Thursday, July 30, 2009

Plundering the Egyptians

In my June 3 thoughts, I noted that church leaders, rather than pushing an ill-fitting program upon a church, need to understand the Spirit’s will concerning that congregations’ special circumstances and ministry needs.

A report came out this summer from the Hartford Institute, concerning megachurches.
The August 2009 issue of Christianity Today (CT), specifically the “Where We Stand” column, contained a reference to the study.

How much should churches rely upon marketing strategies, organizational techniques, and economic/business principles to spread the Gospel? The author of the CT essay (page 20) notes that megachurches have succeeded in large part because of their marketing and organization.

Why not? Paul himself wrote that he tried to adapt himself depending upon his audience in order that he might bring some to Christ (1 Cor. 9:19-23). As the essay notes, we expect missionaries to adapt to the culture to some extent. In Exodus, the Hebrews “plundered the Egyptians” on their way out of Egypt (Exodus 12:35-36), and I‘ve seen more than one parallel made between that story (where the Hebrews use things available in the society for their well-being) and the adaptability necessary to do effective evangelism and ministry. (Albert Outler makes that parallel, for instance, in his book Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit, Nashville, 1975).

On the other hand, as the CT essay importantly notes, Paul’s writings contain no “growth strategies” but focuses on the power of Christ and the Spirit to give us faith and wisdom.

Church leaders need to stay faithful to that biblical witness. The CT author writes, “It’s no secret that too many evangelical leaders are captivated more by business culture than biblical culture, spending more time absorbed is strategies and effectiveness and relatively little time in prayer” (p. 20). But since many lay leaders in congregations do come from the business world (and perhaps see no conflicts between that world and the Bible's), it's all the more important for pastors to have Bible and culture in proper perspective.

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