December 13, 2017

The Pressure to Produce Results

CelebrationAltarCall

Note from CM: Today’s post is from our friend Adam Palmer, who has written a new book with Craig Gross coming out in August, called Go Small: Because God Doesn’t Care About Your Status, Size, or Success. This book is an encouragement to ditch the evangelical church world’s “success” mentality and simply do the thing that God puts in front of you, no matter how “small” it might look. The excerpt, written from Craig Gross’s perspective, speaks to ways the culture of evangelicalism puts the responsibilities of building the kingdom of God on our own shoulders.

* * *

I recently gave a sermon on how we Christians in the church tend to treat evangelism as a checklist. We encounter people throughout our days and, instead of being people with hopes and dreams, despair and failures, they become items on the list, and it’s our job as Christians to make sure we place check marks next to their names in the “Did Witness To” box. If we have to put check-marks in the “Did Not Witness To” box, then we’ve failed in our duty and, likely, are directly responsible for sending them to hell.

In my sermon, I talked about how this mentality of sharing our faith can really mess us up, putting the emphasis on “closing the deal” rather than exhibiting a life that is being constantly redeemed and renewed by Christ. I talked about my long friendship with Ron Jeremy, who is the undisputed king of porn stars and is such a legend that people line up to meet him and shake his hand. I’ve gone all over the United States with Ron, and no matter what town we roll up to, he never fails to draw a crowd of enthusiastic fans.

I’ve been friends with Ron for years and, at the time of this writing, he’s still wavering about needing a relationship with Jesus. We’ve talked and talked and talked about God, about Jesus, about heaven and hell, about life with Christ and life without Christ—if it has to do with faith, Ron and I have covered it. While we’ve become really good friends, and while Ron knows where I stand on everything, he’s still not entirely convinced he needs to turn his life over to the Lord.

In this sermon, I also related a story about the former porn star Brittni, how one person on our team managed to minister to her over the course of seven years through something as small as chitchat, what that looked like, how the Holy Spirit convicts people at different times and in different ways, and how Brittni’s conversion was exactly what the Lord had in mind for her but may not be what He has in mind for others.

I talked about how these things happen on God’s time-table, not mine. Not yours. Not the church’s. I talked about how, in general, evangelism takes time and usually requires building some type of relationship with people first.

After I gave this very wonderful, very biblical sermon, the senior pastor got up, thanked me, and, as was standard routine in their church, gave an altar call—and no one came forward.

No big deal, right? Wasn’t that the point of my entire message? That God will do His thing in His time?

Except to the people on the leadership team of this church, it was a big deal.

When that service was over and we all met backstage, this church’s leaders and pastoral staff were freaking out with all sorts of questions. Why had there been no response? Why didn’t anyone come forward at the end? Was it the song the band played—was it too heavy-handed? Or maybe it wasn’t heavy-handed enough? Was it the language the pastor had used in his invitation—was it too grace-oriented or too works-oriented? Was it something else entirely that they couldn’t put their finger on, like lighting or sound issues?

I wish I were making this up.

Like many evangelical churches in America today, this church had multiple services on a weekend, and this service had been the first one for that particular weekend. The church leaders immediately began planning what they could do differently for the remaining services, specifically to get a conversion or two at the conclusion of each one.

Why? Because whether they realize it or not, in their minds they have to have numbers. They have to produce.

In the end, the leadership at this church decided to change the song the band would play at the end of the service and rearrange the order of some of the closing bits of procedure in order to get more people to come forward. It’s as if we were on an episode of Survivor trying to light a fire for the first time: you just keep trying and trying until you get the thing done.

But do you see what’s happening in their definition of success? Not only are they deciding that success equals a certain number of people coming forward during the altar call, but they’re defining it with the wrong focus.

world on shouldersIt’s all on them.

The idea that the Holy Spirit might not have convicted anyone to come forward—or that He was, but people were actively resisting it—didn’t occur to them. No, the burden of conversion rested solely upon their shoulders, with none of it on God’s.

Shouldn’t we all just take a step back and say to God, “I don’t think You necessarily need my song or my sermon or my story or my video to do what You want to do.” Isn’t that the uncomfortable truth behind God’s sovereignty? That He uses us and gives us value and purpose, but that He doesn’t rely on us in the same ways we rely on each other?

