MARIETTA, Ga. (BP) — Church planting is hot. Few things inspire me more than young adults called to vocational ministry who want to take the Gospel to the hard to reach. The tougher the city to reach, the more they want to go. The harder to reach the people group, the more willing they are to pay the price to take the Gospel to them.
Yet in preparing for our church’s annual global ministries week when we bring in some of the partners we work with around the globe, I gained some new insights about the Moravians, a pietistic Christian sect that made frequent evangelistic visits to America and other nations during the colonial period. Most Christians only know about the Moravians as being instrumental in the conversion of John Wesley when he was returning from America to England as a failed Anglican missionary. The big reason for Wesley’s failure is that even though he was an ordained Anglican clergyman, he was not truly saved.
On the ship home, a terrible storm came upon the Moravians and Wesley. Fearing for his life, he was struck by their calm faith. He knew the Moravians had something he didn’t. Under great conviction, he soon came to personally trust Christ as his Savior and Lord during that famous Bible study on Romans on Aldersgate Street in London.
But what most don’t know is how the Moravians were such a dynamic missionary force in the 1700s and early 1800s. They were bold and courageous. Their zeal and passion for spreading the Gospel was the driving force behind their movement. I got to thinking. What happened? What happened to the Moravians?
So I began to do some research and found there are just over 800,000 Moravians today. How could this dynamic missionary force be so small now? Was it a classic case of embracing liberal theology that killed the missionary zeal? No, it was not.
Nathan Finn, professor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that the Moravians were part of the Pietistic movement within the Protestant church that reacted against the dead orthodoxy among many Lutherans and Calvinists of their day. The Moravians felt what was important was preaching the Gospel for the individual to be saved, or born again. They were so focused on that, they neglected doctrine. So what happened? This dynamic missionary movement lost its zeal because second- and third-generation Moravians didn’t know the basic doctrines of the faith. They didn’t turn from the Gospel to liberalism or unbelief. They just weren’t taught the transforming power of the doctrines of our faith. So the children and grandchildren lost their zeal for taking the Gospel to the world.
Could there be a more sobering warning to the church planting movement of today? What a passion young church planters and missionaries have for reaching the tough-to-reach with the Gospel! Yet where are the basic doctrines of the faith emphasized and taught? Will this movement go the way of the Moravians?
Praise music is great for worship, yet so often it is weak on doctrine — especially in comparison with classic hymns of faith. Often, Sunday Bible study or Sunday School is confined to children while regular weekly Bible study for adults is evaporating. Small groups that are strong on fellowship and prayer and discussing the pastor’s sermon of the week are seen as the way to go.
Since parents have the major role in discipling their children, how can they do so without being taught key biblical doctrines of the faith? Is it realistic that the church meeting with their children once a week can get this done since so few parents will be trained for the task of spiritual leadership in the home?
Please know, I’m not advocating church as it used to be — with the structure and methods of yesterday. I am only asking the passionate young church planters and missionaries of today: How is the Spirit of God going to lead you to truly disciple the new followers of Jesus in your care — to teach them biblical doctrine so that each succeeding generation knows what they believe and why they believe it? Then hopefully the missionary and church planting zeal can continue to prosper with the third and fourth generations to come.
1. David Platt’s Secret Church is seeking to address this need, yet how can this type of teaching be incorporated in the local church on an ongoing, weekly basis? One great teacher heard once a year is just skimming the surface of the week-to-week needs in discipleship.
2. What Gen X and Millennial church leaders will step up and develop Bible study material on basic biblical doctrines of the faith in a style and language and methodology that Millennials gel with and are drawn to?
3. How can publishers and ministries incorporate Gen X and millennial writers that use the social networking tools of technology to provide churches -– especially new church plants and missionaries –- tools for teaching the Bible and biblical doctrine to adults, teens and children?
While it’s vital to raise these questions, the answers will come from Spirit-led Gen Xers and Millennials who become just as passionate about discipleship as they are about reaching the unchurched for Christ in tough-to-reach areas. This is my great hope for today’s passionate generation of planters, missionaries and young adult Christians: that 50 years and 100 years from now a few remaining Christians will not wonder, “What happened to the passionate church planters and missionaries of the early 21st century?”
The greatest cause for failure in ministry is failure in leadership. In fact, of the top ten reasons for forced terminations among Southern Baptist pastors, the top five relate directly to leadership. The number one reason, “control issues,” is cited nearly twice as often as any other factor. Sexual infidelity and financial dishonesty rank much lower—filling the ninth and tenth spots.
