Friday, August 24, 2012

The Customer is Sovereign

User Friendly Church



At the heart of the market-driven, user-friendly church is the goal of giving people what they want. Advocates of the philosophy are quite candid about this. I noted in Chapter 1 that consumer satisfaction is the stated goal of the new philosophy. One key resource on market-driven ministry says, “This is what marketing the church is all about: providing our product (relationships) as a solution to people’s felt need.”

“Felt needs” thus determine the road map for the modern church marketing plan. The idea is a basic selling principle: you satisfy an existing desire rather than trying to persuade people to buy something they don’t want.

Accurately assessing people’s felt needs is therefore one of the keys to modern church-growth theory. Church leaders are advised to poll potential “customers” and find out what they are looking for in a church—then offer that. Demographic information, community surveys, door-to-door polls, and congregational questionnaires are the new tools. Information drawn from such sources is considered essential to building a workable marketing plan. Ministers today are told they cannot reach people effectively without it.

Worst of all, it seems people’s emotional “felt needs” are taken more seriously than the real but unfelt spiritual deficiencies Scripture addresses. “Felt needs” include issues like loneliness, fear of failure, “codependency,” a poor self-image, depression, anger, resentment, and similar inward-focused inadequacies. Some of these are real, and some are fabricated by the psychological sales pitch. These problems, we are told, are behind drug addiction, sex addiction, and several dozen other syndromes. The real problem—the root of all such troubles—is human depravity, an issue that is carefully skirted (though seldom overtly denied) in the teaching of the typical user-friendly church.

No longer are pastors trained to declare to people what God demands of them. Instead, they are counseled to find out what the people’s demands are, then do whatever is necessary to meet them. The audience is regarded as “sovereign,” and the wise preacher will “shape his communications according to their needs in order to receive the response he [seeks].”

The effect of such a philosophy is apparent; more and more people-pleasers fill the pulpits of our churches. Moreover, Scripture is overruled by the marketing plan as the authoritative guide for ministry. One textbook on church marketing includes this statement: “The marketing plan is the Bible of the marketing game; everything that happens in the life of the product occurs because the plan wills it.”6 Applied to church ministry, that means a human strategy—not the Word of God—becomes the fountain of all church activity, and the standard by which ministry is measured.

That approach to ministry is so obviously convoluted and so grossly unbiblical that I am amazed so many pastors are influenced by it. But it has become an extremely influential philosophy. Thousands of churches have overhauled their entire ministry and are now attempting to cater to the masses.

In fact, the user-friendly-church movement has become so large that many secular newspapers have begun to take note of the trend. One article in the Los Angeles Times described how a megachurch grew out of a door-to-door survey conducted for a “marketing study” when this church was not yet formed. “Customer Poll Shapes a Church” was the title of the article—and it is fitting. The story described how the pastor “tailored the church’s program to the needs and gripes people registered in his door-to-door survey.” Of course, the article said, his messages are brief, low-key, upbeat, and topical, with titles like “The Changing American Dream.” He spices his sermonettes with quotations from news and financial magazines.

Another Southern California newspaper ran an article entitled, “Marketing the Maker.” It describes several local churches that have employed the market-driven philosophy—and seem to be booming. One church “bought time on classic rock stations for an ad that sounded more like a pitch for a social club than an invitation to join a church. And newspaper ads were placed in the entertainment section, not the religion section.”

There is nothing wrong, of course, with a church placing ads in the entertainment section. But it is wrong for a church to promise—and deliver—a “church service” that is merely a form of entertainment. And that is precisely what many of these churches are doing. “A celebration—not a service” is how this particular church promotes its meetings, held, appropriately, in a movie theater.

One “church” has taken the concept to its logical conclusion—“a church service created for the medium of television. Our sanctuary has no pews … our sanctuary is [the] viewers’ television set.” Created by the founder of the Home Shopping Network, “Worship” is a 24-hour “non-stop Christian church service.” How can a “church” like that offer meaningful fellowship? you ask. The founders of “Worship” feel they have that covered. “At Worship, fellowship is a significant part of each service, but this, too, is handled in a unique way through modern tools of communication.… Worship employs the latest technology in digital telephone equipment to enable viewers from around the country to quickly connect to a Fellowship partner.”

And so the “customer” achieves ultimate sovereignty. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he can simply turn off the set. If he doesn’t enjoy the “fellowship,” he can hang up the phone.

MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Ashamed of the gospel: When the Church becomes like the world (48–51). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pray For Us

"Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you." 2 Thessalonians 3:1

Paul frequently enlisted prayer support from the churches for his ministry.

Cross Reference to verses...

Romans 15:30-32 (NASB)
"Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company."

Ephesians 6:18,19 (ESV)
"praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel."

Colossians 4:2,3 (NASB)
"Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned."

1 Thessalonians 5:25 (ESV)
"Brothers, pray for us."

Philemon 1:22 (NASB)
"At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you."

In particular, he asked them to pray that the word of God would continue to spread rapidly as it had been already and be received with the honor it deserved.

cross reference

Acts 6:7 (ESV)

"The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith."

Acts 12:24 (NASB)
"But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied."

Acts 13:44-49 (ESV)

"The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 

For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.’”

The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (2 Th 3:1). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.