Would that church be any less valid if they didn’t see a salvation that weekend? Would their ministry to their community be any less effective? Would their members suddenly begin backsliding into a pit of moral depravity?

Let’s take it a step further: in the long run, could this air ball of an altar call actually have been a good thing for this church and its leadership?

Here’s why I say that: I’ve been a part of something big and extraordinary, and one thing I’ve noticed about it is that when you see God using you in those types of big environments, it’s very tempting for that to go to your head. The thing can very easily become bigger in your eyes than God is, and guess who’s at the center of this very big thing. You are. Suddenly it has become all about you and not about Jesus.

Comments

  1. “…and guess who’s at the center of this very big thing. You are. Suddenly it has become all about you and not about Jesus.”

    Amen.

    That’s why “free-will”, decision theology is so dangerous. It starts with us, and it continues with us. And Christ Jesus and His finished work for sinners on the Cross becomes just another rung on the ladder that we must climb…starting with ‘our decision’.

    We don’t know…can’t know… who the believers are (they are both in the pews)…but that’s not our business.

    Our business is to preach the law and then to hand over Christ and His forgiveness for real sinners. And to administer the sacraments in accordance with that pure gospel.

    Not to sexy. That’s why many that do it that way are small in number. But it doesn’t matter how many are there. Not at all.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      My one tweak of what you write is this…you say, “Our business is to preach the law and then to hand over Christ…”

      I’d say, “Our business is to preach the Good News and then…”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Don’t interfere with the guy’s Theology.

      • Rick. Are you saying that Christ and His forgiveness for real sinners is not the good news? Or do you just prefer to be redundant?

        • Dana Ames says:

          Well, forgiveness is good news, but it’s a corollary to what it was that Jesus actually proclaimed: the Kingdom of God – as in, God’s reign is beginning since Jesus has come on the scene. Jesus is fulfilling what Isaiah wrote: How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings *good news*, *telling the good news* of peace, *proclaiming the glad tidings*: OUR GOD REIGNS. All those phrases between the asterisks are forms of the same word in Hebrew, which in Greek are translated with the appropriate forms of evvangelion. It appears 3 TIMES in that Isaiah passage; perhaps God wants to get our attention about that, whatever it is…

          The question “What does Jesus say ‘the Gospel’ is in the Gospels?” launched me on a very interesting journey.

          Dana

          Dana

          • The Gospel cannot be reduced to Jesus’ words: it is also his works. Jesus reigns in triumph over his enemies from the cross, where sin, death, and the devil were defeated. Forgiveness is the air we breathe in His kingdom. It is no more peripheral than oxygen is to our physical life.

            More importantly, what did the Apostles say was the Gospel? An analysis of the kerygma reveals two consistent points: Jesus is the promised Messiah, and He is risen from the dead. Those two loaded phrases convey the person and work of Christ. The reigning King is also the suffering servant.

          • Dana Ames says:

            I don’t think what the Apostles say is more important; it is a continuation, a fleshing out, a further explanation of meaning, but they would have had nothing to say without what Jesus said and did. I think “the Gospel” must at least begin with Jesus’ words and works, and if there is harmonization to be made, it should be made in favor of what Jesus says and does. Otherwise, we agree.

            Dana

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Miguel, you seem to be striving too hard at finding something to criticize. My tweaking of Steve Martin’s statement was only with the first part of his comment (preach the law vs. preach the Good News), not the latter part. Peace, bro!

          • I don’t mind discussing theology. If we can’t do it here, where can we?

            It’s not Good News…unless it answers our biggest problem. Sin, death, and the devil are our biggest problem (s).

            The law ought create a crisis. Expose us. Show us that we need a savior.

            Then…give them the Good News.

            Methinks.

            • Makes great theological sense. Don’t see it exemplified in the Bible too much. Did Jesus preach like this?

              Is it possible that Lutherans (and others) have their man-made formulas for achieving their ends, just like the evangelicals we’re criticizing here?

          • Robert F says:

            CM,

            Bingo. But, once that’s granted, how do we continue from there?

          • Robert, my Protestant instinct is to try and follow the Bible, both in its explicit teaching and in the way it exemplifies matters like ministry and preaching. Prima scriptura, with appropriate consideration of the other aspects of the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral (tradition, experience, reason). I don’t know any single tradition that has it all right all the time and nor do I by any means. But I do think we need to challenge theological “talking points” all the time — especially when they are presented as gospel, absolutely true and universally valid.

