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The Sin of Counting

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 | Comments (43)

I’ll admit to being weary, to the point of irritation, whenever I hear ministers of the gospel reporting their statistics as external evidences of success. And I know I’m not the only one. (The first minute-and-a-half of this video makes the point.)

Enough already.

I’m not saying I’m less tempted than the next guy to hope for big numbers and stats, the apparent signs of God’s blessing on my ministry. I am. But I’ve seen the focus on numbers as a temptation to be resisted, not something to be embraced. And when preachers find a way to mention the numbers in public, and often, it comes across as bragging; it’s worldly and unbecoming of Christians who are to be characterized by humility and meekness.

One of the worst plagues to hit Israel came about when David numbered his troops, taking pride in his military might. For all the external, visible signs of success David could see and count on a human level, only God could knew the true condition of Israel. Widespread spiritual decay would soon divide David’s kingdom and eventually expel the people of Israel and Judah from the land of promise.

Counting isn’t always pride, right? God commanded Moses to take a census of the people (Num. 1, 26), and for very practical reasons (e.g., to register the fighting men, to determine per-tribe ransom for servicing the temple). Here at Grace to You, we have to keep track of certain numbers to make sure we’re good stewards of the resources God entrusts to us.

But just like David’s pride in counting the troops, we too can tend to grow proud when we look at the stats—baptism numbers, conference attendees, book sales, etc. It can get ugly pretty fast. Big numbers, or maybe just upward-tending numbers, can flatter. They’re like the applause of a crowd, patting you on the back and making you feel good about what you’re doing. Numbers can easily lull you into a false sense of security, keeping you from the hard and painful work of self-examination before the Word of God.

Our modern preoccupation with numbers—the emphasis on the visible, external, measurable—reminds me of a few theses in Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, which proved to be at the theological center of the Reformation.

19 That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened.

22 That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

Without getting into the details, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church justified themselves by pointing to external, visible signs of success. They assumed, as Luther pointed out, that God’s work (which is invisible) are visibly manifest, something that could be perceived, measured, and counted. Simply put, if it worked, if it was successful, if it was mighty, if it was manifestly glorious, then God was in it. Luther called that a theology of glory, meaning a theology that is focused, not on the true glory of God, but on what appeared to be glorious in the estimation of man.

The error of the theologians of glory is the same as the pragmatists of our day. They assume they can perceive, measure, count, and glory in the invisible things of God, things that are truly imperceptible and uncountable. That kind of thinking, as Luther said, “is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.”

As he confronted the heart of Roman Catholic theology, Luther pit the theology of glory against the theology of the cross. Here’s how he put it in thesis 20:

20 He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

The theology of the cross recognizes God’s work as a subverting work, one that overturns human pride, thwarts human wisdom, and acts opposite of human expectation. The suffering of the cross—what is truly visible and manifest about God—is not impressive by any measure of man. That which is humble and weak and low and unimpressive—namely, the stuff of suffering—is not something that grabs attention, fills your conference, gains a following, or builds your fan base. But that’s the way of the cross, which is God’s true work, demonstrated “in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor.1:30).

The theology of the cross is not the message of pragmatic growth methodology, whether we’re talking about old-school Seeker or today’s more fashionable, hipster version. Pragmatists are like Luther’s theologians of glory, practitioners of methodologies that “work.” And the preoccupation with signs of visible success is making many Christian leaders, as Luther saw in his day, “completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.”

It’s embarrassing to hear them couch their growth stats in pious sounding phrases like, “It’s so amazing how many churches God is planting through us,” or, “I’m so humbled to see that ___ people made decisions for Christ,” or, “I was humbled to be speaking to ___-thousand people last week,” and on and on. Parading acts of personal piety, completely contrary to Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 6, is proof positive of being puffed up. Those who are puffed up are blinded to their error and hardened to any correction.

None of us is completely free of the charge of pragmatism. Pragmatism is only a matter of degree, isn’t it. But being sullied by the error of pragmatism doesn’t exonerate us; it just shows how utterly in need of grace we really are.

That’s what David learned, when God brought swift and deadly judgment against the people. “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done?” (2 Sam.24:17). Would that today’s church leaders would not only repent of their own sin of counting, but take a keener, more heartfelt interest in the good of the Lord’s sheep.

Let us all strive to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor.7:1). In an attitude of humility and repentance, we’ll truly find the grace and blessing of God.

Travis Allen
Director of Internet Ministry


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#1  Posted by Chuck Bille  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 5:08 AM

I aggree. Some churchs are simple focused on numbers. Not on preaching the whole word of God. If they did that their number would go down because some may be offenned. True growth is seeing new members stay because they are fed the word properly. True growth is watching as the excisting members faith in Christ grows because they are being fed the word properly. No true church should pour all their focus on numbers. It is not a bussiness.

#2  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 6:31 AM

The heart matters of a christian and the unsaved whom searching for the truth is more important the poll. I been there seeing a pastor, I knew. He kept a chart of numbers of people whom attended at church and of how many visitors visit.. Focusing on the growth of a church make one lose focusing on teaching the members and visitors what God intends from us.

Thanks for the post. God bless..

