I have been putting this post off for a long time -- nearly a month. Addressing this issue has not been a pleasant experience, especially for a pastor. In fact, to be honest, I would rather write on nearly any other subject than the subject of leaving a church. But, as my father taught his eldest son, "sometimes we've gotta do things we don't wanna do!" Okay, Dad was right; so here we go!
I have never been a fan of teeter-totters; in fact, I hate teeter-totters. I remember the frequent tailbone discomfort caused by a tottering partner intent on having fun at my rear end's expense. I quickly learned that a good tottering partner is hard to find, which explains my propensity for staying away from such pain-inducing playground equipment.
Finding a church intent on maintaining a biblically balanced philosophy of ministry can be nearly as difficult as finding a good tottering partner. Healthy and successful teeter-tottering is all about balance, and healthy church ministry is too!
In parts one and two of this series, I have shared several reasons why leaving a church is not only warranted, but necessary. In this final post on the subject, I add a final reason: because a church has failed to practice a biblically balanced philosophy of ministry.
Let me begin by clarifying the previous statement. I am not intending to infer that any church is perfectly balanced in its practice of biblical Christianity. While some churches are strong in evangelism, others tend to be better equipped for discipleship. Others seem to be better at fellowship than they are at worship. I am not advocating leaving a church simply because the backgrounds, gifts, and talents in a congregation result in ministry strengths and weaknesses; rather, I am bemoaning the idea that any church would intentionally aim for imbalance in its ministry. And, just as an inconsiderate tottering partner is dangerous to one's health, so is a church that intentionally aims for imbalance in its ministry.
So, why any church would intentionally aim for imbalance in its ministry? Because pastors and church leaders fail to understand the biblical concepts of success and evangelism. If big numbers and large crowds make a church successful, evangelism and outreach will always trump discipleship. And while the aim of the seeker-sensitive and emerging church models may be admirable, the purpose of evangelism isn't merely to get people into heaven, but to make them disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).
Now ... because those in the seeker-sensitive and emerging paradigms would vehemently deny any such "intentional aim for imbalance in ministry," I offer Rick Warren in his own words:
"Church growth is the natural result of church health. But church health can only occur when our message is biblical and our mission is balanced. Each of the five New Testament purposes of the church must be in equilibrium with the others for health to occur.Focusing on church growth is the wrong focus. If we'll focus on developing healthy churches, they will grow automatically."
"All living things grow -- if they are healthy! I don't have to tell my kids to grow. They do it automatically. Now, what makes a healthy church? The answer is "balance," just like in the human body. Your body has a number of different systems: a circulatory system, a skeletal system, respiratory system, central nervous system, digestive system and others. When these systems are in balance we call that "health." When they are out of balance, we call it, "dis-ease," disease.
Likewise the Body of Christ, the church, is made up of different systems, each fulfilling a different purpose: for worship, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship, and ministry. When you have a healthy system or process for each of these purposes, and these systems are balanced, the church naturally grows!"
Rick's cry for the church seems to be a balanced ministry where worship, discipleship, fellowship, service, and evangelism happily coexist, and are equally important. A closer look at the purpose-driven paradigm seems to prove otherwise (with intentionality). Consider these clarifications from Saddleback's website:
Did you catch Rick's admission? At Saddleback, weekend services are designed to be "attractive, appealing, and relevant" to the unbeliever! How much time, effort, and energy do they put into their weekend services designed for the unbeliever? Well, according to their website, they offer 15 services intentionally designed for the unbeliever!
"What is the most natural way to increase the number of visitors in your church? The answer is quite simple: Create a service that is intentionally designed for your members to bring their friends to. And make the service so attractive, appealing, and relevant to the unchurched that your members are eager to share it with the lost people they care about."
"So, when I started
, we decided to specialize our services, having one targeted for the purpose of growing Christians and planning another one specifically for reaching our non-believing friends. We call our evangelistic-targeted service a "seeker-sensitive service." Saddleback Church
"A seeker service is an evangelistic service specifically designed for two purposes: First, so that people without any religious background will understand everything that takes place, and second, so that members are proud to bring their non-believing friends to it..."
Not everyone has the same taste in worship style. That's why we've put together different worship venues on the Saddleback campus each weekend. At these venues, you'll get the same teaching as everyone else through a live video feed from the main service, but with a smaller, more intimate style. Plus, each of the venues have live bands with a little different music style than the Worship Center.
Main Service is our venue for those looking for a Saddleback style of praise and worship with a full band.
Praise is our venue for those who prefer to spend a little longer singing songs and features the Saddleback Gospel Choir. Praise! Meets in Venue Tent 3.
OverDrive is our venue featuring a rock 'n roll music style. This venue is for those that like their worship loud. OverDrive meets in Venue Tent 2
Ohana Come for the worship... Stay for the sounds of the islands. Experience hospitality and hugs. Learn to worship through signing or hula. Room 404 near the Beach Cafe and island huts.
Elevation is our venue for all singles. Elevation's service is Saturdays at 6:30pm in Venue Tent 2 . You'll get the same great message along with live music.
Passion Join us for a time of expressive worship and heartfelt praise. The look and feel is younger than our main service and more intimate.
El Encuentro Worship with music in Spanish and listen to the live message in either English or Spanish. El Encuentro meets in the Plaza Room.
Traditions Enjoy a lower volume worship experience with a mix of classic hymns, old favorites, and cherished choruses. The message is videocast on the big screen for great viewing.
Herein lies the problem of intentional imbalance: if Saturday and Sunday services are intentionally seeker-driven, then discipleship and edification are relegated to Wednesday nights; and we all know what happens to attendance on Wednesday nights! While small groups are available for church members' growth, here are the requirements for being a small group leader at Saddleback:
"If you have a willing heart, a VCR/DVD, and a few open seats in your Living Room, you are ready to be a Host. Saddleback's small group material and recordings are "plug and play" so that any one with any level of experience can Host a successful group. If you will take our basic Leader Training 1 course, our pastors and instructors can help equip you to successfully host a small group."
1) Church is for the Church. What happens when the unbeliever becomes the church's primary target? We please the wrong person, we meet the wrong needs, and send the wrong message.
2) Evangelism is the result, not the focus, of doing church well. Today's church doesn't need to become more culturally relevant, the church needs to become more culturally distinct! We've "relevanced" ourselves right into our culture and out of God's kingdom!
3) Teeter-totters aren't much fun for the guy left teetering alone.