We can do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. The New Testament gives various examples of improperly driven religious people. These included the pious Pharisees who prayed and led in noble religious enterprises with all the wrong intentions. Jesus spoke of those who preached, baptized, and cast out demons but not for Christ and His glory (Matthew 7:21-23). Building barns is not a bad thing unless you are doing it to preserve fleeting riches like the rich man of Luke 12:16-21, who had no real desire for spiritual treasures.
Hopefully you’ve had those breakthrough moments, as I have, when the Lord revealed the mixture of potent ego in the seemingly noble aspirations of accomplishing things “for Christ.” First Corinthians 3:10-15 makes it clear that we can build on the stated foundation of Jesus Christ but erect a life and ministry of wood, hay, and stubble rather than gold, silver, and precious stones. The former vanishes in the fiery final evaluation of Christ’s eternal scrutiny while the latter endures for glorious eternal reward. Clearly it is not just the size of our efforts but the substance of our efforts that matters. It is not just what we appear to do but why we do it, how we do it, and for whose glory.
The Rally Cry to Reach the Lost
Many leaders have a stated passion for evangelism in and through their churches. What could be more noble? But what could be more checkered with potential ego needs in the hope for a larger, more renowned ministry? Of course, only the Lord knows what drives the plethora of dynamic, type-A church entrepreneurs. Yet, it seems there are some potential signs of a less-than-honorable enterprise to grow a church through “evangelism.” Here are a few of my guesses at how this might happen.
When Programs for Evangelism Eclipse Personal Evangelism
An ambition to grow a bigger church is often evidenced by a push to see more “attenders” and “givers” come into the fold. Yet, it seems a genuine burden for lost people will be the overflow of a compulsion for leading people to Christ personally, sparked by a broken heart over the condition of people lost without Christ. Inconsolable tears, not ingenious techniques, are the acid test of a genuine passion for evangelism.
When Growth is Pursued at the Expense of Relationships
Too often a leader’s drive for a bigger church can result in violated, neglected, or shallow relationships with staff and fellow leaders. Even though we are supposed to be following Jesus, who never established a program, but rather grew His Kingdom through loving servitude toward those closest to Him, we can easily become so obsessed with the next surge in growth that we use and discard people along the way. New staff are hired based on the programs they can produce rather than the disciples they can reproduce. Danger ahead.
When a Church is Vision-Driven Rather than Spirit-Empowered
Transformational conversions always result from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. All leaders give mental assent to this ideal. Yet, too often the “secret” to numerical growth is understood as the result of a grandiose growth plan, often modeled after some swelling megachurch. The growth that is from God is the overflow of personal witness by individual Christians who are so in love with Christ and filled with the witness-bearing Spirit of God that they cannot help but speak of what they have seen and heard of Jesus (Acts 4:20).
When We Celebrate Decisions Over Disciples
We know the Great Commission is about making disciples. The best picture of what Jesus had in mind with these words is the quality of followers He engaged and the kind of work those early apostles produced. Ultimately a disciple becomes like his master, according to Jesus. These followers understood faith in Christ as a life of sacrifice for the sake of the greatest purpose in the world. They were passionate about a pure Gospel message, propelled by extraordinary prayer, devoted to one another in self-denying love, and glad to lay down their very lives for Christ. The idea of a Christian being defined simply by a “decision” at an altar or evangelistic event is fundamentally foreign to the New Testament.
When People Become Wet but Not Worshipers
Baptism is the first and public step of joyful submission to Christ by the converted soul. It is the bold demonstration of a truly repentant, believing, and Christ-enthralled life. Yet, even this public step of obedience can become the thing to do rather than a serious declaration of taking up one’s cross and following the One who gave His all for the sake of a sin-diseased world. Baptism is the compulsion of a life that has been saved, not from hell, but from the sin that condemns the lost to hell. We are to rise from the waters of baptism to walk the path of genuine worship. Diluted baptismal waters are usually preceded by an incomplete Gospel appeal, which is often rooted in a desire for bigger rather than better.
Judgment and Timing
Having considered these possible indicators, our task is not to judge other leaders and ministries but rather to ask the Lord to search our own hearts. In 1 Corinthians 4:3–5, the Apostle Paul noted, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” We are not to judge ahead of the time but must know that the time will indeed come when everything will be brought to light for what it is in the eyes of the all-knowing Christ.
Glory to His Name
Oh, how we need (how I need) a Spirit-birthed, Gospel-centered, and broken-hearted passion for the lost coupled with a boldness to declare the good news of Jesus Christ. But as the Lord gives us the fruit of true conversions, may the cry of our hearts be, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth” (Psalm 115:1).
Photo by Matthew Wiebe