Why is Missions declining?

By Missionary/Pastor David Cox

This article by a missionary/pastor on the foreign mission field discusses why are Missions declining? This article investigates the decline in missions in American Christianity. This greatly important topic is just not addressed in most circles of Christianity. They deal with it lightly but never get to the essentials of what is going on and how to turn it around.

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Pastor Mistakes

I recently read an article “13 Senior Pastor Mistakes that Flatline Growth“. It had some interesting points, so I wanted to comment on it, and present what they said.

Afraid to Fire Staff.

From a pastor standpoint, I totally agree. As a pastor, you have to be “pastoral” at times, taking great pains to be compassionate and sympathetic. At other times, you have to be an administrator, and quite frankly, dead weight on the church staff is dangerous and drags the entire church down. So letting people go both is good for the individual and good for the church.

This is good for the individual because #1 he is not doing himself anything good by messing up God’s work. He needs to be confronted about his failings and dealt with, (giving him chances to change and work his problems out). If he doesn’t fix his life, then he needs to get out of the ministry. If he is not going to do the ministry correctly, then he will probably not want to get out either.

The process I see here is that there needs to be constant feedback from the Pastor to each employee on staff on the church. Are they doing their job well or not? How can they improve their ministry in the church? Etc. When suggestions are ignored on a constant basis, then the employee should be let go. When he (or she) is let go, it should be absolutely no surprise. Barring some calamity like sexual impropriety, the workers should have a rather long history of dealing with a problem with the Pastor, and it not working out, and the outcome is to be expected by him. This is the way people should leave a church.

You’re Pastoring Regular Attenders Instead Of Your Aggregate Ministry Group

I think this is a bunch of poppycock. Your first commitment is to the Lord. You are not there because you or those people want you there. You are there because God wants you there, and God called you to be there and do what you are doing. If you don’t get your calling straight, nothing else will work out.

Having said that, the author of the post mixes church ministry of pastoring with evangelism. Yes, we should be drawing in the unsaved, or unchurched into our church. No doubt about that. But where your primary commitment is, there you should let that be an authority over you, and you should spend your life, time, energy, money, etc. in that primary commitment. Can a pastor be totally successful and have a small church? In my view yes. If you are doing what God has called you to do, you are a success no matter how small and insignificant some may view what you are doing. The Old Testament prophets were called to rebuke Israel in the last days of their spiritual adultery, and today’s experts would say they were failures, but they were true to God’s direction and message, even though it was not popular nor “successful” in Israel’s eyes.

This is the spiritual balance here.

When You Are The New Visitor Follow-Up Process

I am half-way on board with this here. There is a lot to be said for good leadership delegating work to others in the ministry instead of having “the pastor being the only one who can do anything right” syndrome. Yes, delegate by all means if you find faithful people who are able to handle it.

But on the flip side (of what this article says), I disagree with the idea that being a good pastor means not knowing each sheep individually. The good pastor in the Bible says he knows each sheep by name, and they know his voice. There is a personal, off the podium relationship when a good shepherd is in the primary leadership role.

You Are Afraid Of Killing Programs

Quite frankly I am against programs. They replace Holy Spirit guided actions. That is their intent, to brainlessly do what produces spiritual results. So I think the idea of a program is a bad thing from the beginning.

You may have a Sunday School class, or teen outreach, and other things like that, but we need to get out of promoting programs and promoting obeying God. There is a difference.

You Haven’t Clearly Defined Your Staff Team Values

There is a lot to be said for the work environment in a church. When everybody understands where the team is going, and everybody pulls in the same direction, things will go better. It is important for leaders to convince their workers to the team goals, the team methods, etc. They should not expect their ministers and workers to simply obey, but “get on board” because it is right and logical and good.

