Things that ruin a Church: Events that Decay pt 1

Following the previous post of qualities in the church that ruin it, in this post I will look at events that ruin a church. Let’s broaden this to both events that happen that hurt the church as well as events that should happen and don’t. I think of the passage in Ezekiel 34:2-4 that speaks to the shepherds of Israel, where God rebukes the shepherds for scattering the sheep. There are ministers that draw the sheep into them by love and care, and there are ministers that scatter the sheep to the winds by startling them with brute actions. See my Tract Ch51 Cowboys or Pastors?

Tract: Church14 Finding a Good Church

Erring Leadship versus Biblical Leadership

I think the leadership style can sometimes “ruin a church”. By this I mean that the leadership of a church has it all wrong and desires and thinks the wrong way, and causes problems for the church. First of all, the correct motive or objective that the leadership should be focusing on is service to God, and then service the congregation.

Unhealthy churches are not Christ-centric

A healthy church focuses on Christ. This means that he is the center of things, but at the same time, it means that the church is a means or instrument by which Christ is implanted into the members. When a church leadership sees things differently, then they are ruined. A good church has leadership that studies and adores the person of Christ. They worship Christ by implanting Christ’s character and example in their own life and ministry. The church is evidence of this dedication. These leaders talk about Christ instead of talking about their own selves (be it good or bad experiences about themselves). They lose their own self in their focus and following of Christ.

Typically unhealthy and poor leadership in a church is proud, self-glorying, and always manages to turn the conversations to themselves some how. They talk about their experiences, their own accomplishments without crediting God for any part of it, or they tack on a “thanks to God” here and there, but the focus is to glory in themselves.

In general, a healthy good church is built around God’s calling and mission (His work), and it is not built around personalities. Charismatic people (the character quality, not being Pentecostal) are often more a detriment that an asset here. When that person is taken out of the local church, what happens? This is the worry of every good pastor, and he voluntarily steps down from leading everything, and wants other of his men to lead things to try to blunt this dependency on the pastor’s personality. Pastor goes on vacation and the men of the church take over the services. Does attendance fall? It shouldn’t. The focus is not on Christ, because Christ should still be there on Sunday.

The Erroneous Profit Motive

1Pet 5:2Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 

Simply put, there are ministries out there which have one purpose, that is to get the wool from the sheep. They see the church as a commodity through which they make money.

2Pet 2:3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. 

I think that a church is ruined when money becomes more important that the life of the membership. Every church needs some money to function, but only good churches put their priorities in order, first people, then finances. The worry about money matters for those ruined churches is most obviously seen by micro-charging their members for every little thing. The sell of things also is very obviously a mark of a ruined church. Among Pentecostal churches, they teach that everybody has a “talent”, and the women’s talent should be cooking, and therefore they have a meal after the service, and the women of the church bring food they cook for this, and they charge for it. This is the kind of thing that rings a ruined church’s bell. Every church, and every member of that church, should take their financial responsibilities seriously, but they should not lower themselves to this level of selling all kinds of things to make ends meet. Simply put God’s people see a need, they should give of a free heart, without the encumberment of “selling” and “buying” something. The commercialization of religion is a very nasty way to ruin a church.

See Tract: ch44 Why we don’t charge for Ministry

The Fame Motive

 The leadership of a ruined church sometimes centers the entire ministry on the fame of the leader in charge. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral church is an example for me. Why would anybody build something like that place? Because of their own ego. Interesting that Schuller has lost it, and the Catholic church has purchased it. For many churches, the church is the pastor’s own private play toy. He builds it up to soothe his own ego. The church accomplishments are not Christ doing God’s work, but what the pastor has personally accomplished using the people in the church. This ruins the church as far as God is concerned.

The Control Motive

This kind of leader is really a cult. There are many churches that are ruined because the pastor has decided that to pastor a church means that he is dictator and he needs to control the people’s lives completely as possible. When a pastor becomes haughty and arrogant, and does not humbly wash the members feet (do menial humble service), nor can he because he is too good for that, then the church is ruined.

Churches which are overly possessive of their people, controling and manipulating them in unbiblical ways, are churches that are experts at causing and yielding fear in the minds of their followers. What is the general appeal for things in the church? Because you love Jesus or because you fear the wrath of God?

To be truthful, a good church should exercise control over its affairs, and impose a biblical order and “peace” (no confusion) over itself and its activities. This is not the same thing as a misguided control motive. The church’s desire for control is legitimate when it is doing so to impose a scriptural principle on things. In 1Cor 14, Paul imposes the control of only one person speaking at a time, 3 or 4 at most in a single service (for preaching/teaching), and never women preaching, teaching, or leading in anything with men present. This imposition or control is biblical. It is for ordering the church service after the principles of God.