          • I beg to differ that we don’t see it in the Bible too much.

            The Sermon on the Mount is a perfect law/gospel paradigm.

            The Pharisee and the tax collector.

            The Prodigal Son.

            The Woman at the Well.

            I’m sure there are others…I’m in a rush heading out the door.

            • 1. The Sermon on the Mount has nothing to do with law/gospel preaching as you defined it.

              2. Yes, when Jesus was criticizing certain Pharisees and religious leaders, he sometimes emphasized self-righteousness vs. trusting in God’s mercy, but that is not the message he gave to everyone all the time.

              3. The conversation with the woman at the well is a much more complex interaction than simply law/grace and the point was not to make her see her sin, but to awaken her to who Jesus was.

              Yes it is important to distinguish law and grace, but when the “law/grace paradigm” is used as a universal rule of hermeneutics or homiletics, it utterly fails to match the NT evidence.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            Seems to me the Good News isn’t that we’re sinners. The Good News is that there’s a savior.

          • Dana Ames says:

            Steve,

            I’m sure you have very good reasons for your grip on the law/gospel thing. Everyone here has a viewpoint, and I wish you would try to understand other people’s viewpoints rather than almost constantly correcting. I myself plead guilty to the urge to correct. Nonetheless, I ask again that you try to understand. Maybe you are, and I’m being too picky… always a possibility. Forgive me, as sinner.

            The SoM is “the perfect law/gospel” paradigm IF that is how one is disposed to interpret it. There are other interpretations that make better sense to some people, and are actually based on a high view of scripture. Can you at least acknowledge that?

            Prodigal Son? NOT. Pure LOVE. Same for the woman at the well; Jesus engaged her without mentioning her “sin” until *the very end.* Why did he mention it at all? Probably because she was HURTING (from her own inner turmoil as well as the disapproval of all those around her) and he wanted her to know that he knew it. What did he tell her? Not “the gospel” about her needing to turn from her sin, but rather that he was the long-expected Messiah, with all the Meaning that went along with that. He did not reject her. She returned to him, with many of her acquaintances…

            Frankly, being slammed with “the law” is really not necessary and is no expression of love, IMNSHO. I just don’t believe that’s what Jesus did, especially in light of all the insights into 2Temple Jewish expectations elucidated by N.T. Wright and others.

            Our problem is not moral; it is ontological. It is the *kindness* of God that leads to repentance/turning toward him. Deep calls to deep. Love responds to love. Forgive me.

            Dana

          • The law-gospel paradigm definitely exists in Scripture; Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 is a good example, as is Paul’s teaching in Romans (most notably in chapters 3 and 7-8). Jesus also preaches like this; take Luke 12:4-7 for example, where it’s hard to explain his warning to fear God and subsequent exhortation to “fear not” as anything but Law and Gospel preaching. It’s not a universal hermeneutic, though, and as others have pointed out Jesus and the apostles definitely were not confined to straight-ahead Law and Gospel preaching techniques. Even in the LCMS (my denomination), where Law and Gospel is often presented as the end-all-be-all for preaching, most conservative, confessional pastors use other paradigms of Scripture interpretation from the pulpit on a regular basis. It’s a precious doctrine but not the only way to interpret Scripture.

          • Rick, I did not criticize anything. Steve’s point was to preach both law and gospel, it just looked like you were asserting that one was not necessary.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > success equals a certain number of people coming forward during
    > the altar call, but they’re defining it with the wrong focus.

    If your organizational mindset is [and I’m not saying it is wrong] that there should be some metric / measurability – which seems a rational thing for an organization to want – what other metric would there be? I always criticized my Southern Baptist preacher friend for this obsession with counting; but with the reflection provided by time I admit I don’t have much to propose, practically, to answer desire for a metric. What could be more American than the desire for a metric? We like clean lines and connotation-free definitions.

    > that the uncomfortable truth behind God’s sovereignty

    This is the uncomfortable truth about “sovereignty” – period. I dislike essays or lectures that begin with the cliche visit to the dictionary … but “sovereignty” is a concept that needs to be considered more than it is. Sovereignty is an uncomfortable thing; doubly so as we, individuals, have precious little of it.

