How Do We Measure Maturity?

Many of you are probably familiar with George Barna. For years, church leaders turned to Barna’s research polls as a barometer of the culture around them and within their own churches. Many of the church growth principles that drove the megachurch model since the late 80’s and early 90’s found their support in Barna’s statistics.

Unfortunately (in the minds of some), Barna’s focus in recent years on the ways in which the institutional church is failing, along with his controversial book Revolution, has meant that he is no longer a welcome voice to many church leaders. I have been disappointed over the past year to see my prediction back in February come true.

I tend to feel, however, that any criticism of Barna amounts to “shooting the messenger”. After all, we can’t decide that we like polls only when they reflect what we want to see! I don’t personally believe that Barna has anything to gain by bringing bad news. In fact, from what I can gather, it has severely affected (in a negative way), his bottom line. (I tried unsuccessfully to locate the article where Barna described the severe downsizing that his organization went through about a year ago. If I find it, I’ll update this post with a link to it.)

Anyway, I say all of that to lead up to discussing a finding that Barna published earlier this year. It was brought back to my attention in a recent roundup of discoveries from 2006 that the Barna Group released this week. In that summary document, the following statement is found:

Evaluating spiritual maturity remains an elusive process for clergy as well as individuals. Across the nation, the only measure of spiritual health used by at least half of all pastors was the extent of volunteer activity or ministry involvement.

The more detailed analysis is found in this January, 2006 article on Barna’s website. It appears that pastors tend to think their congregants are deeply spiritual, but people themselves differ in their responses about their own spiritual commitment. In trying to understand this discrepancy, Barna describes the characteristics that pastors often use to judge the spiritual commitment of “their people”:

Overall, only one measure — how many people are involved in some form of church-related volunteer activity or ministry effort — was listed by at least half of all pastors (54%) as a measure of the spiritual health of their congregation. Only two other criteria — church attendance and some type of life change experience (usually meaning that a person has made a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ as their savior) were named as important criteria by more than one out of every seven pastors. (Each of these criteria was listed by 45% of all pastors.) Other top-rated standards were whether congregants were involved in evangelism (13%), how much new information or knowledge about Christianity the people received (10%), how much money was donated to the church (10%), and the comments made by congregants to the pastor (10%).

I’ve linked to the article above, so you can read it in its entirety, if you wish, but this paragraph is very telling. Many times on this blog, I have mentioned that I feel like the institutional version of church tends to put barriers in the way of believers actually growing and maturing. I don’t believe these barriers are intentional in any way! However, I keep coming back to this idea that it is next to impossible for someone to actually “pastor” large groups of people (i.e., anything over about 20) because that person can’t possibly know the spiritual condition of the people he is “pastoring”.

This report from Barna seems to support my ideas a bit from the standpoint that it shows that the way church leaders measure spiritual condition is severely flawed in and of itself. Notice the criteria that topped the list: involvement in church-related activities. While involvement in activities of the church may be the result of a spiritual passion, the reality is that those activities can easily be carried out without much in the way of spiritual depth in an individual.

Some of my commenters in the past have felt like I was being a bit too hard on the institutional church by seeing it as largely failing at its task. I don’t wish to overly emphasize the negative things that I have seen in my own experience, but I do think there’s something to be asked here. If Barna’s numbers are accurate, what does that tell us? I think that it tells us that the church is going to continue to “miss the point” if it evaluates spiritual commitment and passion based on a checklist of external actions.

And that is really the position I continue to hold. I don’t think that anyone inside the institutional church is seriously trying to miss the point. At least that is true for the vast majority, in my opinion. After all, “it’s always been done this way”, right? But I do think that, by and large, we continue to miss the point.

If we are to be making disciples, as Jesus told us to do, then we need to be aware of what a disciple looks like. We need to have some kind of relational sense of where someone is in their progress as a disciple. And I don’t think that can be measured solely by looking at attendance records, giving records, or even amount of involvement within the institution itself. Nor can it be measured from a distance.

