Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].
There seems to be such competition among churches today. The pastor says the right words but it seems to me that many are engaged in trying to be the biggest and the best. I think Paul might be embarrassed by the competition going on in the churches (and pastors) of our culture today. I wonder if we have lost perspective. What do you think?
As a young pastor, I thought that the best pastors were the ones with the biggest churches. I wanted to build a big church. I learned a lot from Bill as I worked in the children's ministry during seminary. He pastored a rapidly growing church. The church was built on excitement. We had Mrs. America give her testimony. We had a returning veteran Vietnam prisoner of war tell of how Christ helped them through his seven-year-ordeal in the hands of the Communists. I remember the Sunday morning a Samurai swordsman split in half a water melon perched precariously on the pastor's stomach. Every other Sunday was high-attendance day. Bill knew how to get people to come to church.
At staff meetings on Tuesday he took the visitor lists from Sunday and assigned each of us on the staff singles and families who we were to cultivate and talk into joining the church the next Sunday. We were to call him every Saturday with a report on who was going to join the next morning at church. We lied a lot. "Well Bill," we would say on Tuesday, "I don't know what happened. They promised they would join."
When I graduated from seminary, Julie and I headed west to pastor. I knew the best way to please Jesus was to build a big church. Bill taught and told me how. He said to pick a church that was just ahead of us and work to "beat it" in attendance. When that church was conquered, move on and conquer the next one.
Competitive Christianity flourishes as unadulterated pride. It is the sin of seeking glory for self instead of for Jesus. It is the sin of leading the people to think that "I did it," instead of that "God did it."
Competitive Christianity can actually lead us to the place where we are in competition with Jesus.
Examples of Competitive Christianity fill the Scriptures. The people were thirsty. So God told Moses "speak to the Rock and I will bring forth water." Unfortunately, Moses was angry and screamed, "Must I also bring forth water from this rock for you," and he struck the rock and the water flowed. God said, "Since you stole my glory you man never enter the Promised Land."
Competitive Christianity is spurned by a personal desire to lead the people to praise the leader instead of Jesus. Maybe I will put it like this: the leader thinks, "I am interested in having my followers think that I did this or I worked with God so that we together made this occur."
Jesus put it like this in John 5:44: "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
Joab pleaded with David not to take a census of the fighting men in Israel. God wanted to show the people what He could do in battle. David was more concerned that people knew what he could in battle (David's sin here has to do with the temple tax, but that is another story).
King Uzziah took on the role of priest (God's position) so God gave him leprosy. He was ostracized and died slowly until the end of his days.
The beginning of my healing from Competitive Christianity began the day I came across a studied analysis of mega churches written up in a Christian magazine. The authors intervened and examined the workings and ministries of over 100 fast growing churches in America. Their conclusion:
"We have found among these pastors and churches an intense passion to build a large church. However, we did not find a corresponding passion to know God."
My conclusion: If I would spend as much time and effort becoming a spiritual man and developing a spiritual church as Bill spent trying to build a big church his way, I would come out much better in the long run. Good choice!
Of course, pastors aren't the only ones who succumb to this dysfunctional disorder. Any Christian, young or old, can slip down this slick slide.
I have mentioned mega churches several times. I need to say a word to pastors of smaller churches. It is easy to feel inferior or struggle with feelings of self-worth if (and when) you compare your church with a larger one.
Charles Jefferson was invited to give the Yale lectures on preaching in 1922. He titled his five lectures, "The Minister as Shepherd." He asked the rhetorical question, when was the last time you saw a shepherd herding his flock down Main Street, USA? You never have. You never will. Why? Because the shepherd's best work is done on the back side of the hill where no one is looking."
Recently I had an opportunity to attend a large church. The building was huge. The people were streaming in. I was looking around. After a while I turned to my son-in-law Ricky and said half-jokingly, "I think I could beat him." We both laughed. Suddenly, I stopped laughing. I guess that it wasn't just a joke after all. Competitive Christianity is woven deeply into the sinful nature of mankind.
Charles Spurgeon was one of my heroes. His Christian work and ministry literally circled the globe. He built a mega church in the poor stretches of east London in the 19th century.
Spurgeon was a legend in his own time. So was Joseph Parker. He also build a mega church in London. Both were great preachers. It was standing room only in both churches on Sunday.
At the close of the morning service the average comment heard as the people exited the Parker's church was, "Oh, that Joseph, Parker. What a wonderful preacher!"
Many of those same people then hurried over to Spurgeon s tabernacle for the 2:00 afternoon service to hear Spurgeon preach. As the service ended at the tabernacle and people left to go home, it's said that the most often heard comment was, "Oh, that Jesus, what a wonderful Savior."
Thank you for the question, Rick.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.