    > Would that church be any less valid if they didn’t see a salvation that weekend?

    There are thousands and thousands [and probably thousands] of churches where this almost never happens; I appreciate that the question is asked – does that make them all invalid or illegitimate in some way? And what does it mean to “see a salvation”? Is ‘”a salvation” an ‘event’ [point-in-time]? If it is, then what happens after? There is so much to unpack in this worldview, much of which just doesn’t hang together.

    I am very happy to now be – as the Evangelical praise chorus “Shine” says – one of those “on the outside looking bored”, but I remember several very similar meetings.

    • Ear worm alert!

      • “….that’ll make a vegetarian barbecue hamster…” What a silly song that was. And it got the Dove! IMO, Tate ruins the sound.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          I don’t think the song is silly. For someone visiting a church, or just hearing that song sung, the term would be “smug”, if not “insulting”.

        • Robert F says:

          Wait wait wait….!!! According to Wikipedia (yes, I had to look it up, because I had no idea what song you guys were talking about, not have been an insider to any of this evangelical subculture stuff), this song, Shine, was co-written by none other than Steve Taylor!!! Isn’t he considered something of a Christian pop music genius by many here at imonk? And here you are dissing him….what’s up with that? So what is it: is he a genius, or a hack? Or was he just having a bad day when he penned the lyric for this song?

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            I always thought it was the Newsboys who were responsible for that obnoxious dity.

          • Robert F says:

            According to Wikipedia, Taylor wrote the lyrics for this song, and other Newsboys songs, during the time when he had formed a kind of partnership with the band. So, the music for Shine was written by the Newsboys, but the lyrics were all Taylor’s.

          • Danielle says:

            I thought it was the Newsboys who informed my youth group that we were the bestest clique ever.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And what does it mean to “see a salvation”?

      Probably watching them walk the aisle in the Altar Call.
      (Also gives a head count for scorekeeping. And originally for the signatures on the Dry Pledge.)

    • Danielle says:

      Let’s say we decide there is some value in a metric. An organization’s leaders say, “We want to be able to measure and see in objective terms what we are doing. We want to see whether what we are doing is working.
      We want to be held accountable for taking concrete actions to do the work we are setting out to do.”

      I think it’s clear how this can go bad. The example from the article, where a church is counting decisions in every service and trying to tweak its communication (or, if you want to be a grump like me, “manipulation”) tactics to make a “sell,” is an obvious example.

      What is less clear, but perhaps more important, is how that conversation can go well. Measure different results? (Other than counting “decisions” after specific services, was the church reflecting on regular participation in services or other activities?) Measure the process? That is, is the church actually doing its mission in measurable ways? That is astronomically more important than how many people are jumping through a particular hoop at any given moment in time, in response to what the church is doing.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > What is less clear, but perhaps more important, is how that
        > conversation can go well.

        I agree, but it is hard – in practice – to measure effort and focus; at least it is much harder than measuring results.

      • Here are a few idea of metrics:
        – How many previously ‘regular’ members stop coming.
        – How many other members notice their absence.
        – What percentage of the church’s money is NOT devoted to maintaining the church.
        – How closely the demography of the church corresponds to the demography of its location.

        I’m sure there are more.

  3. I don’t blame the church staff. Many are effectively under a quota system. If the church doesn’t meet the numbers, they will be looking for not only a new job, but a new career.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      True, it could be that the systems in which some churches operate is potentially unhealthy, and thus church staffs are just a part of that system. But it’s their job to make sure they’re not operating in an unhealthy manner with their congregations.

    • Many of them should look for a new career. The church is not a business, and those skills could really be put to good use in many fields. Many church workers with dynamic organizational or leadership skills go on to have very successful careers in the corporate world. In all honesty, I reccommend everybody obtain a secular vocation and establish themselves before ever considering church work. Right now, I’d give my left arm to have done that.

      …and I say this as a church worker who is constantly reevaluating the efficacy of my current vocational direction. We need to quit putting self-preservation as the top priority and be willing to seek and act in the church’s best interest, even if it costs us.

      • Very interesting observation. I went to seminary, then got my MBA. I serve the church in various ways and am quite happy with my vocation. But I left seminary and a “ministry” track for two reasons. 1) The atmosphere at seminary was not conducive to my spiritual growth. 2) I realized that I wouldn’t want to be pastored by me, so who else would? This came about the time I realized that pastoring was more than just “speaching”.