You aren’t willing to spend money

I think the key here is that there is money to spend. I get so fed up with seeing pastors over the years putting such priorities in buildings. The ministry is not a building. It is the people in the church. Is it wrong for a church to have its own building? to have a nice building? No. That is not the problem here. The problem is that the building program doesn’t get done except the pastor brow-beats it into the ground, and so often members and workers are offended because they are not going to the same extremes in pushing the building program as the pastor.

Real “ministry” should be about people more than things and buildings and money. If you cannot see that, you have a real problem.

So spending money on ministry should take priority over saving money for buildings. If you analyze what were legitimate expenses of churches in the New Testament, they definitely paid their staff. A man that works of the gospel should live of the gospel 1Cor 9:14. But we see no real push or effort to build buildings in the New Testament. Counterbalance that with the Old Testament temple, and you might get some balance. That temple was the single place where God was coming down in physical form (as smoke) to present himself to the people, and if you think your church building is that important in the plans and view of God, go ahead with making your church covered in gold. But if your work is humble, then be humble also in your building aspirations also.

You Don’t View Yourself As The Chief Resource Raiser

Okay, again I totally disagree with the article here. There is the physical needs of God’s house, but he who goes into the pulpit to break the bread of life should not be raising funds for the work. The two should be separated.

The article is right that nobody else will step up to take this job, though. So you have to do something, but in general, when the congregation is on board as far as the overview of what the church is trying to accomplish, raising money is not so hard. It is when the pastor’s hard head is pushing through his ideas against the common consensus of the laymen.

You’ve Placed The Wrong People On Your Governing Board

This is key in any organization. You have to take extreme care in only allowing board members that are of like mind as the organization (better that that like-minded with the pastor). The institution of the local church needs to have a clear vision, and the pastor usually develops and defines that, and he has to maintain that vision, and he has to promote that vision in the church’s life.

The main thing here is that must be prioritized is that there is not a conflict of vision between the leaders, the workers, or the church in general. Good preaching will establish a common vision, but that is what goes wrong here.

You’ve Hired Staff Members Who Aren’t Leaders

This is a two-edged sword. You have to have staff members you can work with, and many times being a “leader” is often confused with overtaking the Pastor’s leadership and breaking away people to a divergent vision and ministry. This cannot be good.

So you want followers to your leadership, but people that are leaders in themselves in some way still.

You Haven’t Redesigned Your By-Laws To Facilitate Growth

What you do in your church should be always under the laws and constitution of the same church. You should express the rules you “play the game” by, and these rules should be exposed for everybody to see. At the same time, you are saying that you are accountable to those rules.

These rules should be liberal for the leaders and ministers to actually do the ministry without being fettered in the process. At the same time, liberties need to be taken carefully, because there is always the possibility of abuse when too much liberty is given.

The Pastor is to lead the charge in evangelism efforts

The number one “gripe” I have with most pastors I have seen is that they themselves are not examples of an evangelist. That being the case, they hire or order people “under them” to do that dirty work, and then they get upset when the church doesn’t grow.

When the pastor accepts that he is the example that all the church should follow, and so he concludes that he has an obligation before the Lord to be in the forefront of the evangelistic efforts of the church, that church will grow.

No relationships with other Good Pastors

I am not so much on board here with the article. This can be very detrimental in most cases. If there are really “good pastors” out there, it can be good. But most of the time, Christianity degenerates into a “good ole boy” system, and this plays right into it. In these “fellowships” with other pastors, so often the dominant “alpha male” of the group pressures the rest to worship and adore him, and he pressures the group to follow his desires and way of doing things. I picture Catholicism beginning exactly this way with a few alpha male leaders bringing other churches and pastors under their domain and influence, and thereafter a diocese being born with a bishop at its head.

Leadership Development

As I reviewed Church planting issues articles, I find this mentioned often. The key issue here is that your church plant has leaders that are spiritual, Bible oriented and guided (working by Scripture principles), and mature. Unfortunately, this just begs the whole question of a church plant. We can easily take the leaders from some well-established church and transplant them, and we have a ready-made “church plant in a can”. Unfortunately, this side steps the whole question of church planting, which is to reproduce ourselves on 2 levels: 1) reproduce believers, or evangelism, and 2) reproduce churches, which is church planting.

