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The Tragedy of Compromise

by Ernest Pickering

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Multiplying Activities

One of the secrets to building a successful church, we are told, is to have something for everyone. The large megachurches are like their secular counterparts—the megamalls. The more specialty shops one gathers in one place, the more shoppers they are likely to attract. This same principle is being applied to church growth. "Too often the megachurches grow, not because they are superior in their evangelism or better in their preaching or more apt to produce genuine discipleship, but because they have the resources to create special activities appealing to the desires of many different types of groups."16

The New Testament gives a rather thorough description of the divinely appointed ministries of a local church. A handy summary of these is found in Acts 2:42: "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." New Testament churches were marked by preaching (Acts 20:9), praying (Acts 12:5), singing (Eph. 5:19), giving (I Cor. 16:2), baptizing (I Cor. 1:14-16), observing the Lord's table (I Cor. 11:20-34), and generally encouraging one another (Acts 14:22). The ministry of the church is to be a spiritual ministry. The church is not to become a religious sports and health club, but to be a source of spiritual nourishment and instruction.

Getting on Top of the Heap

One of the religious wonders of modern America is the Crystal Cathedral, pastored by Robert Schuller, a leading guru of the church growth movement. Schuller is a self-confessed disciple of Norman Vincent Peale, the noted New York preacher and religious psychologist. Years ago Schuller went to Southern California and started his ministry. It has grown to tremendous proportions and has become a model for many. What kind of church is it?

The whole church is program-oriented, the full-time pastoral team functioning as corporate executives. Management principles forged on the anvil of the successful business world are easily transformed into this model. Profit is measured in numerical figures, whether in first-time decisions, membership, or offerings. The team is highly qualified and professional. The undergirding goal is "find the hurt and heal it." This model raises some serious questions as to the extent to which it may have accommodated the Gospel to this expression of the consumer society.17

What is motivating so many pastors and churches toward this consumer-driven concept of the ministry? Michael Horton evaluates it this way: "There is something exalting about being a part of something that is respected by society. If we can build larger buildings, have larger gatherings, create larger enterprises, and compete with other mass-produced products, we will be a part of something powerful, something relevant, and the world will have to sit up and take notice of us . . . . That is what was driving the Corinthian believers, too, who had forgotten their roots."18

It should be noted that the growth of many churches is not always a result of the evangelization of the lost. "Churches are growing by the rearranging of saints. Evangelicals are simply playing musical churches, moving around to more exciting, larger churches."19


What has caused the people of God to get their eyes off of scriptural principles and priorities and to become enamored with fleshly church growth schemes? Os Guiness lists at least four factors which have contributed to the rise of "consumer religion": "(1) The break-up of the monopoly of the old-line denominations upon the religious life of America; (2) the glorification of success; (3) the wide-spread commercialization of our culture; and (4) the effort of Christians to influence the culture."20 To these factors could be added at least one more: the abandonment of God-centered theology in favor of a pragmatic, man-centered theology. The perception is very common that somehow the sovereign God needs help in accomplishing His purposes on earth. We mortals, therefore, must rush to the rescue of the Almighty, armed with the latest marketing ploys to help deliver the Lord's church from its failures. In an insightful article, Bill Hull asks the question, "Is the Church Growth Movement Really Working?"

Regretfully, I must answer, "No." And yet, the evangelical church seems to be like a child with a new toy. As churches and pastors expect a more clever gadgetry from the marketing wizards, the latter are encouraged to become increasingly creative until the methods eventually bury the message in obscurity. For that reason, church growth should not be a primer for building effective churches; it has a sociological base, it is data-driven, and it worships at the altar of pragmatism. It esteems that which works above all and defines success in worldly and shortsighted terms. It offers models that cannot be reproduced and leaders who cannot be imitated. The principles of modern business are revered more than doctrine….Yet churches are supposed to be driven by scripture teachings, not by the latest marketing surveys or consumer trends.21

It is the nature of the flesh to want recognition and greatness. The sons of Zebedee were supremely concerned about their status in the coming kingdom. "Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory" (Mark 10:37). On another occasion the disciples enquired, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matt. 18:1). Their question sounds hauntingly familiar, similar to the present-day scramble among evangelicals for "bragging rights." The Scriptures give an antidote for this problem: "And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not" (Jer. 45:5). How many of God's servants today are spending much thought, time, and energy seeking "great things?" Our goal should be the honor and glory of the blessed Lord. "For I know that the Lord is great" (Ps. 135:5).

Establishing a Comfort Zone

New Evangelical pastors and churches feel a heavy obligation to make all their hearers feel comfortable. They are not to be "threatened" by either the nature of the worship or the message delivered. "Services are often created to minimize discomfort for the unbeliever so that he or she begins to accept Christianity as an affirming influence. People ought to leave church feeling good about themselves, it is said, instead of being called to self-examination, sincere repentance, and faith toward God."22

The Tradedy of Compromise. ByErnest Pickering. ©1994. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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