    • Danielle says:

      Is that common? Someone brought this idea up to me recently, and my immediate response was dismayed skepticism about that approach. My instinct is to say that it’s good to be ensure that a church is being intentional about reaching out (or chasing any of its other goals), but that if you’re going to focus on anything, it’s the effort taken, not a quota for results.

      You can do good work. You can’t control results. We hope one leads to the other, but it’s not like the link is ironclad.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Danielle, this really resonates with me. I’ve been wrestling with an aspect of this post that you seem to touch upon, the “goodness” of being intentional about outreach.

        About five years ago, our church began suffering a downturn in attendance. Many reason, many factors. When the pastor retired and a interim pastor came in, we did a church-wide assessment to look at what we seemed to be doing well and what needed improvement. After about a month of being with us, during his sermon the interim pastor asked the congregation how many people had been “saved” within the past 5 years. Out of our congregation of 150, about 4 people raised their hands. It was then that I noticed our congregation was full of long-time Christians (20+ years of being saved) and primarily Anglo/Caucasian 50+ year olds. This, in a church in a community is probably 75% non-white.

        So this post leaves me wrestling with some questions: Does it mean something bad (unGodly) was happening in our church when it became a country club of saved Christians? Does it mean something good (Godly) is happening now, when our church has grown back to over 250 people on a given Sunday, with a huge mix of races and cultures and believers? I’ll tell you, in both cases, the pastors were/are working hard to connect people to Christ and each other. In one case, it didn’t seem to work. In the other, it has.

  4. Adam has given words to what I was trying to comment on a couple of weeks ago. Thank you.

    “We encounter people throughout our days and, instead of being people with hopes and dreams, despair and failures, they become items on the list”

    This has been gnawing at my soul for so long. Having talked to several college students who have left church- this is a primary reason- people were projects and not … people … Not humans created in the image of God.

    This is not a joke: my husband and I were being assessed as church planters and during the Evangelism section I found myself debating this very thing with one of the leaders/assessors. He actually said that eventually you have to “close the deal.” I was stunned and here my disillusionment grew. Human beings are not business deals. How we live our lives in this world and how we love will speak volumes more than the feeble, faulty words that fall from our tongues.

    “The thing can very easily become bigger in your eyes than God is, and guess who’s at the center of this very big thing. You are. Suddenly it has become all about you and not about Jesus.”

    Amen. This is the exact problem with church today.. Who is at the center ?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      This has been gnawing at my soul for so long. Having talked to several college students who have left church- this is a primary reason- people were projects and not … people … Not humans created in the image of God.

      “OH, NO! I HAVE TO MAKE SOME HEATHEN FRIENDS TO INVITE TO THE BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADE AND GET THEM SAVED AND I HAVE ONLY TWO WEEKS TO DO IT!!!”

      The rationale is that “then everyone will have heard and have no excuse, so this will trigger the End.”

    • Close the deal? I’m sorry anyone ever said that Lynn. That represents volumes of ego, self reliance and I think what Paul would have termed “the natural mind”. That is just so wrong it can’t be overstated.

  5. Without getting into the Lutheran/Calvinism/Arminianism aspect of this, I will say that such a shallow mindset can be easily detected by today’s consumer heavy culture, especially the younger generations.

  6. The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that God chooses us through the hearing of the Word and in Baptism, through faith, which is a “gift”.

    But self-obsessed idolators that we are, we want to keep some control of the process.

    To ascribe to ourselves and attribute that only God has (“free-will”) is blasphemy.

    Every day, preachers and pastors and Christians around the world engage in this form of blasphemy.

    • Steve, let’s not throw around terms like “blasphemy” so easily, please.

    • Steve, let’s not throw around terms like “Faith, which is a gift” so easily, please.

      Hard to believe we are reading the same Bible, cause I don’t find that in mine.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        When all you have is a “Justification by FAITH Alone” hammer…

      • Check Ephesians 2. It’s in there.

        • I am familiar with Ephesians 2. It’s not there, Salvation is the gift. Grace is how it is given. Faith is how it is received. Understanding it otherwise is twisting it to mean something that it does not say. And if that is all you got, I repeat my previous comment.