#3  Posted by Nancy Brimberry  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 6:49 AM

Tell me why J. Vernon McGee should not be on the radio today? Is God's word not the same today, yesterday and tomorrow? McDonald and Driscoll seem way too focused of how irrelevant their messages will be years after they die. Why? If they are preaching the true timeless message...what is outdated? Nothing is, unless you are preaching to please and relate to your audience rather than giving them the timeless Gospel message.

#4  Posted by Anderson Esteban  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 7:28 AM

it seems those three guys are business men.. they are as if the church were a company.. the church isn't a organization but a organism.

In a simple way.. i would say that it is obvious they do not want to help people reach heaven but they're more interested in the amount, numbers and stats... this is very sad 'cause this kind of preachers are always doing a critic to the traditional church and the elders.. they just want to put their own philosophical view about the gospel..

it is better quality than quantity...

#5  Posted by Osagie Obasohan  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 8:29 AM

Am also tired of dis vain ideal of taking Jesus out of the picture to focus on large congregation,i see dis as been competitive with each other,showing off their asset ,instead of saving the people and mending broken heart.dis men of God want to be worship adore which is wrong.they ve thought so many things dat are not wholly with the word of God taking advantage of the weak one. may God open the eyes of his children to see what is going on and not lose faith in all dis.thank u pastor john for ur teaching am so glady i saw ur message at this time

#6  Posted by Mark A Smith  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 9:10 AM

Perhaps I am wrong in rocking the boat...but here goes.

I live in Kansas, which is far from California. I rarely pay attention to Joel Osteen, Warren, or Willow Creek.

I have NEVER met a pastor whose sole purpose was to fill seats and thump his chest...all that I have met want people to grow in Christ in some way. Perhaps their methods are wrong, but COUNTING doesn't seem to be the sole purpose. Now, perhaps in a Pastor's conference people go around comparing numbers. That is prideful for certain, but does that necessarily speak to the MOTIVATION AND PURPOSE of their churches???

ON THE OTHER HAND, I have been to churches that are very small, and they are VERY prideful of that. "Yes, amen, we just trust the Loooorrrrddd...". They haven't done evangelism in a decade. If a young couple comes in with a baby who cries they ask them to leave. If a man/woman is divorced its all over. Worse yet a single mom who was never married (gasp)....how dare she come here....YES, I have seen this with my eyes!!!

So, NOT COUNTING can be bad to...perhaps you have the gospel right, but your love walk, attitude, countenance, and character is all messed up. Perhaps that is why people stay away????? Perhaps you embrace the idea that, since the GOSPEL IS A STUMBLING BLOCK, our dress, music, and other church techniques and methods might as well be to...

Since we are throwing stones, I thought I would bring a rock of a different sort to throw...

Sincerely in Christ,

Mark

#7  Posted by Travis Allen  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 9:28 AM

Mark A Smith:

I'm having a hard time understanding what your comment has to do with the post. Are you agreeing or disagreeing with the point we're making in the post?

Your last paragraph seems to be saying exactly the opposite of what we're criticizing in the last two posts. Are we reading you rightly?

Travis

#8  Posted by Carolyn Pullen  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 9:36 AM

The mentality seems to be, if the numbers are growing, then God is in it. When there are a couple of months or even years with slow growth, then this is not from God. Not necessarily.... failures can come through God, and most often much can be learned from what we see as failures. God can work through the mistakes and failures, just as He works with the successes. In fact, in my own life, God has taught me more from mistakes than successes. BUT, we have to humble ourselves and seek His direction through prayer and His Word.

Oswald Chambers: "Our Lord told us how our love for Him is to exhibit itself when He asked, "Do you love Me?" (John 21:17). And then He said, "Feed My sheep." In effect, He said, "Identify yourself with MY interests in other people," NOT "Identify Me with your interests in other people."

Today, lots of programs and activities permeate our churches to "bring in the lost" and then the Gospel gets lost or is never taught. To quote Oswald Chambers once more: "The Great enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ today is the idea of practical work that has no basis in the New Testament, but comes from the systems of the world. This work insists upon endless energy and activities, but no private life with God. Jesus said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation..... For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)

#9  Posted by Mark A Smith  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 9:44 AM

Let me try to be clear. I have never visited Grace Community Church. I would love to but given the realities of life it is too far away and too expensive right now...It seems to me, from having read a lot from John MacArthur and watching video and conference feeds, that Grace is a wonderful place. They are trying to be leaders in the evangelical community and these blogs are part of that. I appreciate their needed effort to clean things up...

But, I am trying to get a grip on what "pragmatism" is. IF you mean that "pragmatism" is watering down the gospel of Jesus Christ, then I agree it is an error. Receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior is NOT a trivial event, as some make it. I agree with MacArthur on that. We should make it clear that salvation is a serious issue, and it is led by the Holy Spirit drawing men and women to God. Living the Christian life is not what too many say today, with a total focus on money, present happiness, etc...

But all too often, "pragmatism" is a negative label for a style we don't like...The gospel is a stumbling block because it is a work of God, but is music supposed to be? Is dress supposed to be? I appreciate the blogs, but I often "hear" the responding posters as opposing STYLE, and calling that negative "pragmatism".

If pragmatism means changing the gospel to make it more palitable, that is wrong. But if we include other topics like dress, music style, etc, then we have gone off track.

#10  Posted by Mark A Smith  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 11:45 AM

I had to take care of some business...now I'm back to finish my thoughts.