Make no mistake, leading a church is hard. Many who could be successful owning a business or working as an executive often fail in ministry. Multiple factors contribute to the difficulty, but a church is hard to lead mainly because a church is unlike any other organization. It is sui generis—utterly unique. Consider this: in secular business, an owner, CEO, or manager demands action from his employees, because he or she pays their salaries. Subordinates are financially dependent on the leader. In the church, the system reverses. Pastors and other ministers demand action from members, often exhorting them to do what they resist doing, but the members pay their salaries. Church leaders are financially dependent on the members! In churches that maintain a congregational church order, this “upside down” organizational motif expresses itself fully in that the locus of authority—the final say—is not vested in the pastor, elders, staff, or deacons, but in the will of the congregation itself—in the membership.
Don’t loathe these dynamics and don’t assume the church has been organized wrongly. The fact that the church isn’t like worldly organizations keeps the church from functioning like worldly organizations, and that’s good. Leadership in worldly organizations is often driven by a paradigm of power, personality, and popularity—“according to the flesh,” Paul might say (Rom 8:5). Exert that kind of influence in the church, though, and you’ll go down quickly, because the church is designed to prevent intimidating, marginalizing forms of leadership.
Yet, to avoid the appearance of “lording it over” the flock (1 Peter 5:1-5), pastors often default to a sneakier—and perhaps more sinister—leadership style, namely, that of superior character. Aristotle identified three “artistic proofs”—three modes of persuasion: logos (logic or argument), pathos (emotion/passion), and ethos (character). He did not, though, place all three on equal footing. Ethos, he claimed, is “almost . . . the most potent of all the means to persuasion.” In other words, the best way for a speaker to influence an audience is to convince them that he is a good person.
Aristotle’s character paradigm, however, creates as much a quagmire for the pastor as the power paradigm, because the very message he preaches indicts him as a sinner, preventing him from elevating his own character! The Apostle Paul felt—even embraced—this tension, calling himself the “foremost” among sinners (1 Tim 1:15) while urging people to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). He did this because he sought to lead not by elevating his own ethos (or his own logos or pathos for that matter) but by magnifying the logos of the cross.
“I . . . did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in much fear and trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom . . .” (1 Cor 2:1-4).
The logos of the cross guided Paul’s ethos and pathos. In other words, the cross shaped everything about Paul, not merely the content of his preaching. Paul’s message was about the cross and it was presented according to the cross. In the shape of the cross, he led people to the cross.
Leadership looks like a cross. Being “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20) means we must die to fleshly patterns of influence. Whether driven by selfish power or guided by elevated character, these methods are rooted in pride. Leading in the shape of the cross means surrendering one’s character to divine scrutiny (1 Cor 4:3-5), readily speaking of one’s weaknesses (2 Cor 12:7-10), and constantly turning attention away from oneself to God’s power and grace (2 Cor 4:5-7). Viewed “according to the flesh,” such self-effacement might appear to destroy influence. In the scheme of the gospel, though, shifting the focus away from leader and to the cross actually compounds the persuasive force of the message, because the message itself determines the motives and methods of the leader. After all, no one can read the gospels or Paul’s letters honestly and conclude that Jesus or Paul was passive, weak-kneed, or of little import.
So, how might the cross shape the way a pastor leads a congregation?
Cross-shaped leadership fights the right battle. Paul was willing to go the mat over the one true gospel (Gal 1), but was surprisingly flexible over secondary issues (1 Cor 9), even refusing to fight unnecessarily. Leading in the shape of the cross means directing effort toward the message of the cross and refusing to be sidetracked by nonessentials. A pastor will always be tempted to exert his influence to satisfy his own preferences in secondary matters of style or structure, when the demand of his office is to focus fully on the substance of his work—the gospel.
Cross-shaped leadership fights the right way. Jesus demanded (Matt 20:26-28) and demonstrated (Phil 2) humble, obedient service to God and others, and Paul endorsed nothing less, insisting that he and his associates did not wage “war according to the flesh” (2 Cor 10:3). The gospel provides not only the content of our preaching, but also the method of our leading. We lead as we live, as crucified men—dead to ourselves and dead to the world—only to have life by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Gal 2:20).
Leading in the shape of the cross won’t solve every leadership problem—it’s no panacea for the difficulty of pastoral work. Nothing shaped like a cross—a brutal instrument of lethal torture—is easy or comfortable. Yet, we need to confess that some of the “control issues” in churches are our issues—problems we impose on our ministries by following faulty patterns of leadership. Let’s not make our work harder than it already is. Spurn the fleshly tendencies toward power and pride to lead in the shape of the cross.
For a fuller, scholarly discussion of cross-shaped persuasion, see Andre Resner, Jr., Preacher and Cross: Person and Message in Theology and Rhetoric.