NASB (New American Standard Bible) :

ESV (English Standard Version) :

Friday, August 17, 2012

Toward a Biblical Philosophy of Ministry

by John MacArthur

How does market-driven ministry compare with the biblical model? How would Timothy have fared under Paul’s tutelage if he had followed the advice of twentieth-century marketers?

We have a thorough answer to that question from the two epistles Paul wrote Timothy in the New Testament. Paul had personally mentored the young pastor, but Timothy encountered severe trials when he was assigned the task of leading the church at Ephesus out of sin and error. He struggled with fear and human weakness.

He was evidently tempted to soften his preaching in the face of persecution. At times he seemed ashamed of the gospel. Paul had to remind him to stand up for the faith with boldness, even if it meant suffering: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8). The two rich epistles from Paul to Timothy outline a ministry philosophy that challenges the prevailing wisdom of today.

Paul instructed Timothy that he must:

    •      Correct those teaching false doctrine and call them to a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:3–5).

    •      Fight for divine truth and for God’s purposes, keeping his own faith and a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:18, 19).

    •      Pray for the lost and lead the men of the church to do the same (1 Timothy 2:1–8).

    •      Call women in the church to fulfill their God-given role of submission and to raise up godly children, setting an example of faith, love, and sanctity with self-restraint (1 Timothy 2:9–15).

    •      Carefully select spiritual leaders for the church on the basis of their giftedness, godliness, and virtue (1 Timothy 3:1–13).

    •      Recognize the source of error and those who teach it, and point these things out to the rest of the church (1 Timothy 4:1–6).

    •      Constantly be nourished on the words of Scripture and its sound teaching, avoiding all myths and false doctrines (1 Timothy 4:6).

    •      Discipline himself for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7–11).

    •      Boldly command and teach the truth of God’s Word (1 Timothy 4:12).

    •      Be a model of spiritual virtue that all can follow (1 Timothy 4:12).

    •      Faithfully read, explain, and apply the Scriptures publicly (1 Timothy 4:13, 14).

    •      Be progressing toward Christlikeness in his own life (1 Timothy 4:15, 16).

    •      Be gracious and gentle in confronting the sin of his people (1 Timothy 5:1, 2).

    •      Give special consideration and care to those who are widows (1 Timothy 5:3–16).

    •      Honor faithful church leaders who work hard (1 Timothy 5:17–21).

    •      Choose church leaders with great care, seeing to it that they are both mature and proven (1 Timothy 5:22).

    •      Take care of his physical condition so he is strong to serve (1 Timothy 5:23).

    •      Teach and preach principles of true godliness, helping his people discern between true godliness and mere hypocrisy (1 Timothy 5:24–6:6).

    •      Flee the love of money (1 Timothy 6:7–11).

    •      Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).

    •      Fight for the faith against all enemies and all attacks (1 Timothy 6:12).

    •      Keep all the Lord’s commandments (1 Timothy 6:13–16).

    •      Instruct the rich to do good, to be rich in good works, and to be generous (1 Timothy 6:17–19).

    •      Guard the Word of God as a sacred trust and a treasure (1 Timothy 6:20, 21).

In his second epistle, Paul reminded Timothy to:

    •      Keep the gift of God in him fresh and useful (2 Timothy 1:6).

    •      Not be timid but powerful (2 Timothy 1:7).

    •      Never be ashamed of Christ or anyone who serves Christ (2 Timothy 1:8-11).

    •      Hold tightly to the truth and guard it (2 Timothy 1:12–14).

    •      Be strong in character (2 Timothy 2:1).

    •      Be a teacher of apostolic truth so that he may reproduce himself in faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2).

    •      Suffer difficulty and persecution willingly while making the maximum effort for Christ (2 Timothy 2:3–7).

    •      Keep his eyes on Christ at all times (2 Timothy 2:8–13).

    •      Lead with authority (2 Timothy 2:14).

    •      Interpret and apply Scripture accurately (2 Timothy 2:15).

    •      Avoid useless conversation that leads only to ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16).

    •      Be an instrument of honor, set apart from sin and useful to the Lord (2 Timothy 2:20, 21).

    •      Flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, and love (2 Timothy 2:22).

    •      Refuse to be drawn into philosophical and theological wrangling (2 Timothy 2:23).

    •      Not be an arguer but kind, teachable, gentle, and patient even when he is wronged (2 Timothy 2:24–26).

    •      Face dangerous times with a deep knowledge of the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:1–15).

    •      Understand that Scripture is the basis and content of all legitimate ministry (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

    •      Preach the Word—in season and out of season—reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with great patience and instruction (2 Timothy 4:1, 2).

    •      Be sober in all things (2 Timothy 4:5).

    •      Endure hardship (2 Timothy 4:5).

    •      Do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).

Nothing in that list hints at a market-driven philosophy. In fact, most of those commands are impossible to harmonize with the theories that are so popular today. To sum it all up in five categories, Paul commanded Timothy: 1) to be faithful in his preaching of biblical truth; 2) to be bold in exposing and refuting error; 3) to be an example of godliness to the flock; 4) to be diligent and work hard in the ministry; and 5) to be willing to suffer hardship and persecution in his service for the Lord.

MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Ashamed of the gospel: When the Church becomes like the world (24–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.