Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Random thoughts about the church growth movement (Part 4)

Finally, I was also discouraged after reading this magazine of the church growth movement because, deep down, I knew I could never meet the leadership standards of the church growth experts. Let me explain.

I’m a product of the traditional Black Church. Everything about this magazine screamed white, suburban, upper-middle class, American. As I wrote earlier, I came away feeling, this is not for the Black community, not at all. In all honesty, I can’t relate to the values of the church growth movement. These “values” are foreign to me and to the church-going Black community in which I was raised.

But, this magazine touched an even deeper nerve with me. You see, almost eighteen years ago, with fear and trembling, I answered what I then felt (and still feel) was God’s call to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I said “Yes!” to God, not because I felt spiritually worthy or academically qualified or theologically knowledgeable. Rather, I said “Yes!” to God because I saw that people without Christ were lost, and many of them were in the church. I said “Yes!” because I saw people in the Black community perishing because of a lack of knowledge of God and His Word. I said “Yes!” because I felt God had called me to go wherever He sent me, to such as these, and “Preach!” That was a Saturday night, and I was in my bedroom, alone with God. I was 25 years old and single at the time, living at home with my great-grandfather (who died about four months later).

The next morning, Sunday, I told my great-grandfather what had happened. When I got to church later that morning, I told my pastor what I felt God had told me to do. I wasn’t subjected by my church to a spiritual gift assessment or required to take a personality test. I wasn’t required to enroll in an approved seminary. The pastor simply made an announcement to the church and a date was set for me to preach my first sermon, in order to demonstrate if I, indeed, had “the gift”.

Although I’d never studied homiletics, exegesis, hermeneutics, or anything like that, I set about preparing a message to preach. I prepared with prayer. I obtained my text and subject by prayer (Luke 19:11-27, “Will You Be Ready When Jesus Comes?”). I studied my King James Version Bible and a couple other translations, along with help from my Strong’s Concordance, and prayed to God for understanding. I wrote down what I felt God wanted me to say and, the Lord being my Helper, I delivered that message on Wednesday night, May 31, 1989. I had wondered how I would ever find enough to say for more than five or ten minutes. As if to dispel any fear that I wouldn’t have anything to say, God helped me preach for 40 minutes!

This was the humble start of a nearly 18-year odyssey that has taken me “through many dangers, toils and snares”.

Reading this magazine, and looking back on 18 years, which include many disappointments related to career and ministry, I began to feel very discouraged because I didn’t “measure up”. The church growth movement touts excellence, relevance and success. Now, I do the best I can do, but I wouldn’t call myself “excellent”, when it comes to ministry. I can’t say that I’ve ever tried to “make” the Word of God relevant. In fact, I never thought it was irrelevant! I don’t think of myself as a “success”. I mean, I’m not an entrepreneur or an innovator. I can’t point to anything I’ve “launched”. I suppose “unchurched Harry and Mary” would say I was a decent enough guy, but I can’t say they would be drawn to me. In fact, they’d probably be repelled by my conservative theology. I have no seminary degree and no record of pastoral achievement. I don’t know how (and, really, have never tried) to be clever or engaging. I don’t have a desire to “connect” with today’s culture. When God gives the opportunity, I just preach.

So, after reading what the church growth people had to say, I was feeling down and sorry for myself. Why? (To be continued…)

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

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