I’ve spent a lot of money buying books and attending conferences so that I could learn effective skills for ministry.
Skills and techniques are important. If you don’t believe me, you probably haven’t suffered under an unskilled pastor. But our emphasis on pastoral skills has to be kept in perspective.
Skills are secondary. Ministry skills are never the main thing. This is my main frustration with a lot of what’s out there. You get the idea that the church’s main problem is methodology. If we just get our methods right, then the church will finally be healthy.
The biggest problem for the church in North America may be that we have made skills and methods the main thing, while assuming or even ignoring the main thing. I love this quote from Tim Keller:
The key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel–seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church.
We may need better methods, but these won’t turn the church around unless we have a better grasp of the gospel. We can’t assume this.
Bill Easum wrote a book called A Second Resurrection. “what if the metaphors of decline, stagnation, and loss of health just aren t getting to the problem?” he asks. “What if the situation is much worse than what those ways of describing it imply? What if the congregation is spiritually dead?” If a congregation is spiritually dead, no methodology in the world can help.
Skills can be idolatrous. If idolatry is taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing, then maybe the North American church is guilty of idolatry. That’s certainly what Jack Miller thought. North Americans, according to Miller, need to see that “their reliance on themselves, their technology, and their skills was essentially the same as the Ugandans’ reliance on amulets and incantations.”
It’s not that skills are bad. They have their place. But they are secondary things and need to be kept in their place.
The church is thriving where skills are de-emphasized. According to Philip Jenkins, the center of Christianity is moving slowly out of Europe and North America to Latin America, Africa and Asia. By the year 2050, only about one-fifth of the world’s three billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Caucasian.
No matter how you explain this shift, it’s interesting to note that the church is declining in Europe and North America even though our methods are better than ever, while it’s thriving in parts of the world that don’t seem to have paid as much attention to these issues.
Conclusion: I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be pragmatic. I’m just worried that we’re relying too much on ourselves and our skills, and not paying enough attention to the gospel and to what only God can do.
If there’s a skill we need, maybe it’s the skill of remembering that we don’t have what it takes. In Christianity, only the inadequate are adequate. As one person put it:
It is not God’s intention that we should in ourselves be adequate for our tasks, rather He wants that we should be inadequate. If we only accept the tasks which we think are adapted to our powers we are not responding to the call of God. The church is always in a crisis and always will be. There will be difficulties, limitations, insolvable problems, lack of people and money, a menacing outlook, endless misunderstandings and misrepresentations. We are not only to do our work despite these things; they are precisely the conditions requisite for the doing of it.