Church planting is about developing and forming leaders

In our modern society and way of thinking, we want everything “microwaveable.” By that, I mean we have come to expect that anything and everything that we want should be instant. We can make popcorn in 3 minutes, and most meals are now reduced to something along these lines.

But to make a really good leader, there is no such formula. I think of Moses, 40 years growing up in the worldliness of Egypt, 40 years of preparation on the back side of a desert, and all that in order to serve God with the last 40 years of service. If God works on a 80 year preparation schedule, why do we presume to think we can go into a situation with unsaved people, and somehow magically produce leaders in 2-3 years?

I have met missionaries who have started x number of churches in a first term. I am intrigued by that and have a million questions for them because I could not do that myself, and I still could not do it now after 30 years of missionary experience. When I have gotten to the bottom of what they are really doing, they are taking preacher boys from some Bible institute and paying them a salary to gather some people. These churches are never self-sustaining, a key element of a true NT church plant. They are not self-reproducing either because if the money stops coming from the states, the people rarely are of a mentality of supporting themselves, so the group dissolves quickly. They are definitely not self-governing because he who has the money (or in this case pays the bills and salaries) makes the rules. This thing fails on all levels except it sounds great, and short-sighted churches in the US throw tons of money their ways.

What is necessary for good, church leadership?

As a pastor that had leadership classes in graduate school, I can tell you the greatest qualities of a good upcoming leader is experience, maturity, and spirituality. These things are usually inherent in the person, and it is very difficult to put them into a person who doesn’t natively have them. Moreover, it is extremely hard if the person refuses to “catch on” and change his own personality.

But these elements are not made in a microwave.

Experience – the quality of having been found faithful for many years

I think the desire, or even worse, the expectation of church planters is that somehow an unsaved person can be born again (a baby spiritually) in one moment, and a short year or so afterward stand, preach, and lead (a mature adult) is unrealistic. If a church planter uses “ringers,” mature Christians from other works that are “imported” to take over, this just replicates the errors and failures of the church where they came from. There is no certainty that they will be any better than a greenhorn Christian with no spiritual experience, but with maybe business experience or experience in handling affairs in his own life.

This is kind of like a chicken farm that produces everything chicken farms out the hatching of eggs into chicks to some third party. Kind of ridiculous if your business is reproducing chickens, don’t you think? This is what many churches do. We (churches) are the ones who are supposed to be reproducing Christians for the next generation, and we are supposed to be creating the leaders of Christian churches. When we think we can go to a Christian college and get ready made Christian leaders and ministers, again the microwave instant ready idea, we are doing the entire church planting or church growth responsibility we have a disservice. WE are supposed to be doing it, and WE are supposed to be the experts here. Nobody else doing it has the hands-on experience necessary. How hypocritical and crazy is this situation? Christian universities educate young people to be pastors, and even they realize that they are putting up “teachers” without first-hand knowledge which is silly. They invite pastors of local churches to come and be experts to teach their preacher boys. So even these schools realize they are really on shaky ground in trying to pass off “professional experts” that don’t have hands-on experience in the field! It is like teaching a flight instructor class and putting in a teacher that has never been a pilot! Or one that has only flown 50 hours in his entire life. Get a professional airline pilot, and go with that instead. He would have experience galore.

I am I saying that ministers and good Christian workers shouldn’t be used if they come from another church? No. It is just “icing on the cake” for a local church to have help in this area. But each and every church should have a dedicated commitment to evangelism and leader training within their own framework and church. From these people, with time, of course, the church should select their new leaders. These leaders fill several “uses” if I can say that. First of all, when the church itself grows, these people take over specific “sub-ministries” of the overall church. These are the workers/ministers that the church will have to execute ministry. Secondly, from these workers, missionaries should be called. Thirdly, when a pastor is going to step down, there should be a high priority placed on rewarding those ministers who have labored in the church, faithful to the doctrine and practice of that particular church to be first considered in replacing the pastor. I have always been irritated with the habit of churches to look outside of their own ministers FIRST for a new pastor. It is as if there is a hidden presumption that their own assistant ministers or pastors are incapable of handling the work. If they are, that is a bad reflection on what the previous pastors have done. They may be, but they should at least be first considered before going beyond the walls of the church.

