One of the permanent axioms that has been chanted over and over again throughout the last 20 years of my ministerial experience has been the ever present battle cry that there is a constant shortage of pastors. That somehow God has more churches than He does men to pastor those churches. Without sounding calloused, and uncaring, I must say I have to disagree with that assessment, at least to a certain degree. I do not believe that there is a shortage of pastors, as much as I believe that there is a surplus of dead churches. Because a group of religious people meet each week for preaching, singing, teaching, and sleeping, doesn’t mean that they are a viable assembly of the Lord. Because they are straight down the line on correct Bible doctrine, and hold their hand over their heart during the Baptist National Anthem of Amazing Grace, doesn’t mean that they are a living breathing New Testament patterned church of the Lord Jesus. As one preacher of yesteryear used to say, “You can be straight as a gunbarrel and just as empty.”
Now I firmly believe that Correct Doctrine, without the Power of the Spirit, is like a bullet without gun powder. I also believe that being “Spiritual” without correct doctrine is gunpowder without a bullet. Obviously both are needed for there to be a healthy, vibrant, church. I will readily admit that what gets passed off as “church” today is really nothing more than religious social gatherings of entertainment, and positive reinforcement. (Of which, I’m not against positive reinforcement, or being entertained by Christians, that just doesn’t rise to the level of the Biblical church.)
All of that being said, I must agree with the writer of a recent article, concerning some trends within the Southern Baptist Convention. Now I am not in the Southern Baptist Convention, and do not desire to be. I am a Christian by new birth, a Baptist by belief, and a Missionary Baptist by Conviction. However the trends that are showing up in the SBC are also happening within my associated group, and I am sure in others as well. While the fashionable language changes from one group to the other, the principle issues still remain, and that is the issue of starting churches/ doing mission work, in the back yard of other churches of general like faith and order.
Southern Baptist, Bart Barber addresses this issue within the Convention on his blog. (http://praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com/2010/11/bloated-baptist-bureaucracy-we-could-do.html) The fact remains that his premise (of planting churches where there are already ample churches) is not limited to the Southern Baptist Convention. Sometimes, I wonder in our group, if we are more interested in promoting the American Baptist Association than we are the expanding the Kingdom of God.
A little over 4 years ago, our church began praying about “duplicating” ourselves. We prayed about calling a man to be our missionary, to some place in this world, and begin another New Testament work. When it came to choosing where, the criteria was very simple. It had to be a place that was void of the gospel as we preach it, and with little or no Baptist witness. It had to be an area of overwhelming lostness, even if there were “other churches” there. We praise God that we found the man the Lord would have for us, and we found the place the Lord would send him. Most of all, I was thankful that he was willing to go, and praise God his ministry there is already being blessed. (Been on the field for 4 months.)
Where he is at, is a city that is full of Catholics, Lutherans, Mormans, and a few Oprah Baptists. (The kind that believe there are multiple ways to God.) In a city of over a million people, through the research we’ve done, there may be five congregations that preach the true gospel, all physically separated by multiple burbs, and suburbs. There is plenty of room to not get into someone elses field of labor. Someone is going to say as they always do, “Do you not believe Catholics are saved?” Of course there are some saved Catholics, BUT, they didn’t get saved believing what Catholocism teaches, and the same for most all of the other congregations.
Far too many times in our work, we look for the absence of an associational sign to be the flashing light identifying a mission field. Or worse yet, we recognize that there are churches that preach a the true gospel, but aren’t seeing a lot of results, and we think that because of that, they have forefeited their field of labor and we decide to start a new church next door, rather than helping work the one that has already been there. I think this is one of the mentalities that leads to too many dead churches. Rather, than building them up, we concede their failure, and decide to start all over. Granted it seems much easier to build than to rebuild, and in some cases it need be so. However the wake of that as a unilateral mentality is a landscape covered with shells of what used to be, personal kingdoms, individual powerhouses, and associational sign posts. Too many times, what we are calling mission work, or church planting, is merely a patronization of the Great Commission. Planting churches, on top of other churches, on top of other churches, dividing, conquering other congregations, and reshuffling the deck of church goers, in church friendly fields, and an “already there” gospel totin’ culture, does nothing more than satisfy our own sense of duty. It enables us to go without going.
The fact is that churches in the New Testament were built by conversion. They grew through the conversion of the lost, not moving around of the saved. I am tickled to death everytime another believer joins our church. But that’s not our work. Our work is to get the gospel to the people who are not saved, in places that the gospel is not already preached.
“Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation:” No one should have the right to hear the gospel twice, before everyone has had a chance to hear it at least once. – (an old faith promise saying) If every man in the ministry would adopt the same attitude of the Apostle Paul mentioned here, there would be no shortage of pastors/ missionaries/ preachers/ leaders. There would be enough to go around to every where the gospel needed to be preached. What a difference that would make, and much needed change worth making.