Until next time,

steve :)

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44 Responses to How Do We Measure Maturity?

  1. Ron says:

    Bro. Steve as usual , another good post for us to think about. I do believe that the believer participates in church activitys given out of love , but they sometimes get slack on participating in being a deciple? When I sometimes get down in the feelings in my heart [ I ask GOD to grant me serinity to accept the people I can’t change, and the courage to change the persons I can, and the wisdom to know that it might be ME ?] Blessings! RON.

  2. Alan Knox says:

    Steve,

    Great reminder about discipleship! In the past, I have been active, a good attender, and even asked questions, without being a disciple and without discipling. I still struggle with this at times. There are so many expectations concerning discipleship, and some of these expectations are non-biblical. I am trying to learn to share my life with people… to demonstrate what it means to follow Jesus… and to help others follow him as well. Like you said, I can’t do that without truly knowing people.

    -Alan

  3. Rod says:

    Steve,

    I think the standard needs to be the fruit of the Spirit. I’m not sure what instrument we would use to measure this. But most churches don’t really expect their members to exhibit these qualities.

    Rod

  4. ded says:

    If we describe behavior as evidence of maturity, then understand Christian maturity as putting on good behavior; we have failed.

    Christian behavior (the fruit of the spirit) is a product of maturity, but the reverse does not work! Maturity is not automatically achieved by doing the right thing.

    Many times in the organized church, I heard it preached that if your feelings weren’t there, do the behavior anyway and the feelings would come around. Because there is some truth to the statement–one may experience altered feelings through determination to be different–it flies in Christian circles. Even so, the issue runs deeper; our understanding must go beyond conditioning.

    The issue is and has always been about the heart. What if we could mature to the heart “feels” like loving God and loving others, and all behavior springs from there?

    Possible? Of course! Our righteousness is filthy rags, but abiding in His righteousness through communion with the in-dwelling presence is life and truth and maturity.

    People are dissatisifed with church for a variety of reasons; but most powerfully I think, because often they sense they are living unauthentic lives. That is the behavior they put on for church reasons is not what they honestly feel. Duty? Obligation? Morality? It’s wearing socially acceptable behavior like an ill-fitting, heavy winter coat.

    I think maturity is (among other things) being able to honestly love without feelings of duty. At least, there is a powerful authority as a human when love is freed from self-serving needs nor done from obligation.

    Authority and maturity are closely linked.

  5. Alan Knox says:

    Steve,

    I think it is interesting that we are discussing how to “measure” maturity. I have recently been studying Ephesians 4:1-16. In that passage, the Greek word for “measure” (metron) is used 3 times.

    4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

    4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

    4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly (lit., in measure), makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

    Perhaps we are not meant to “measure” maturity. Instead, it seems that maturity, as well as gifts and responsibilities, are “measured” by Christ?

    -Alan

  6. Heather says:

    I think the problem is that we are trying to meaure empirically something that is intangible and, therefore, not really possible to “observe”. When we do that we get ourselves into all kinds of trouble. The conclusions that we reach are flawed at best and judgemental at worst because they are based on opinion and human subjection.

    If we use service as a barometer, then what about those who serve in every capacity only because they are searching for significance and not out of love? Or because they have to be in control? I’ve experienced this with people and it’s not pretty!

    What about those who are sitting as Jesus’ feet and do not “appear” to not be serving at all (in organized church programs)? But really they are choosing the good part (Luke 10:42).

    I use the latter as an example because I have been through a season in my life of tremendous growth, yet to those outside it would appear to be a lack of maturity because I was not outwardly “serving” the Lord (through organized church programs). I was however, faithfully serving MY Lord and also sitting at His feet as I learned new things and matured in many ways. I was even asked during that time “What is wrong with you? How are you serving _________” (insert church name). Funny … I thought I was a servant of Christ, not of the local church. It was very hurtful.

    Again, I will say — maturity is not measurable, it’s not tangible, therefore it cannot be observed nor can it be measured empirically. We all are strong in some areas and weak in others. For example — what about the person with not much theological insight, but possesses genuine childlike faith?