I have seen many a church go through a pastor transition. About 10 of my supporting churches over the years have had that happen, and it continues to happen constantly. In the majority of these cases, the new pastor takes the church in a totally different direction and attitude than the previous pastor. This is just wrong. In some cases, it was a good thing because the previous pastor wasn’t really doing so great a job. But more than not, the new pastor is not vetted nor researched enough, and he trashes the church in general and leaves it after a year or so, and the church attendance in decimated literally (churches of 180 to 200 members have less than 15), and the second time around the church candidate committee is much more serious (and desperate) that the first time around.

All of this points up one very important advantage of using in-house candidates for pastor replacement. This is that when the entire staff participates actively in the church philosophy, it is a group commitment, and usually when one of them takes over the pastor’s position, you know very well what you are getting, and usually he is committed (has been, and has a track record of that) to that church’s philosophy, stand, separation position, etc.

Satan has used this unavoidable pastor transition time to almost always destroy churches. When you see members who are good Christian people give thousands of dollars to the church’s physical structure and running, and then all of that goes down the drain in the matter of a short year because of a bad minister that gets into the pastor’s position, this is really sad. God’s faithful churches have to abandon and do a total restart (church plant) from nothing every 10 years? That is not a good trend in Christianity.

Maturity – the quality of overlooking ones needs to serve others

The formula is very simple here if you care to see it before your eyes. A leader needs to forget about his own life and needs and put himself to the life-consuming task of serving others. (Quickly I add, while he should forget about his own money situation, the church he serves should protect his economic situation so that he is well taken care of.)

A leader is somebody that is a professional in taking care of others. He expends his own life, time, and energies in doing the work of God in that church, in all aspects of what a church is and should be, and he is happy and content doing so. He is not “bothered” by people or their problems. He is both at once, detached personally from people’s problems (these problems do not upset his own life) and at the same time he is compassionate and passionate. He sympathizes with the people, and he does what can be done from a church standpoint for them.

Any candidate committee with a head on their shoulders will not take promises here. They will want to see a track record of this very thing in the pastoral candidate’s life, and they would want to see dedication and commitment as well as excellence in what he has done “before”, already established in his past ministry and life.

A profile of a false prophet is very keen here. A false prophet is in it to get what he can from the position. The first thing he is going for is the money. When a pastoral candidate first wants to know how much do you pay, or that is a keen point of contention before committing, better to pass that one over. Likewise when a pastor has his eye peeled to the financial affairs of the church, always wanting to “keep his finger on the pulse of the money flow”, that is a bad sign. I was in a church once where the pastor had the counting committee to count the offering immediately after taking it, and then during his sermon, one of the counters would write the amount of the offering on a piece of paper and put it on the pulpit for him to see during his sermon. That kind of show and great concern during the discussion of finances is usually misplaced. It reveals only bad things about the pastor.

Secondly, a false prophet wants power and control. One brother from another church asked me one time about purchasing a car. He was in that process, and according to his pastor, he had to get approval before he made the purchase, and as a business owner, he was looking at a brand new car, and the pastor commented that he had to pay a tithe on whatever it cost. (Great idea pastors! Teach a tithe coming in and going out! Really extra-biblical!) But the extent to which soul liberty and the priesthood of the believers is totally trashed today by these false prophets is amazing. On the very negative side here, I have seen false prophets regularly take advantage of their people, getting teens pregnant, and also micro-managing inside other couples marriages. This just gets cultic really fast. Teaching God’s principles is one thing, but making actual decisions about divorce or staying together for the couple like they are children is going too far.