As far as counting, I agree that superficial concern over numbers is wrong. Many pastors and boards use that to gauge their success. I inadvertantly signed up for a church growth website email of "tips" on how to grow your church. I still receive them...they would be comical if they weren't so sad. Little mention in them of Biblical reasons for doing any of it. Instead, it is "do what I did in starting a church in NYC..."

Since that is so problematic, I agree with much of what Travis wrote above....

The problem is I know all too many WHO SIMPLY DON'T WANT THEIR CHURCH TO GROW!!! They have their friends at church, their pastor, their hymnal, and they don't want anything else. New people are seen as threats to the "old order" of things. THAT IS NOT THE WILL OF GOD EITHER.

I realize this blog is NOT addressing that per se, but I suspect some concern of some posters is NOT purely theological and ecclesiological, but are much more personal. Many hide their concerns under the label of opposing "pragmatism".

Mark Smith

#11  Posted by Travis Allen  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 11:50 AM

Mark:

Pragmatism is an approach that says the end justifies the means, which is not a biblical approach. So, issues of style (music, clothing) may or may not have to do with pragmatism; it depends on each person.

The problem with church growth pragmatism is with both ends and means. The current post has to do with the end in view (big numbers) and the previous post had to do with the means used to achieve the end (doing whatever it takes to get big numbers).

I can praise the Lord in the preaching of an accurate gospel, even when the pastor is in every other way a pragmatist (he wants big numbers and he'll use whatever means necessary to get them). That's akin to Paul's attitude in Phil. 1:18.

However, a pragmatist has taken his eye off the ball in a big way. It won't be long before the gospel he preaches ceases to be accurate, before he stops championing the sound doctrine that saves sinners. That's exactly what's been illustrated for us in the recent Elephant Room debacle.

So, it's not so much the question of losing the jacket and tie when you preach, or wanting a contempoary sound in your church music. The question is, are you doing that to attract people or keep people in your church.

Preach the gospel. Teach doctrine. Go deep with theology. Immerse yourself in the historic Christian faith and spend time with the saints of old who proclaimed the faith powerfully and profoundly. Let all of that fill you with knowledge and zeal. Preach the Word with passion and authority, and the with conviction that comes from hard, diligent study.

Then leave the results to God and the work of His Spirit.

Hope that helps.

Travis

#12  Posted by Scott Barnes  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 12:19 PM

McDonalds comments to Pastor Devers as being a "brother, mentor, and theological genius" were obviously tongue-in-cheek and were meant to mock him. The comments that followed confirmed their disdain for him. The arrogance and pridefulness of these two men, Driscoll and McDonald is palpable in their manners and behaviors and confirmed in their words. Their love affair with numbers is likely just an outgrowth of their love of self. If they could ever really die to self it would be reflected in their words and behaviors. I cannot put faith in any pastor as a true pastor who lacks humility. That sin is the worst we can commit and is the one that led the god of this age to be cast from heaven. To see pride manifest in all it's sinful glory, watch the above video again and observe the facial expressions and behaviors closely of Driscoll and McDonald. To observe humility, watch Pastor Devers. I know something of pride. It continues to be the sin I commit most often against our Lord and one I repent of daily. This is because once you recognize and master it's more obvious forms, the Holy Spirit allows you to see the more insidious and hidden forms that must be repented of. I will pray for McDonald and Driscoll as I do for myself; all three broken individuals in need of God's loving grace.

#13  Posted by Michael Wright  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 1:16 PM

Amen. This is something that not only branches into the more liberal circles but is absolutely rampant in the fundamentalist circles. As a fundamentalist this is something that affects me deeply, seeing how fundamentalist/evangelicals have adapted worldly means to judge spiritual success. Great article.

#14  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 3:53 PM

I heard of some churches that do signs and wonders. They are doing it for money and a crowd. Why and how do they get away with it? Just a thought. like Benny Hinn, Hagee and more.

#15  Posted by Joshua Frazer  |  Thursday, October 20, 2011at 6:07 PM

The disturbing element of the video for me was the over-emphasis on preaching with no mention of pastor involved shepherding. While I agree that preaching is the climax of a worship service and the primary responsibility of Pastor/Elder is to preach, there must be a balance of the call to shepherd as well.

The idea that a pastor is called only to preach and is to delegate all other responsibilities is foreign to the Scriptures. If a church grows to be big enough where the Pastor is unable to partner effectively with his leadership to know and minister to his congregation effectively - that would be a sure sign that it would be time to plant a church and hopefully that church recognized the growth while it was happening and had been raising up leaders to take over with that plant.

One of the greatest joys and the most effective ways to share the gospel is at the dinner table with members of the church or visitors of the church, or at the hospital bedside, or during a counseling session. I for one would not like to be relegated to only be viewed as the "preaching pastor" and my elder team will disciple you. My love for the Word is only equaled by my love for people.

#16  Posted by Bob Browning  |  Friday, October 21, 2011at 8:21 AM

Thoughts on Joshua Frazer's comments:

I think Joshua raises a very valid point that we all need to keep in mind. Far too often we get so pumped up about one issue we neglect the broader picture. However, I also must point out that a ~10 minute video is hardly enough time to address anything at all, let alone discuss all the complexities of pastoral duties - so I think their omission of shepherding was simply a wise and intentional choice to discuss a specific topic other than shepherding.