Unhealthy and bad churches leaning towards being a cult, or being full fledged a cult will want much more than order in their services. They want to make your personal decisions for you. They will tell you how much you are to give and sacrifice “for God’s work” (i.e. them). This is self-serving, and this is always to be questioned. Since they do not know the particular details of your financial life, they cannot be so specific about knowing God’s will either.

The bottom line, this evil mark of bad churches is directly attacked by the concept of “soul liberty”, which states that God has not placed gurus or spiritual fathers over us which will have total control over our lives. Biblical leaders are pastors, and the “LEAD”. Leading means going before by personal example of the leaders. Others desire this, love their leader, and “FOLLOW”. This speaks of a voluntary thing which is not pressured and pushed. Cowboys are leaders which don’t lead at all. They push, prode, poke, and in general force the cattle against their will to go where they want them to go. The cruelty of their methods speaks to the fact that they are cowboys. The gentleness of a pastor speaks to the fact of being a true leader.

Head exchanges

The event of a change of pastoral leadership (one pastor leaves, church seeks a replace, and another comes) causes the ruin of a church. I hate to admit it, but I have seen many a church lose so much from a change of pastors. The problem is that way too much “spiritual gyroscope” or bearings was anchored in the pastor, and the people never learned anything about discernment nor false prophets, nor what is the mission, purpose, method, etc. of the church and their ministry. Take their spiritual compass away, and they go off in any direction because the people are generally either totally clueless or just down crazy extremely wrong!

For a church to transition through the leaving of one pastor and the entrance and first 3-5 years of the next pastor without changing their general doctrines, practices, nor spiritual direction and ministry is a miracle from God. Note that any time a new pastor comes into a church, it takes from 7 years to a decade (10 years) before the people really understand his leadership, methods, desires, dislikes, etc. During this “learning time”, many problems pop up, and depending on how he handles them, and how the people react, the church can be in jeopardy of “being ruined”.

Stale Leadership

Within every church, there needs to be some kind of rotation of people among the positions of the church. We would exclude the pastor here because there is no reason why a pastor should rotate out of a church. This always happens because of problems, not because of good. If a good pastor feels God is calling him out of one church and into another, most probably it is because he feels he is not accomplishing what God wants of him there. Maybe he will not publicly say that to not hurt feelings, but that is the bottom line.

Within the board of deacons, a board of directors, or elder council, many times people get into these positions for life it seems, and this becomes a cause of staleness within the church. My concept of staleness is that the leadership is not working very well, people are alienated, needs are not met, and problems exist but are not resolved, and not even dealt with openly. The effectiveness of the ministry is what is destroyed. Yes they have church, but no they are not “doing it well”.

Good ole Boy Politics

God has given us a specific format or procedures through which we are to do ministry. The Good ole boy politics is a system of church government (in general in Christianity) whereby these specific procedures are side-tracked, and acceptance and approval or condemnation comes only because of one’s personal relationship with an individual. Better know in the Bible by being a respecter of persons. In other words, what that person can do for me, or that person’s personal loyalty to me as a leader is more important than their spiritual qualifications.

This is seen by leadership installing friends and family into key positions instead of looking for the best candidate. Sometimes the best candidate is a friend or family member, but rarely that is so. The actual ministering of the individual is usually fraught with problems and weaknesses because the person isn’t spiritually qualified for the job, and he/she doesn’t have the capabilities or talents to do the job well.

The key problem with this is that the leadership is installing a yes-man population in the key positions of the church so that they will have people submissive to them. Anybody that isn’t on the good side of the pastor doesn’t seem to be allowed into key speaking and preaching positions, nor positions of authority or privilege. This is a nasty system that ruins the testimony of those at the top.

Missing your Purpose: Soulwinning

It is amazing to me to see just how many churches have somehow developed a line of thinking wherein evangelism is left out of the picture of what they are and what they do. When there are not evangelism activities, when there is not an emphasis on presenting the gospel in and out of the church, then the church is ruined.

When a churches financial budget is mostly for creature comforts of its own people, then evangelism is eclipsed. This church is ruined.

Misunderstanding the centrality and power of Prayer

Another thing that is beyond me, is how some churches have left prayer out of the central functioning of the ministry where they are. They are cold, lifeless, and see things in a particularly humanistic way. Calvinism in general ruins every church that it gets a foothold in. This is because Calvinism (their doctrines cannot do otherwise) teach that things are so fixed by God that nothing we ever do can change anything in eternity in any iota. What that produces is spiritual apathy towards evangelism, missions, and prayer. Those who toot the Calvinistic horn saying that all the great revivals were embedded in great Calvinistic preachers fail to point out that these great revivals were never founded on men teaching Calvinism, but on the truths of Scripture, offering salvation to everybody (a thing most dedicated Calvinists would say is fruitless and silly).