          Sorry to sound snarky. But this is a case where people’s theology impacts how they read scripture and it really bugs me.

          • Actually, Mike, it is just the opposite. It was the epiphany I had when studying the text that actually changed my theology. I do believe that, if diagramed in the greek, the word “this,” as in “this not of yourself, it is the gift of God,” is inclusive of salvation, grace, and faith. In the English, by most translations, “this” immediately follows faith, strongly suggesting a connection. The text does not say “grace is how it is given” or “faith is how it is received” (at least, in English, anyways). I’m not sure where you’re getting that from, but it seems like you’re reading it into the text. Jesus is how salvation is given. The means of grace are how it is received (Rom. 10:17, Acts 2:38).

            The giving of belief by God is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. Try Peter’s confession. It appears to me that the only other option is the imply that faith is a choice, which just doesn’t seem to line up very well with passages like John 15:16.

      • Ever hear of Ephesians 2:8-9 ???

        • You mean the passage that talks about salvation being a gift. I agree with that. It is faith as a gift that has no biblical basis.

          • Michael, Ephesians 2.8 reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” You argue that salvation is the gift, and I would agree. But you also argue that “Grace is how it is given. Faith is how it is received. Understanding it otherwise is twisting it to mean something that it does not say.” With all due respect, that is a non sequitur, that is, to exclude grace and faith as gifts and to say that only salvation is a gift of God.

            In the context of Ephesians 2 we read earlier on that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” My argument is that the dead cannot believe unless they are first made alive by the grace of God, which is exactly what this passage says. And in fact, grace is, by definition a gift. And if grace is the gift that enables to believe, then faith, too, is a gift as it follows grace

            Even in classical Arminian theology, which emphasizes free will, prevenient grace is needed to come alive from the deadness of sin. It is defined as divine grace that precedes human decision, and must therefore be a gift since it does not stem from human will.

            In summary, the simplest, most straightforward reading of Ephesians 2.8 is that grace, faith and salvation are all gifts from God. William of Occam would agree with me, I believe.

    • I see you’re getting your usual beating again Steve. But you are right even if your terms aren’t quite smooth

      • Here is another thought. If God gave us free will, in the same way that he gives us knowledge and other gifts. What term should we use to describe those who say that a gift of God isn’t a gift of God?

        • Where do the Scriptures say that God gave us “free will?” This compound concept links autonomy with determinism. We certainly make decisions, but they are never as free as we would like to believe.

      • Robert F says:

        Rob,
        Steve is getting his “usual beating again” because he just beat all the synergists (I happen not to be among them most the time, though my mind vacillates on the human free versus divine sovereignty debate) here at imonk (and everywhere else for that matter) over the head with a big, bad blasphemy stick. Of course, it would be much better if everyone offended just turned the other cheer, but as a Lutheran I’m sure Steve understands that turnabout-is -air-play is all you can expect from “sinners yet justified.”

    • Robert F says:

      “To ascribe to ourselves and attribute that only God has (“free-will”) is blasphemy.”

      I guess some of the truest Christians I know of were “blasphemers.”

  7. charlie says:

    Thank you, Adam. This soooo needed to be said, actually…shouted from the rooftops!

    With all the debate going on about why church attendance is down and why young people are leaving,
    I believe this is part of the issue (among others, too). They are feeling it’s a numbers game, and they are pawns to be used.

    Why the focus on ‘closing the deal’ and on numbers and on us? We plant seeds, others water, and others reap….come on, this is clear biblically. If we truly know and submit to the Holy Spirit’s power and work, the. Give Him the praise for al of it.

    Our church recently cancelled a beloved annual ladies event because ‘no one was being’ saved, and I about fell of my chair when I read that. First off HOW do they know that for sure? And, additionally, no one was ‘bringing unsaved friends/guests’….again, HOW do they’d know this for sure. Anyway, that was the straw that broke it for me, as we were already realizing this church is all about ‘them’ and NOT about Jesus.

    When we keep our eyes focused on WHO God is, and see this in Jesus–grace, holy, sovereign, love, all the omni’s, merciful, pure, true, good, kind, wrathful, jealous, etc–we lose sight of ourselves, thank goodness, and see only Him! What else, who else, should we see?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Our church recently cancelled a beloved annual ladies event because ‘no one was being’ saved, and I about fell of my chair when I read that. First off HOW do they know that for sure? And, additionally, no one was ‘bringing unsaved friends/guests’….again, HOW do they’d know this for sure?