General thoughts:

All that said, I think there is some validity to the multi-site approach for the purpose of church planting. But the lack of humility on the part of Driscoll and MacDonald is what is disturbing. I think Dever's approach to not go multi-site shows much more long-term wisdom because he doesn't want to end up seeming to have a monopoly over all the churches in his area.

The danger I see down the road is nobody knows what's going to happen when these mega-church pastors start dying. What will happen when John Piper dies? What will happen when John MacArthur dies? Will it affect their church attendance? I'm not even talking about the multi-site issue or the issue of counting so much as the issue with pastors becoming such renowned icons that the momentum of the church is strictly driven by their own personality. And as a member at The Church at Brook Hills, where David Platt is our senior pastor, I see the potential for this to creep in on a regular basis - even in my own life. I think the reason is that it's so much easier for us (in our sinful nature) to embrace a human icon rather than the omnipotent and invisible Ruler of the universe.

I'm trying to figure out how to sum up what bothers me about the mega-church (and multi-site) model. And interestingly, I think it goes back to J. Frazer's point about shepherding. As a member of a mega-church, who is your shepherd? Even at Brook Hills (which is not multi-site), it certainly is not David Platt. Simple logic and some basic math quickly shows that a single person can't know every single person in a +1,000-member church. So who do church members go to? Do they ever actually build relationships with the "Minister of ___" that is assigned to their age group? Why would they, especially if they never get to hear him preach? And I think when you go multi-site it just makes it worse. I can see where multi-site makes people not be dependent on the tele-pastor (since he clearly isn't there at all), but then what message does that leave people with? They are left feeling like this is the way it should be - you're on your own - go figure it out the best way you can - "buy my book and go start a small group". I think there's a serious potential for major ego problems with mega-church pastors - and I think it's being manifested in their desire to go multi-site rather than turn it loose to let it be what it should be - another church in the body of Christ.

In Christ,

-Bob Browning

#17  Posted by Rebecca Schwem  |  Friday, October 21, 2011at 10:52 AM

#4 Anderson, I agree. Sounded a bit like a sales meeting to get everyone's sales forecasts and to monitor and see if each is making his quota to date.

#18  Posted by Kerry Halpin  |  Friday, October 21, 2011at 11:39 AM

Wow...I just got around to watching this video and it offended me for the sake of Christ on many levels. I used to listen to James MacDonald's radio sermons last year and was generally pleased with the quality of his messages and thought pretty highly of him. I've never been a fan of Driscoll.

About half way through when James talks about removing his sermons from broadcast when he dies, and the quickness with which his sermons will in-effect lose their potency, it just denies the power of God in his messages. Adrian Rogers is the most gifted preacher I've ever heard, and he is now with Christ. I think the world would lose one of it's brightest lights the day Love Worth Finding ministries goes off the air. Should we just stop reading our Bibles because all of the apostles are dead?

And then both James and Driscoll are talking about putting younger, greener pastors in smaller congregations and working up to larger, how vain! What about 1 Timothy 3:6 which speaks of against having young pastors to begin with? Should I feel fortunate to be in one of their smaller congregations? Seems like they care less about the smaller congregations, almost like they're not worthy of more mature leadership. "Oh, the startup church? Yeah, just give them the guy with 1 year of Bible college."

How offensive.

#19  Posted by Mark A Smith  |  Friday, October 21, 2011at 12:57 PM

I somehow initially missed that there was a video linked to...

I watched it, and I have to say I was appalled. I think MacDonald and Driscoll were both condescending towards Dever. The attitude of MacDonald and Dever stunk, to put it lightly.

Did you catch MacDonald say Master's Seminary graduates come to his church and take notes for a year??? Dear, I hope not. I have caught MacDonald a handful of times on the radio. I know nothing of Driscoll except what has come up from MacArthur over the "sex" issue...

I have to say the LAST PROBLEM in this link is the comparing the number of services and satellite churches. Their whole attitude is a stench.

You could tell Dever was pretty uncomfortable.

#20  Posted by Mark A Smith  |  Friday, October 21, 2011at 12:58 PM

I meant to say the attitudes of MacDonald and Driscoll were appalling. Certainly not Dever.

#21  Posted by Mary Kidwell  |  Friday, October 21, 2011at 6:51 PM

I agree that pride is something believers need to guard against. It can be in the form of relying on self rather that God, or in the form of wanting to take credit for what God has done. However, I don’t think that the sharing of numbers is always done out of pride. Specifically, I am thinking of the times when someone is giving an update on their ministry to those who have been praying for, or financially supporting, the ministry and who are eager to hear how things are going. Obviously, numbers are not the only measurement, but they can help convey in part what God has been doing. That said, I tend to cringe when I hear the number of conversions given, not because I suspect the speaker is being prideful, but because I don’t always trust the conversions are true conversions. Sometimes it takes a while before the quality of the soil, which received the seed of the gospel, is truly known (Matthew 13:3-8).

#22  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Friday, October 21, 2011at 8:37 PM

I agree, many young kids whom came to Christ, either walked away or doubted. For example, some kids baptized at my old church and decided to live for the Lord. At young bible study, they don't seem into deep reading of God's word and bored.. looking at cell phones and still in their old ways. I prayed for them to stand strong.

To many kids at my old church focused on tougues, and prophecy.. and some believe they got that gift.. ..

Numbers should not be use.. Walk by faith, not by sight..