    Alan is right: “Perhaps we are not meant to “measure” maturity. Instead, it seems that maturity, as well as gifts and responsibilities, are “measured” by Christ?”

    Blessings!!

  7. jadasgigi says:

    Christian maturity certainly cannot be measured from a distance…it seems to me that the institutional church is broken…I don’t think the “its always been done this way” mentality is going to fix it..ever…
    not only can maturity not be measured from afar…I’m not sure it can be grown from a distance either…hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas!
    PS sounds like you had a wonderful time in Cairo…:)

  8. ded says:

    Measuring myself, I tend to be myopic.

    Measuring others makes me judgmental.

    I think Steve is trying to get at what causes an individual to grow spiritually and what hinders him/her? How shall we reduce this to terms we can use to encourage and strengthen one another in Christ?

    Good point, Alan, regarding the term “measure”.

  9. Gordon Cloud says:

    Interesting data from Barna and a great post. The discussion has been intriguing as well.

    If I may, I would like to make a couple of observations. The first is relating to what I believe to be the best indicator of spiritual maturity, and that is the treatment of the brethren. Anyone can follow a creed or a list of commandments and still be a “white-washed sepulchre”. Truly loving the brethren (in deed as well as word) is an infallible indication that God is at work in the life of a believer. This does not necessarily require microscopic observation.

    In light of that, my second point is related to the role of a pastor (you knew I would get to that, didn’t you? :-) ). While the pastor is responsible for feeding the sheep, he cannot cause, nor hinder their growth. A shepherd provides access to pasture and water for his flock, but each individual sheep assumes the responsibility for their own growth. In light of this, a pastor is not arbitrarily limited to ministering to an artificial threshold of 20 or so people. In preaching/teaching, he can present the same word to 1 or 10,000. What they do with it individually is up to them. In addition, each Christian is instructed to desire the Word so that they may grow. This implies individual responsibility.

    The NT simply makes too many references to the ministry of pastor for us to disregard its relevance today.

    Just a couple of thoughts. As I said, great post.

  10. Alan Knox says:

    Gordon,

    You said:

    While the pastor is responsible for feeding the sheep, he cannot cause, nor hinder their growth. A shepherd provides access to pasture and water for his flock, but each individual sheep assumes the responsibility for their own growth. In light of this, a pastor is not arbitrarily limited to ministering to an artificial threshold of 20 or so people. In preaching/teaching, he can present the same word to 1 or 10,000. What they do with it individually is up to them.

    People learn in different ways. I learn in a completely different way than my wife. The only way someone could teach us both is to know us, and to know how we learn, and to care enough about us individually to vary the way he or she teaches.

    Similarly, my family is going through a completely different set of circumstances than our friends. They just had their first child, while we our eldest is becoming a teenager. Their families are unbelievers, while ours are believers.

    In other words, I’m suggesting that different sheep need different types of feed. As someone who teaches, I try to know the people that I am teaching, so that I know how to teach and what to teach. Certainly, the Holy Spirit works in all of this. I’m not sure that scattering a truckload of feed across the field is the best way to feed a flock of sheep.

    -Alan

  11. ded says:

    The insight of each commenter has such depth, even if the perpsectives are varied. I have long believed that God meets those who sincerely desire Him and takes them on to maturity, regardless of their cultural context. I see Jesus’ heart all over this topic and what folks have been sharing.

    Thanks, Steve, for stirring this up. It is a good discussion.

  12. Gordon Cloud says:

    Alan, neither am I suggesting that scattering a truckload of feed across the flock is the only way. A church should provide a number of means to feed the sheep. But a pastor’s charge is to “preach the word”. There will be times when smaller groups or individual counselling may indeed be called for.

    My comment was in response to Steve’s thought about the impossibility of pastoring a group larger than 20. I would contend that it is indeed possible and happens every day.

