Questions concerning the nature and mission of the church often go un-asked and more often un-answered. To oversimplify, the church gathers to worship and scatters to evangelize. The emphasis most churches place on placating God and enriching every social aspect of the members' lives is quite a distance from the emphasis of the first-century church as seen in Scripture.
Unfortunately, this emphasis can be seen in a variety of ways with some sad results. According to Crosswalk.com, "Protestant ministers and churchgoers were asked what they would do with an unexpected financial windfall in a new research study, The Christian Post reports. Results showed unmatched top priorities between the clergy and the people in the pews when it comes to spending. Ellison Research took national samples of Protestant church ministers and lay people. The ministers surveyed were found to prioritize building, expanding or updating their church buildings and facilities as their top spending choice. 31% of clergy, but only 17% of churchgoers, agreed with making facilities their top funding priority. Laity instead placed their first priorities on paying off debt and increasing social programs such as helping with homelessness or education. Updating facilities fell third on their list."
Some disturbing things come to mind. First, with their top priority being that of their facilities, while it seems unlikely, it is quite possible that some pastors could be more interested in building their own kingdom than God's. The temptation to demonstrate success through buildings is real and the pressures to do so are many. Surely we can commend these ministers for not prioritizing their own salaries. Yet, there seems to be a disconnect between the contemporary pastor's view of what's important for the church and what the Scripture prioritizes. The culture at large places an emphasis on bigger and better facilities regardless of the organization and many in the church feel as though they must compete in that arena. The self-centered focus of the culture is bad enough. When it creeps into church leadership, we're in deep trouble.
Second, this assessment is grounded not only in the priority of the ministers, but even in the response of the laity. While the laity's focus seems more biblical, in reality it isn't. While the gospel has a social aspect to it and while that aspect must not be ignored if Christians are going to be thoroughly biblical, social programs in and of themselves are not the focus of biblical ministry. Too many churches have fallen into the trap of social ministry to the exclusion of the gospel. They feel good about what they are doing because they can see tangible results. So often gospel labor produces few, immediate, and tangible results.
And then there are those deficient in their understanding of the nature of the gospel. For example, those surveyed in main-line denominations called for a greater focus on social ministry. It seems that the laity is not very well taught and that deficiency in some way must be laid at the feet of the ministers. Their wrong priority has come through in their teaching.
Third, what is glaringly missing from the priorities of both groups is the gospel of Christ and the mandate given us by our Lord to engage in its advance. What would the early church do with an unexpected financial windfall? They would do what they did even when they had nothing to give: support the saints in their affliction and the missionaries in taking the gospel to the nations (2 Cor. 8:1-4; Phil. 4:16).
Fourth, consider what Paul says before he mentions the churches in Macedonia giving to others despite their great trial of affliction and their deep poverty. He says, "We make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia...(2 Cor. 8:1)." He then reports that this grace from God is that which caused the Macedonian churches to give when they had nothing to give. What the church needs today is a heavy dose of the grace of God.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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