I agree, Mary.. Good post..

#23  Posted by RICHARD GIANNOTTI  |  Friday, October 21, 2011at 9:31 PM

Sad, I see 1920's Germany here. Flat screen pastors who should be training men to train men etc. Every Church should be its own mini-Seminary. McDonald and Driscoll have made it about them and not about training the next generation of Pastors. Teach the Bible and God will bless by creating a Biblical literate congregation who can rightly divide the word to be a credible witness to the world. People don't usually get saved by going to a Church service, they get added to the Church by God's sovereign electing grace then we come to share Acts 4:12, right???

#24  Posted by Jose Perez  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 5:45 AM

Awesome article. I went to a mega church here in Miami,fl. When it got old is when the bible wasnt being used or opened. Really when they would put pressure on you to bring people to church. It drove me nuts. Thanks to the G12 system by cesar castellanos. The Government 12 church growth system. There are more concerned growing physically than growing sprirtually. Im a witness to its lies. It has caused division in the church, destroyed families and people. I remember they gave me a small group to teach when I was only 5 months walking with the Lord. I was like "OK". I didnt know what I was doing. I was never discipled. Thank you Lord for you Holy Spirit that taught me everything I know. Praise God for this article. Travis you should do a research on the G12 and do an article on them. They are the ones putting their system all around americas churches and the church is adapting this system. . Be blessed my brothers. JP

#25  Posted by Rebecca Schwem  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 9:31 AM

#21 Mary, you're guarded like me. When we see them coming in droves, we have to wonder about that narrow and broad road? We wonder, "Lord, what is many and what is few?"

I also question, aren't they doing salvation by works when they are so obsessive about numbers? And aren't they trying to redesign the bride of Christ? I have no problem with growth if it is by God's design. I rather like being edified. I really like being equipped. Am I selfish? I don't want false converts and pastors of them steeling God's thunder and my opportunity to learn His Word, my opportunity to go deep into His word.

#22 Dan, these guys are so results oriented, aren't they. Well, you're seeing results, alright but not what they had in mind. Very negative results. It is so frustrating to watch.

#23 RICHARD GIANNOTTI - Great great perspective. That is it in a nutshell. The Holy Spirit makes it rather simple, right? Not to mention Jesus gave us the prototype! Very serious situation going on with these men.

#24 Jose - You answered just what I had been wondering about true converts that find themselves in these mega churches. I had wondered how long before they tired of all the hoopla and left? Not that I expect a massive exodus from those churches but those that truly have the Holy Spirit to stir their hearts as you did. Those results you named are rarely if ever mentioned. Not that I think they care that much or even notice someone that leaves. You know how there are some sales programs where they aren't looking for return customers? It's a numbers game. For every dissatisfied customer that walks, they have one ready and ripe to fill their slot. A constant turnover. Your experience speaks volumes. I will personally research this G12 system you speak about. I hope more former mega church members as well as former church leaders come forward as you have. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

#26  Posted by Mary Elizabeth Palshan  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 11:40 AM

Beware of what some of these multi-site pastors are leading you into. If you go to You-Tube pull up the Spiritual Warfare videos by Mark Driscoll. Pay particular attention to part 5+6, where he talks to demons/evils spirits. This is very serious, and cannot be stressed enough; it will be a sad eternity for so many who blindly follow his teachings. Should we discuss this aspect of the multi-site churches? Yes, because not ALL multi-site churches are equal. Some are far worse than others.

Don’t ever think for a moment that you/me have sounded the alarm too often concerning these false teachers, we live on the brink of eternity, and your friends, neighbors and loved ones are depending on YOU, dear Christian, to show them what is good and what is evil, to give them a word of hope, to guide them toward our Savior, and disciple them in God’s truth. We, as Christians, of all people on this earth should know better. Don’t let these people down. Live your life with a clear conscience before God.

Excellent article Travis.

#27  Posted by Lyndon Unger  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 12:03 PM

I'd suggest that Driscoll and MacDonald are right in wanting the gospel to be preached and people to be saved, but that's not the extent of the great commission. Two thoughts:

1. Size is often far more of a curse than a blessing when it comes to making disciples.

When a church hits a certain size (5,000+), there tends to be several groups in the main church that are basically churches unto themselves. Practically speaking, discipleship in huge churches is highly difficult and it's hard to maintain control of the discipleship program; false teachers regularly start crazy churches as a small group in a mega-church. I'd guess that adding campuses (i.e. geographic isolation) makes matters of discipleship only more difficult.

2. Pastoring is more than preaching.

If Driscoll and MacDonald are basically a face on a screen preaching once a week and everything else (discipline, discipleship, leadership, shepherding, etc.) is done on campus by the campus pastors, I struggle to understand in what sense Driscoll and MacDonald are shepherds of their multi-site churches.

- Side note - Why in the world was Driscoll fighting with Dever about the lexicography of "ekklesia"? That doesn't align well with a bunch of compliments about Dever's intelligence...

#28  Posted by Christine Rastguelenian  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 4:03 PM

I watched the video for about 3 minutes and had to turn it off. Not once during that time did they Glorify God, nor Jesus. Not once did they say 'Jesus planted/God planted'...they consistently gave glory to themselves saying 'I planted/I see decisions'/'I have x number of'... very sad...

#29  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 6:05 PM

Thanks Travis!