Thirdly, a false prophet wants fame and glory. So often these people have “eye” trouble, but spelled “I”. They must glorify their own selves, or their own work (their local church). It has been amazing to me to go into very few churches to visit, and most of the service was over before I could ever pick out who the pastor was. Since he wasn’t preaching that night, he sat in the audience with his wife, and “enjoyed the service.”   But the self-adulation of some ministers is really amazing, a cheap thing in the ministry.

Spirituality – the quality of seeking the spiritual

I think the problem mostly is that we get into puffing up one another and our own selves, and we “miss the boat.” Being spiritual is all about being occupied with the things that God is occupied with. What is important and a priority to God, that is what is important and a priority for us. I see this play out so clearly with Jesus in his ministry. The disciples were worried about earthly fame and glory, Jesus with doing the Father’s will. The disciples were worried about economics, specifically Judas getting rich for himself. Jesus used finances, but focused on ministry and fulfilling his life’s goal, the salvation of men’s souls, and glorifying God.

A spiritual person is one who cannot see life or will not allow himself to see life except through God’s eyes. This is important in church leadership, yet it is so neglected. “We” (those typical earthly ministers) worry about a building, salaries, ministry position in the community, gaining acceptance and not offending people, etc. Jesus was not worried about these things. He met in the open with no A/C, no heat. He lived simply. God provided as life marched on. Jesus spoke the truth as God wanted men to hear it. This truth offended those who did wrong and rang true to those who were true followers of God. Jesus’ frankness drove his opposition and enemies crazy to the point of killing him. Jesus kept on unmoved by opposition even when it came to threaten his life. The opposition plotted and did kill Jesus. Jesus won the victory by allowing even this to start a great movement. He lost himself and his own welfare in doing the will of God.

This is the kind of spiritual leaders we need. People who are not worried about what damage doing God’s will, will cause them personally, but they are committed to doing that will of God.

“Reproducing culture”

In the literature I read on this topic, many spoke of wanting to reproduce culture. I don’t get it. We do not reproduce the world’s culture, but we walk in stark contrast to it. We should reprove the world and its culture, and impose God’s culture instead.

These comments came after reading this article: No church planting Family alone

Top Issues Church Planters Face #1

In this post, I am commenting on several websites on church planting that I have seen.

http://www.christianitytoday.com

This article lists the following issues:

  1. Lack of Experience.
  2. Feeling the Need for Speed (Volunteers)
  3. No Core Leaders
  4. Feeling the Need for Speed (Paid Staff)
  5. Need for Resources
  6. Realities of Reproduction

While the lack of experience is a problem, those who have been in local churches all their lives will have a lot of background that counts in this. I cannot emphasize the importance of being in a good church, under a good man of God. This is essential for every Christian, and being under mediocre men will not cut it.

But I kind of laugh at this one, though. It is as if there are golden skills that a “real church planter” has that will take him sailing easily through the process. That is a crock. Really, truthfully, I have been in church planting all my life just about and pastoring these churches, and nobody knows what you will face. Being a good Christian, a humble man of God is about the only real essential here. What pastors face often cannot be foreseen, and you just have to react to it the best you can, saturating it with prayer, and the fact of the matter is, you, like the majority of pastors out there, will get it wrong, once and again. Don’t sweat it. Learn, change, prevent, build up against future problems of that same nature.

2. Feeling the need for Speed Volunteers

“Church planting can be lonely and messy.” Really? It would seem to me as I visit hundreds of churches in the US for missionary support that pastoring anywhere under any condition is lonely and messy! If you need a fuzzy, warm, emotional support to keep going, you should get out of the ministry altogether. People will grind you up and chew you up, and spit you out if you let them.

You have to have rhino hide to make it in the ministry. Church planting is no different. Most pastors have the situation where they cannot really get emotionally attached to anybody in their ministry (have a real friend) because it would be favoritism. They cannot form strong friendships with other pastors either because “they are the competition”. Rarely pastors will have a pastor friend that they feel confident enough to confide in. With pastor’s wives, it is 100 times worse.