When a church leaves prayer to a mere formality (for whatever reason), the church is ruined. For a biblical church to function, it has to get two principles down, and get them down well, and practice them extensively. The first is that God changes people and things by the preaching of Scripture. The second is that God changes things, changes people that are impossible by prayer. Prayer has a view as to who is doing it and what is their relationship with God. This prayer is seen by souls saved, people’s lives changed, people who repent and change and live righteousness. When that is happening, the church is good. Note, just because somebody proclaims a miracle, that doesn’t mean the church isn’t ruined. Miracles of healing and other miracles as some churches are fond of producing and glorying in them are often faked. The presence of God’s Holy Spirit is holiness, a leaving off of sin, nothing else is always true.

When prayer is an afterthought, a burden, not a joy, then there are serious problems. The church is ruined when prayer is not a regular and essential element of everything done.

A Lack of Respect and Honor of the Authority of Scripture

When we speak of “Church”, we are talking about the structure and concept that God has created for God’s own purposes. This institution and divine creation was made by God in order to protect, guide, and benefit those redeemed between their salvation and their removal from this world. Above we spoke about a church being ruined if it doesn’t understand and practice soul-winning. Here the same is true if it doesn’t understand and practice this honor of God’s Word.

This is done by the church organizing internally and externally all things around what God says in His word the Bible. Many churches are ruined because they lightly esteem Scripture. This is seen because they introduce things that are starkly different from the way Scripture presents things. For example, Scripture presents God’s church as a solemn, reverent place where God’s people worship God for who God is. God is worthy of our respect and honor of Him. Many ruined churches will make the church look and sound like a bar or dance hall. The music, the environment, the people, the elements of praise services all ruin the church because they are not respectful of God, but scandalize him treating his memory as belonging in a disco bar. They make the central focus of the service, especially the praise service something that pleases men, and not God. God is very particular about what pleases him and what does not. Scandal does not please God. Identification with wickedness and ungodliness doesn’t please God. When we do this in our life, God is angry at us. When we drag that filth into God’s place of worship, God is very angry.

Many churches have been ruined because they no longer seek to follow Scriptures but forge out on their own, with their own understanding of things. They make unholy alliances with ungodly religious men and institutions. This ruins a church.

Pragmatism (what works) often ruins a church. This is because we are driven to achieve external, earthly results, passing over the point of obedience is before results. So many churches use worldly music because it draws people. They use praise services fine-tuned to the carnal in people (they would pass for disco club performances). All of this ignores what God has said about things. Spiritual people who want to know God’s word and obey it should be the center focus of the church, not what appeals to carnal people on the level of their fleshly desires.

Another way to ruin the church is to take the obvious in the Bible and twist it into being wrong and doing something else. The NT teaches that God has given the church pastors-teachers which spiritually feed the congregation, governing it. To decide that pastors are not biblical is simply to overthrow what the Bible says. To dream up some other system just makes things worse. The point is that there were elders in the NT churches, and the pastor was the head of them. These churches were very focused on the congregation understanding and deciding in unison. We do not have the actual name of any NT pastor. We presume that James was the pastor of the church of Jerusalem, but the Bible doesn’t say that. So what happens is that even though they were central to the church, they were not central in their person shining over everything. Churches functioned without them being center stage always. This speaks to their humility in the development of their ministry. Anything other ruins the church.

We can consider the “angel-worship” Paul warns of in Colossians as worshipping the messenger from God to the church. When people worship the man, the church is ruined.

A church is ruined when it stops believing in and seeking after sound doctrine.

2Tim 2:14 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. 

Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is to make sure his work (church) is sound. When the topic of discussion is controversial without resolution with a conclusion as to what the Bible clearly says about it, then the topic is off and damaging to the church. If this is common in the church, then the church is ruined. What a pastor or preacher chooses to speak about often can clue you in as to if the church is ruined or not. Worthless arguing is worthless. It should not be happening on a regular basis in the church. Equally true a good church knows what is a biblical priority and what is a peripheral issue, and they dedicate their time and resources on priority issues, not on worthless peripheral issues.

2Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2Tim 2:16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. 

A church that focuses time and energy in profane and vain (no spiritual value) babblings is ruined.

See Tract Church39: What we should and shouldn’t preach

Part 2 tomorrow

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Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.