This post originally appeared on Theology Rocks
If you grew up in the Southeastern United States, you’s be familiar with a rather invasive vine that covers large pines and climbs telephone poles. Kudzu covers the landscapes of my home state and can be problematic to the health of the environment. The same thing is seen with modern church planting movements, particularly in my denomination. I am a baptist by conviction, and thereby a congregationalist in government. Sadly, most modern Baptist church planting strategies grow quickly and hurt the church environment because they are not going about as God has ordained (nor are they baptist by any means).
Baptist history is rather controversial; however, some trace the roots of congregationalism to the Anabaptists (15th century) while others look more to the English puritans and separatists (17th century). This governmental form was set in contrast to the Roman Catholic hierarchical structure. Congregationalists believe that the body has the ultimate decision for itself. For example, when Jesus was describing church discipline it is ultimately the whole local church who decides whether one should be removed from the fellowship (cf. Matt. 18:17). Or, in Acts 15 the whole congregation commissions Paul in Barnabas to go on mission. The main idea for baptist polity is that the whole congregation decides for itself what is best. It does not govern other churches, nor do its leader by themselves govern.
Baptist churches have shunned their roots and ran back to Rome to propagate their modern church planting movements. There is not much different between church growth strategy and successful business plans. As churches have grown out planting new churches under the same name we must ask the question, “are these churches autonomous?” Pragmatism had grown not only into unbiblical invitations and sinner’s “prayers”, but also into our historic ecclesiology and missiology.
A usual business can increase profits greatly by franchising. They find a product that works, stick with it, and market that same product into new communities, typically receiving the same results. So, one particular person or group comes up with a hip name for a church (take your favorite uplifting or spiritual nature word, for instance). Say for the purposes on this explanation, A Church (if your church is named “A Church” trust me, it’s purely coincidence). A Church leaders produce a product (worship service) that is “successful.” Eventually it is so successful, they “plant” a new church under the same name producing the same product. Somehow, this is all done under a baptist denomination…?
But wait… That’s not a new church. It has the same name, same leadership (sometimes same preaching, if we dare call it preaching…), same style worship service, but a different location and people. Some of these churches even adopt the slogan, “multiple campuses, one church.” Now, that sounds wonderful, especially if you are Roman Catholic. They just need to elect a pope (or that’s the lead pastor at the main campus: the first one with the most people, because, you know, all the other campuses are lesser…). What’s especially interesting is when these “baptist” churches don’t even have voting or committees or any opportunity for the congregation (you know, who is supposed to have the governing authority in a baptist church) to have a voice. Pragmatism has so poisoned Baptist leaders that the term “Baptist” is simply one of convenience (or money, within certain denominations).
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?… IT WORKS!
Some of you reading through this may wonder why any of this even matters. There are several problems with this modish approach that can be applicable across denominations.
(1) There is no higher entity to the church than God. Somehow, “Relevant Name” Church has become in and of itself an entity that exists outside of the people and leaders that make up the church. When people identify with their church, they don’t necessarily identify with the other members or event the staff, but to the higher (made up) entity, _____ Church.
(2) Worship services are not supposed to be designed for unbelievers. The nominal “believer” maintains the same desires and joys, but just uses God to get those desires. This can take as long as five minutes in a repeat-after-me prayer and does not cost a thing, not even repentance! The infomercial evangeliclowns parade behind the pulpit selling God at no cost, not even any cost to His Son. What a mockery some have made a God. Sadly, worship cannot go by unaffected by this improper doctrine. Discovering true worship requires hiking to all the pragmatic high places and tearing down all the idols of convenience, relevance, traditionalism, and especially making God merely a means to a selfish end. Not only are their people who do not care one iota about repentance and use Jesus to get what they want, but so-called evangelicals are now designing worship services for them to encourage their unrepentant hearts!
(3) The foolishness of the cross and preaching is removed. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. Christ the Wisdom and Power of God For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:17-19 ESV Also, throughout the Gospels, we see the main ministry of Jesus is preaching, but people often came to him demanding other things. Even so, the main ministry of the church is preaching. But when people came demanding to be entertained, some give it to them.
God has ordained certain things to grow His church: preaching (cf. above passage), sacrificial love (John 13:35), and intercessory prayer (cf. John 17). If He gives us plan A, why should we turn to plan B?