The point in the article is that there is an automatic reception of anybody that offers to work. This is true. So many times we have asked people or they have asked us to work in some ministry in the church only to see their unfaithfulness unraveled before our eyes. I preached Sunday School as well as the other services, and so I offered the men in the church a chance to take a Sunday School class, any topic they desired. I made a schedule and gave one man a Sunday about 4 months off so he can get prepared. The morning he was to give his class, when I was getting ready to open in prayer he comes up to me and says, “Pastor, I didn’t have time to get anything together, so I cannot give the class.” Did I give him more opportunities in the future? Yes. Why? God gives me the people we have, and I have to make lemonade with these lemons somehow. I wish I had Bible scholars, faithful men and women, but they just are not that. What they are is sinners, saved by grace. It is my duty to help make them into something else. That is our function here as a church ministry, to equip the saints, so don’t cry over people that are the rawest of material, work with them to make them what they should be.

3. No Core Leaders

I would differ here with this article. The problem is not JUST WITH NO CORE LEADERS, it is will bad leaders. Over the years we have been replete and overflowing with johnny come lately leaders that would take over the work from me. At one point, a man who had come into our fellowship only that same year wanted us to make elders, with this guy and myself as the only elders. We had about 14 men preaching and teaching and helping with the administration of the church. I said, “well, okay, I have been pastoring and planting churches for 20 years, but why are you included?” Various times with different people the same has happened. People are jumping at the bits to take over the work from me, “and do it right,” or “pick it up off the floor”, etc.

My answer to all of these people is the same. I started this church from nothing, and built it up by my own energies and efforts. If you want to take over something, pick any of a million other places around and start a church plant. Don’t take over somebody already doing the job!

Leadership is totally misunderstood though in modern society. What people think a leader is is that a person gives orders to everybody else. That is not leadership.

True biblical leadership is being an example of Christ in your own life. This example is placed so that others can see it, copy it in their own lives, and enter into the godly walk the leader has. The Bible presents church leaders as “pastors” (shepherds), and this is the opposite of cowboys and wranglers. Pastors build relationships with their sheep, and when they move, the pastor walks out in front of them (leads) and the sheep follow. Wranglers use whips and cattle prods and push from behind. The difference is very important to keep in mind in church work.

See my tract ch51 Cowboys versus Shepherds

4. Feeling the Need for Speed (paid staff)

Okay, I can fully understand their point here. It is bad to hire friends, church people who need jobs, family, etc. That is exactly true. But the counterpoint to this is that many times it is cruel and unfeeling to those sheep under your charge to pass over them for somebody outside when they can also do the job. Being a pastor is about feeling the needs, pains, and struggles of your sheep. Compassion is why pastors do this more than ignorance or lack of experience.

5. Need for Resources

Resources are always a problem it seems. It is interesting that the article puts a typical church plant with 40 people at the end of a year. 85 is when a pastor needs a second full-time staff member. I would basically agree with these numbers.

Many churches are at 40 5 to 10 years into their existence though, so while it is possible, there are a lot of ups and downs in church work that are not so easily explained nor predicted.

I think that there is another factor here also. That is a really good, active second staff member versus a lazy one. Equally, the energy level of the church planter pastor is in view here. Those that are active and constantly evangelizing will have less problem with finances and resources than one that wants others to do their work for them.

This is an issue of two working together to do double the work, or one seeing the other as a way of getting out of work.

6. Realities of Reproduction

I don’t follow the reasoning of having to plant a second church in three years of their existence. Frankly, churches need to establish their own base before they go out. Yes, they can support missionaries and other church plants during these formative years, but to force this requirement on them seems artificial and unnecessary in my experience.

Reproduction has a lot of elements in it, and wherewithal is the most important. Forcing that without reason or means is not wise.