The fight for truth is a worthy effort...keep strong.

KF

#30  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 8:07 PM

Watch the Spiritual Warfare videos by Mark Driscoll. Could'nt get though the second one. He thinks he has the power.. sad.. No, he does'nt and wearing the Mickey Mouse shirt seems like a kid.. He is decieved.. Only Jesus does command demons, not us.. Thanks for the info..

#31  Posted by Patrick Driscoll  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 10:22 PM

Well....... I just watched the video. Thankfully it was only about ten minutes long. Hard to watch but can you imagine what it was like for Mark Dever? Did anyone count all the personal pronouns? I , Me, My!! Seriously, who's church is it anyway? Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 3 come to mind.

"But let each one take heed how he builds on it". Are we building with gold, silver and precious stones or wood, hay and straw? The Day will declare it. Thank you Travis for another good article.

#32  Posted by Jonathan Pruett  |  Saturday, October 22, 2011at 10:33 PM

Travis,

Since James MacDonald is not here to defend himself, let me just post a brief summary of an article he just wrote. If you would like to read it all, you can find it on his blog.

Preach the authority of God’s Word without apology.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Romans 1:16

Read that right. The authority is in God’s Word—not the preacher. We don’t preach with authority, we preach the authority of God’s Word. And we do it without apology. Don’t spend any time thinking about what your people want to hear; think instead about what God wants said. We’ve built our whole church on the principle that if we’re saying the things that God wants said, God will fill the seats with folks to hear it. How obvious does that seem? If God looks down on the northwest suburbs of Chicago and sees our church, I hope He chooses to “get some more people over there—they want to hear My Word and they’re fired up about My Son.”

You might think, “Well, that’s easy for you to say since you’ve got a big church.” We’ve held to the priority of preaching the authority of God’s Word without apology when we had 100 people. I can still remember the stinging comments from visitors who said at the door or when I’d call them on the phone that week, “We’re never coming back to your church; we don’t want anyone to talk to us like that.”

When you apply this principle consistently over time, you’ll endure a crucible of testing and proving how committed you are to God’s Word. You’ll be systematically preaching through some passage and the week that you’re coming down hard on the topic of repentance, your board chairman tells you that his unsaved aunt is coming to church with them for the first time in twenty years. As you’re preaching you notice her sitting in the front row looking like a deer caught in your headlights. Should I have changed the topic to accommodate what I know would be easier for her to hear? No—I trust God. I preach what His Word says and give up control over topics and timing. James MacDonald

As for Mark Driscoll, I have no comment. However, as for James MacDonald, he is a godly man who preaches the Word of God.

Travis, James is not what you have portrayed him to be with your 12 min video segment. Why would you throw him under the bus like this? I agree that there seems to be an arrogance about him in this particular clip, and even perhaps a lack of respect for Dever. But, seriously, why slam his entire ministry? I love the ministry of John MacArthur and appreciate the wonderful teaching. I pray that you would pick your fights better in the future. I don't agree with much of what James said, but it does not make him a false teacher as many have called him on this topic (not you travis), that is just irresponsible. Wake up Church!

#33  Posted by Jonathan Pruett  |  Sunday, October 23, 2011at 2:14 PM

I pray your wrong about your comment:

[ However, a pragmatist has taken his eye off the ball in a big way. It won't be long before the gospel he preaches ceases to be accurate, before he stops championing the sound doctrine that saves sinners. That's exactly what's been illustrated for us in the recent Elephant Room debacle.] referring to James MacDonald.

However, as far as I can tell, MacDonald IS championing sound doctrine and preaches the gospel accurately. Why so presumptuous? If he (MacDonald) begins preaching unsound doctrine and starts teaching an inaccurate message, THEN, call him out on it.(or denies the trinity) Again, I don't see that here, unless I'm missing something. Perhaps you are sounding a warning of a possible future change in MacDonalds teaching, but as for now he is proclaiming the authority of God's Word. If I am missing something , please share. In Christ,

#34  Posted by Cassandra Hale  |  Sunday, October 23, 2011at 3:22 PM

Trying to get back to the topic at hand, I would like to share an observation from my own past and my own misconception of the church's responsibility. As a young married couple with a newborn, my husband and I became very active in our very small Bible-believing/teaching church that was dedicated to equipping the saints through sound doctrine and expository preaching. I would look around each week and try to think of the ways we could make this church grow, and that was my entire focus. However, the Pastor and his wife recognized that a strong, Biblically strong congregation, no matter the size, was the goal. I was so arrogant (freshly out of Bible college) and was so disenchanted by lack of growth that we evenutally left the church.

God showed me, through the study of Scripture, that my attitude was completely erronous, and how I LONG for those days in that small, Bible loving church. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, it seems almost impossible to avoid it. All we seem to ever hear is numbers, numbers, numbers! We visited a small PCA church that we really loved . . . . until they announced their new "focus" for the church was strategic growth. They had no desire to water down the gospel, but every activity, ministry, etc. was now geared toward growth in numbers, which my husband and I had no interest, sadly, in being involved in. We decided to stay in our LCMS church, but we still hear all about the huge amount of growth they've experienced, so forth and so forth.

I does make me sad that the American church is so focused on this. People think persecution is so bad, but could you imagine how strong the true church would be if we were truly stripped of everything but the Gospel?