      Special Revelation?

      Actually, I witnessed a similar “bringing unsaved friends” situation in 1976 or 1977 at Campus Crusade/Cal Poly Pomona. Billy Graham Crusade was going down in Anaheim Stadium at the other end of Brea Canyon, and the announcements were made in Campus Crusade to “Bring your unsaved friends to the Crusade and Get Them Saved!”

      This announcement caused a panic in almost all the CCC types: “OH, NO! I HAVE TO MAKE SOME HEATHEN FRIENDS TO INVITE TO THE CRUSADE AND I HAVE ONLY TWO WEEKS TO DO IT!!!”

      And more recently in various fandoms, once someone is outed as a Christian(TM), their invitations are only accepted ONCE. After accepting once (and getting high-pressure proselytized at whatever Christian(TM) event they got invited to), they usually run far far away once the identified Christian(TM) tries to invite them to any subsequent event. The usual reaction is to NOT mention the “event” is a Crusade or P&W “concert” or Christian event, which only adds to the bait-and-switch distrust.

    • Danielle says:

      “Our church recently cancelled a beloved annual ladies event because ‘no one was being’ saved, and I about fell of my chair when I read that. First off HOW do they know that for sure? And, additionally, no one was ‘bringing unsaved friends/guests’….again, HOW do they’d know this for sure.”

      Even if they DID know this for sure, it implies that the community itself doesn’t matter. To what is one saved exactly? The life of continually bringing “unsaved” friends to events?

      The same thing goes for measuring a service’s results in “decisions.” Assuming that decision making on the spot even tells us anything about the effect of a church’s preaching on the “unsaved,” there are other things potentially happening during a service that are good.

    • Drena (@DrenaBlanc) says:

      >> Our church recently cancelled a beloved annual ladies event because ‘no one was being’ saved, and I about fell of my chair when I read that. First off HOW do they know that for sure? And, additionally, no one was ‘bringing unsaved friends/guests’….again, HOW do they’d know this for sure. Anyway, that was the straw that broke it for me, as we were already realizing this church is all about ‘them’ and NOT about Jesus.Our church recently cancelled a beloved annual ladies event because ‘no one was being’ saved, and I about fell of my chair when I read that. First off HOW do they know that for sure? And, additionally, no one was ‘bringing unsaved friends/guests’….again, HOW do they’d know this for sure. Anyway, that was the straw that broke it for me, as we were already realizing this church is all about ‘them’ and NOT about Jesus.

      The answer is simple: They don’t know that for sure as Jesus encounters people in so many ways… It is humbling and mind-boggling to me in an amazing way. I think we all need to learn to step back and let the Holy Spirit do his work.

  8. The only thing I hate about posts like this is that I’m going to go broke buying all of these wonderful books you folks recommend. Have a little pity, wouldja?

    • Drena (@DrenaBlanc) says:

      *adds go small to her reading list right under the “KIng Jesus Gospel”* If it makes you feel better… These books are reasonably cheap as e-books on Kobo.

    • Don’t I know it. I have exhausted my good will at the ILL circ. desk, and my Amazon wish list is about 17 pages long…

  9. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    … instead of being people with hopes and dreams, despair and failures, they become items on the list, and it’s our job as Christians to make sure we place check marks next to their names in the “Did Witness To” box.

    It gets worse.
    My writing partner told me about a Bible Translation/Missionary organization whose purpose is literally “Translate into all these obscure tribal languages so we can tick off the check marks among all these New Guinea and Amazon tribes; and when we’ve ‘Witnessed To’ everyone in the world, then Prophecy is Fulfilled and The End Will Come!”

    • That sounds painfully familiar. I suspect I know which organization you are talking about…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I don’t remember the name he gave me, but it was right up there with “Christians for Nuclear War” as ways to Jump-Start the Eschaton.

        And just like End Time Prophecy fanboys, they couldn’t care less about all the people they were “Witnessing(TM)” to. Not even “Souls”, just pieces (or triggers) on the End Time Prophecy gameboard.

