Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spiritual Entertainment vs. Spiritual Service

A recent LifeWay survey gave some interesting stats about what SBC pastors think are the most critical ministries in their churches:

"When pastors were asked to list up to five ministries in their order of importance, the largest group (24 percent) identified evangelism/outreach as the most important. The next six ministries identified as most important were Sunday school/Bible study/small groups (17 percent); worship/specific worship services (13 percent); preaching/proclamation/teaching (10 percent); children/youth (9 percent); discipleship/spiritual growth/mentoring/counseling (7 percent); and prayer/prayer ministry/prayer groups (5 percent). When a list of the five ministries mentioned most often was compiled, however, children/youth moved to the top, identified as one of the five most important ministries by 85 percent of the respondents. The other four most-mentioned ministries were evangelism/outreach (68 percent); Sunday school/Bible study/small groups (53 percent); discipleship/spiritual growth/mentoring/counseling (37 percent); and worship/specific worship services (33 percent)."

Why do you think that children/youth ministries are at the top? I agree that such ministries are very important for the discipleship of our children and youth. I was a youth minister for about 7 years, and my wife (a seminary grad) is currently a full-time assistant in the preschool ministry at a church. What I see happening in many churches and what I have heard about from other pastors, however, disturbs me. I hear about many parents who like churches that provide places/ministries where they can drop off their kids while they do their own church thing. In such situations, the kids don't see their parents serving God. They sense that the churches are like restaurants that have kids' menus and adult menus. If you aren't happy with the service provided to you at one church, find another. Church attenders are seen as consumers, not as servers. Some churches provide the equivalents of spiritual Disneylands to entertain the kids. When the kids get old enough to drive on their own, we should not be surprised that they find more exciting entertainment outside the churches and leave. It's the consumer mindset. Pastor's intuitively understand this mindset. Unfortunately, many pastors try to imitate the world to attract young couples and their children. The problem is, if you bring them in with worldly entertainment, you must continue using worldly entertainment to keep them. Some pastors think they can trick the couples by slowly introducing the spiritual elements, but the couples aren't stupid. They recognize the "bait and switch" routine. I believe it's better to say from the beginning that our priority is spiritual truth and service, not entertainment. We may be regarded as irrelevant by most of the couples, but we'll have a stronger nucleus of members. Our criteria for success can no longer be large numbers of people. If the most successful pastor in America is the guy with the largest numbers, then Joel Osteen is the most successful pastor in America. Nope. Our criteria for success must not be size; rather, it must involve faithfulness, purity, and service. In regard to entertainment, small churches cannot compete with large churches, and large churches cannot compete with the world. Unfortunately, a lot of young couples care nothing about doctrinal truth. Thus, churches that prioritize doctrinal truth are viewed as irrelevant. Such couples like churches that emphasize entertainment over doctrinal truth. The denominational label is not important to them. I'm not willing to compromise with the world to attract bigger crowds, but I'm very willing to pastor a group of people who want to prioritize faithfulness, purity, and service. Even a small bit of salt can be extremely useful. We should not forget that the crowds quickly left Jesus after He stressed the cost of discipleship:

John 6:66-69 -- "As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, 'You do not want to go away also, do you?' Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.'" (NASB)