I also understand what Mark Smith is saying. I have met small congregation that wanted to stay small/country/"exclusive", touting they were truly disciples because they weren't growing during these "end times". That's bunk as well.

The logic behind strategic church growth saddens me because the gospel is truly simple--"Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Teach/disciple, then send out. I see that every week on the entrance and exit of our church: Enter to worship/learn, Go in peace, sharing in the love/evangelism of the Lord: Corporate worship and edification leads to personal evangelism, thus causing "natural" growth. My 2 cents, anyway . . . .

#35  Posted by Tommy Clayton  |  Sunday, October 23, 2011at 3:32 PM

Jonathan Pruett # 32

I admire your desire to believe the best about the pastor(s) you trust. But…here are a few quick thoughts:

1) Other than linking the video, Travis said nothing about MacDonald or his ministry throughout the entire article. You’re the one dragging the James MacDonald issue front and center.

2) Since you brought it up, It seems to me that James threw himself under the bus. If he made the decision to appear in a video and openly tout his church planting successes, knowing the clip would become public domain, he should expect—and even welcome—feedback.

3) You said: I pray that you would pick your fights better in the future. I don't agree with much of what James said, but it does not make him a false teacher as many have called him on this topic (not you travis), that is just irresponsible.

If you think the purpose of this article was to “pick a fight” with James MacDonald, then you’ve certainly missed the point. MacDonald wasn’t the main feature of the article, or even a marginal feature. Carnal, pragmatic counting was the issue, robbing God of His glory. I think that’s a worthy fight to pick, don’t you? Travis merely used the Driscoll/MacDonald ego-trip as a sad illustration of the pragmatism-by-numbers he was decrying.

Jonathan, Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” I think what you saw and heard in that video was a glimpse into the heart of MacDonald and Driscoll. As Travis said, none are immune from the temptation of glorying in their perceived achievements. May God have mercy on us and protect us from eclipsing His glory in building our own crumbling kingdoms. “He must increase, but we must decrease.”

Jonathan Pruett # 33

Here’s the point, Jonathan. Nobody wakes up one day and decides to abandon the gospel they “championed” for years. It’s a process, not an event—a slow, nearly imperceptible decline built on one compromise after another. Judging from what I’ve seen in Driscoll’s ministry (and recently in MacDonald’s), I’m not encouraged. Don’t let the bright lights surrounding popular pastors blind your discernment, brother. That’s a lesson we all need to heed.

#36  Posted by Dan Wilson  |  Sunday, October 23, 2011at 5:37 PM

Best to run from one that cast demons out.. or do signs and wonders.. Psalm 1 is best for this blog..

#37  Posted by Rebecca Schwem  |  Sunday, October 23, 2011at 6:45 PM

About the video.. it seemed staged. McDonald said that Devers could explain himself and then he'd (McDonald) and Driscoll would tell him why they are right and he is wrong. But Pastor Dever's was interrupted immediately. It was so obviously unfair and rude, I thought, at first, it was a joke, a setup. They would not let him speak. And Pastor Devers had a half grin that looked to me as if he knew they were making fools of themselves and he was just gonna let them or he was in on the joke. Which is it? They pounced on him like they knew they better not give him the floor. It was weird to me to think that these grown men couldn't realize in that moment how they were coming across. Sometimes we don't know how we sound but when you have a buddy with you echoing your statements, your thoughts, your sentiments, then you gotta hear.

The other thing....when any pastor that has been faithful to teaching God's Word and faithfully shepherding his flock and his reputation reflects that....and yet, decides to start rubbing elbows with an obvious heretic, he's a major accident waiting to happen. That's a limb he does not want to go out on. I thought the unpardonable sin was blaspheming the Holy Spirit which happens to be part of the Trinity? What does light have to do with darkness? 2Corinthians 6:14. Does McDonald think he can expose Jakes in front of all the other evangelicals? Does he have a plan to publicly humiliate him? Or is he including him so as to lead him to the Right God of the universe? What is this all about? His blog indicates that he is doing so to prove his sensitivity to the black Christians? Make it more balanced. What? So there, we added Jakes. Are you happy? If I were a black person, I'd be insulted.

Well, I guess I got off the subject, didn't I? This is about mega churches and how they love numbers. But since McDonald and Driscoll are pro multi-site churches and since they did this silly video, their credibility came into play. Right? Can you separate the foolishness of some of the line up of speakers for the next ER with the conversation on the video? Should one not affect the other? Are they totally separate issues? Maybe. Or is the issue for both about discernment or the lack thereof? Is it showing a trend here? A need to be all things to all people..a need to expand .....even to heretics? Usually one wrong turn causes you to take many wrong turns before you get your compass working again

I have not really followed James MacDonald but have heard wonderful things about him in the past from those I am familiar with and trust. So I sincerely hope he is able to take some time away from all of this and spend it fasting and with the Lord. I really hope the world is not having the influence on him that it appears to have now. Well, I just pray it's not as bad as it looks. I really do.

Somebody tell me....was that video a joke? Is the joke on me?

#38  Posted by Patrick Driscoll  |  Sunday, October 23, 2011at 10:26 PM

You're right Rebecca --- That was one disturbing video!

When a trusted church leader shows a lack of discernment, it's red flag

time. There's a bit of truth in the old saying, "Birds of a feather flock together".

