ministries with one another. Or their ability to permeate the community with the influence of Christ. Or the spontaneity of their spiritual life. Or their confidence and poise in the face of difficulty.” (page 65)
When Jesus invited disciples to follow Him, “success” was measured by an entirely different grid:
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
There is nothing new under the sun. Jesus is still calling us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him. And the distraction of being “successful” (including but not limited to churches) is still lying in wait to trip us up.
It’s all about what grid we’re using. Or, perhaps better said: whose example we are actually following.