        The same writing partner that told me this also credits John Nelson Darby and Hal Lindsay with “destroying Protestant Christianity in America”.

        • Jacob C says:

          “Christians fot Nuclear War” made me think they should have had a slogan. How about – From megaton to Eschaton.

    • Yes, I know them. The rationale is that “then everyone will have heard and have no excuse, so this will trigger the End.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        At least the “Christians for Nuclear War” types were more direct about it. (And one of the reasons the US military does NOT let more than one born-again onto a nuclear-arming crew.)

        Thank you, Hal Lindsay.

        • Do you have personal knowledge of this, or has this been written about somewhere?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Standard policy for nuclear arming crews is to pick the crew members from as different backgrounds as possible, to minimize any chance of them even knowing each other off-duty. The story of “only one Christian” is a verbal version which grew from that; however with End Time Prophecy types it also serves an additional safety margin.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “Christians for Nuclear War” WAS an attitude I encountered personally among Hal Lindsay fanboys. It dates back to Lindsay’s Literal Interpretation of Revelation being God showed John a movie of The End (taking place no later than 1980, definitely before the Second Russian Revolution) leaving John to describe it the best he could. According to Lindsay, all the Plagues of Revelation were actually the side- and after-effects of Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War. It’s Inevitable, It’s Prophesied, It’s Scripture, It’s Prophesied.

            Looking back, it’s obvious that Lindsay just Christianized the Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War It’s All Over But The Screaming trope that was common at the time. And Rapture preachers at the time claimed “God’s Judgment for America’s Sins sits ready and waiting in the nuclear missile silos of the Soviet Union” and that the Rapture would happen as the first nuclear missiles were cutting atmo over their targets and starting their detonation sequences — “Look up and rejoice, for Your Redemption Draweth Nigh.”

            Given the flakeouts I saw over this (including me), don’t tell me someone wouldn’t have tried it. After all, God will beam you up before anything bad can personally happen to you.

  10. Drena (@DrenaBlanc) says:

    This, this, this…. Shows how modern the evangelical church is: Better programs, better music, bigger churches so we can produce more saved people, bigger altar calls, and better church attendance. Note the choice word is “we” as it is “we” who have to do this instead of God.

    Perhaps it is a sign to do away with altar calls altogether. Instead just make it an offering for people to come and be prayed over, or to linger and chat… Perhaps it should be an offer for people to learn more about theology in general, or the story of Jesus in particular? In those ways, the focus is still on God and Christ, and the people are still people, instead of numbers on a chart?

    • I have been to some of the bigger evangelical churches (with the “better” and “bigger”) and many of them do not to altar calls, and they don’t claim “we” did it.

  11. Rick Ro. says:

    This seems to be a good companion piece to yesterday’s article. I enjoyed reading both. Good thoughts, good insights to consider in moving forward in any church setting.

  12. Christiane says:

    I wonder if, in the mind of people who have been ‘saved’, they then say ‘what now?’

    I don’t understand the mind-set of a people who are assured that they are ‘already there’.

  13. Every time I read some story like that (having quotas, not Ron Jeremy), I have to wonder why you guys don’t just go to some normal church instead. I’m pretty sure the Episcopals don’t do altar calls or ask people whether they”re saved. It’s harder for preachers, I know, because they can’t just switch. But complaining about altar calls and head-counts among evangelicals is like complaining about turbans on the Hindus.

  14. Man, that’s good preaching, brother Palmer! I agree with every word. Even church growth can be an idol that we find a way to justify .

  15. Damaris says:

    At our Catholic church, in a small town of 10,000 or so, we have a good group of people, young and old, joining the church every year. We don’t have an altar call, and while both the church and the individual members serve in the community in many ways, we don’t have “outreach” to the “unsaved.” So I really don’t know how it is that these people every year come in off the streets and sign up to undergo many months of instruction to enter the church. It’s God’s business to call them; it’s our business to make sure there is a church for them to join, not just a cattle drive to the great Slaughterhouse in the Sky.

    • Radagast says:

      When I lived outside of Indianapolis (Fishers) for a couple of years in the early 90’s we experienced the same thing. But I believe it was because that small town was quickly becoming part of the growing suburbs around Indianapolis. I am also seeing this in the next borough over in Pittsburgh, again because of new building and the like. The encouraging thing though is that they are coming into the Church, many new Catholics!