#39  Posted by Marla Beale  |  Monday, October 24, 2011at 9:39 AM

I was disappointed to see MacDonald and Driscoll both agree that once they're dead, their messages will be irrelevant (along with the comment that J Vernon McGee shouldn't be on the radio). Are their messages merely 'hip' to the times? Ugh.

I am very thankful for JV McGee still being on the radio -- one my favorite sources for scriptural teaching when I was a younger Christian (and I still enjoy his messages). I'm thankful Dr. MacArthur's messages will still be broadcast as well. Does the gospel go out of style? MacDonald has preached a number of messages that are timeless, and it is sad and frustrating he has such a wrong view of the power of scripture, rightly preached.

I am increasingly dismayed at the blind spot of these two (MacDonald and Driscoll) when it comes to the Gospel and pragmatism, it seems to be getting bigger and bigger of late. May the Holy Spirit open their eyes.

#40  Posted by Rebecca Schwem  |  Monday, October 24, 2011at 11:27 AM

#39 Marla- That confused me too. I've been wondering why they said that? Could that be their efforts to be humble and declare,"Look, I'm not a rock star preacher and therefore, to prove it, my voice does not need to go on and on after I'm gone. Because the message and the Holy Spirit will bring forth new expositors of God's Word. Our job will be done."? So are they trying to show humility? Or are they trying to put the idea of humility on display? That desire could have been made public after they are gone. Why announce it now?

Paul's words via the Holy Spirit continue to be read. I don't think it was because the Lord expected there to never be another to preach His Word. God equipped Paul and gave him a gripping testimony. That gift did not stop with Paul as wonderful as he was. The Holy Spirit has given some wonderful gifts to pastors that the church has benefited from. Those gifts are not and never will be obsolete this side of the rapture.

So, if that's where they are coming from and believe that another is quite capable of filling their shoes and preaching the timeless Gospels, I don't see why that isn't practiced full time at each of their campuses? Take the satellites down, let an in the flesh pastor speak up close and personal. Remember our Lord is omnipresent. With the help of the Holy Spirit, that pastor will do just fine....before they die as well as after.

Like I have mentioned, I really don't know these men or their hearts. But they must be aware that they are being watched and listened to and read and since most of us won't be at their homes for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other intimate setting, we only know them by what we hear and see and read. I wouldn't go around purposely doing cliff hanger sound bites and not expect some to misunderstand or not expect to have to explain myself. Unless I thought my numbers spoke volumes and I owed no one an explanation or help with the context?

#41  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Tuesday, October 25, 2011at 6:07 AM

My concern with all of what has been happening at such a rapid pace lately is the apathy being demonstrated by some leaders as seen in their participation in panel discussions, round tables, conferences, etc with the guys who champion the very ideologies being called out on GTY and other sites.

Look at a couple of the well respected leaders within modern evangelicalism sharing stage at the event shown in the video clip listed in this blog. Whether or not they are there for a counter perspective is questionable. The truth is that simply by being in company with some of the folks being talked about here and elsewhere does nothing but lend credibility to their false doctrinal positions. There is something to be said about separation!

Would one have expected Augustine to share stage with Pelagius, or Luther sit down publicly to converse with Erasmus, or John Calvin/Beza buddy-up with Jacobus Arminius all in an effort to try and find some common ground...to build unity?

The fact is that the battles over truth brought to mind when the men I listed above are mentioned were fought because Augustine, Luther, Calvin, etc all pointed out the gross errors of their day and made efforts to eradicate the church of such teaching. Embracing modern day false teaching in an air of "new revelation" , as if all points of view are valid (or at least contain some measure of validity), is a dangerous trend.

#42  Posted by Russell Laurea  |  Tuesday, October 25, 2011at 2:41 PM

I am surprised at the amount of judgement that is so quickly passed against Driscoll and Mcdonald. Keep in mind that this is a staged, planned discussion that all 3 agreed to have. If you look on the Gospel Coalition website you can see plenty of discussions regarding different matters. How can we judge Driscoll and Mcdonald unless we actually spent time working within their ministries to see who they really are out of the camera's light and how many lives they are affecting in their personal time. I agree that they do sound prideful and arrogant and in no way am I justifying how they are carrying themselves. I think of the times I have these discussions with my leaders and we bounce ideas and views off of each other sometimes in a stern way which in the eyes of someone watching from the outside might say we were talking against or at each other in pride or arrogance or it resembles this video, but we are merely bringing to the light most of the times things that need to be corrected and I believe that was one of the intentions of this video to cause us to think which Travis laid out thoughtfully. The focus was not on the the men talking and discussing but that which was being discussed. I would agree with Travis though and I would reiterate His last thoughts, Lets remember that we all utterly need God's grace, we need to continue to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, and yes examine ourselves daily. Thank you for the post Travis, your writing shows your serious and sincere concern for this matter.

In Christ,

Russell

#43  Posted by Keith Farmer  |  Tuesday, October 25, 2011at 5:07 PM

"I was disappointed to see MacDonald and Driscoll both agree that once they're dead, their messages will be irrelevant (along with the comment that J Vernon McGee shouldn't be on the radio). Are their messages merely 'hip' to the times? "

My take on why they would state such is simply to thwart someone from referencing historical figures in the Church to prove them wrong. If past spokespersons for God (as they portray themselves) have no current authoritative standing they are free and clear to do as they have stated..."develop their own theology."