Editor’s Note: This article is the framework imbedded in Jeff Christopherson’s new novel, “Once You See: Seven Temptations of the Western Church – a Novel.” Christopherson is the national ministry leader of the Canadian National Baptist Convention.
CAMBRIDGE, Ontario (BP) — There is no question that the Church in North America is losing ground. And we’re losing ground at a breathtaking pace. We no longer need granular academic research to understand this. We can see it and feel it everywhere. Churches are shrinking, closing and abandoning biblical orthodoxy. We are rapidly losing influence, effectiveness and our reputations. And these are difficult days to be a pastor.
But is this the case globally? No. Not at all. Despite poverty and persecution, the Global Church is flourishing. While we consolidate, they multiply. While we evaporate, they transform. While we struggle to survive, they freely give themselves away. And they look like Acts while we look like the last gasp of Christendom.
So, what is the difference between our approaches? Have you ever thought about that? Why do they, with very little resourcing, seem to be experiencing God’s blessing, while we, with everything we could want, see so little of God’s hand? What do they have that we do not?
They have very different celebrations.
In fact, in many ways, our revelries are almost opposites. We celebrate the machinery of church; they celebrate the mission of church. We celebrate our strengths; they celebrate their weakness.
Our celebrations protect us from faith. Their celebrations require it.
Here are seven temptations that sound ‘godly’ on the surface but are devastating our Gospel effectiveness.
1. Philosophicalism: The temptation of a hypothetical faith
We often declare that“we are a Bible-believing people.” But essential to a sincere belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word is an assumption that calls his disciples to become a Bible-obeying people, and not merely intellectual stakeholders of theologically orthodox positions. We understand that true orthodoxy affirms that biblical belief is a verb – doctrines that we humbly live and practice, rather than a noun – theoretical precepts to which we philosophically subscribe.
Therefore, we choose to measure spiritual maturity and doctrinal integrity with the benchmarks found in our everyday obedience to God’s Word.
2. Professionalism: The temptation of excellence
We often say,“we have a gifted pastoral team.”But the Gospel is actually every disciple’s calling – not just a chosen few. Because of this, we seek to multiply Jesus’ disciples by developing and deploying the body of Christ into a diverse and infinitely reproducible co-vocational mission-force.
Therefore, our vocational leaders see their primary assignment as equippers and multipliers of Jesus’ disciple-making insurgency.
3. Presentationalism: The temptation of a crowd
We often advertise that“our worship is inspiring, and our preaching is strong.” But we are called to be the functioning body of Christ in community, not a well-tuned, well-attended Sunday service. Though we value the weekly gathering of believers for corporate worship and biblical instruction, we also understand that Jesus’ purpose for His body cannot be contained in that hour.
Therefore, what we most highly prize, publicly celebrate and consider as our ultimate act of worship is preparing the entire body of Christ as sacrificial servants for Jesus’ 24-7 mission and His imminent return.
4. Passivism: The temptation of comfort
We often announce that“everybody is welcome.” But we should be actively search for lost sheep – not hope that lost sheep look for us.
Therefore, we happily inconvenience our personal comforts and disrupt our religious preferences for the sake of effectively participating in Jesus’ selfless and courageous search and rescue mission.
5. Pragmatism: The temptation of competition
We often boast that“we are one of the fastest-growing churches.” But the kingdom of God should be our only goal, and not the advancement of our individual brand. Because of this, we choose to measure growth in terms of city-wide Gospel impact rather than excelling in a competition for an evaporating market share of the evangelically predisposed.
Therefore, for the kingdom outcome of Gospel proximity, we prefer to selflessly invest in united efforts of Gospel collaboration rather than pragmatically contending for our own interests.
6. Partisanism: The temptation of Caesar
We often pronounce that“we love God and country.” But while national patriotism and political perspectives are normal and necessary for healthy and functioning democracies, our highest and exclusive allegiance is to the eternal kingdom of heaven – not a temporal nation, nationality, ethnicity or political ideology.
Therefore, we voluntarily lower all secondary allegiances so that our earthly perspectives might not become a stumbling block to the life and death mission of Jesus’ church.
7. Paternalism: The temptation of power
We often publicize that “we train pastors around the world.” But what is required is a leadership that maintains a humble learning posture, holding to a sincere belief that Jesus’ Church is expressed in a globally diverse mosaic that includes every nation, tribe, people and language.
Therefore, we engage global diversity with a Gospel-centered posture that eradicates any hubris of geographical or cultural superiority by seeking to both learn and assist in ways that honor and edify the body of Christ wherever it is found.
So, perhaps it’s time for a radical shift in what we celebrate. Move away from outputs like nickels and noses, to celebrating inputs like obedience and prayerfulness. Move away from the church growth ethic of ‘saving ourselves,’ to celebrating the kingdom ethic of ‘giving ourselves away.’
And this will require our understanding of ‘belief’ to shift from an owner’s noun to a servant’s verb.