  13. Great discussion, everyone! Sorry I haven’t been back to interact with it until now.

    Gordon, so are you saying that the thrust of Barna’s findings (that pastors really don’t know where people are spiritually because they’re measuring with the wrong stick) is not accurate?

    You and I have been around on this topic before, and I sure don’t want to upset you just days after our wonderful visit together… ;) hehe

    But seriously, can a pastor know where the people are spiritually in a larger group?

    I think you’re mixing “preaching” with “pastoring” in your comments, and it ends up misrepresenting what I was getting at (not in a major way, but somewhat).

    As we’ve talked about before, I’m not opposed to preaching. But as the standard means of providing food for growth, I’m not convinced that it is the best method. Yes, Paul told Timothy to “preach the word”, but he didn’t specify to whom or in what context. Nor was he necessarily saying “Stand up in front of the crowd every Sunday and speak publicly.” Could “preach the word” not just as easily carry with it the connotation of “proclaim Jesus Christ”? In other words, Jesus told his disciples to “preach the gospel” — is that merely limited to declamatory “sermons”?

    It’s been a while since I really pushed you on this topic, so let me know if you’re even up for it. I wish we could be back in your living room again talking about this in person…would be much easier! ;)

    While the pastor is responsible for feeding the sheep, he cannot cause, nor hinder their growth.

    I would disagree with this statement, but will have to flesh it out later — maybe in another post sometime.

    Just to clarify, however, my present post was not decrying the role of pastor. It was related to how pastors perceive spirituality in the people differently from where those people actually are, by their own admission. If this doesn’t demonstrate a disconnect between “preacher” and “pastor”, I’m not sure what would.

    steve :)

  14. Gordon Cloud says:

    I will readily admit that there are some, perhaps many pastors, who use the wrong measuring sticks in regard to the spiritual maturity of their people. I agree with the major premise of your post. I would stipulate, though, that Barna’s numbers are just that, and numbers do not always tell the whole story, they are merely a reflection of a select number of churches that he surveyed.

    I do believe that it is possible for a pastor to have an idea about the level of spiritual maturity of his congregation. As they demonstrate the love of Christ, it reveals their maturity. Is a pastor incapable of seeing this demonstrated?

    However, having said that, I wonder if it is our responsibility to “measure” growth at all. Would that not be God’s concern? If it is something that is internal, man is not capable of seeing the heart. (Just thinking out loud on that one.) :-)

    Concerning “pastoring” and “preaching”, it is true that you may have preaching without pastoring, but you cannot have pastoring without preaching. I intentionally focused upon this in my comments because I believe that is the primary role of the pastor in the spiritual maturation process of his congregation. Neither do I believe the command to “preach the word” is confined to just the gospel. Nowhere does the Bible say that or define itself as being only the gospel message. If we are going to preach the word we must preach it in its “whole counsel”. If this command was only to “proclaim Jesus”, why was it addressed to a pastor? And why did just a few verses later he command Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist”? Would that not indicate that there is a difference in the two commands?

    As far as my comment concerning the pastor’s responsibility for the growth of the flock, I probably could have worded that better. What I am trying in my simple way to say is, a pastor cannot produce growth in people any more than a shepherd can in a sheep or even a parent in a child. A pastor can do his best under the leadership of God to provide what “nutrition” is necessary for growth, but the growth itself is something that is produced by God. Maybe that is a little clearer.

    I appreciate your willingness to engage in this discussion. I am very passionate about the ministry to which God has called me. I realize that we may differ on our understanding of the scope of what that may entail. I may argue staunchly for my point of view, but that does not change the fact that I love you as a friend and brother in Christ. :-)

  15. franklin says:

    Enjoyed the read very much. I almost get sick when I hear pastors talk about spiritual maturity in terms of “ministry involvement”. I’m to the point where I almost hate the word “ministry”…I certainly trip over it. Of course, it’s a good thing when people are serving others, in or out of the church walls, but i’ve seen to much MANIPULATION to get people to do stuff just so we can keep the danged machine running.

    When it comes to spiritual maturity I think there are two things that are overlooked: time, and suffering. We are designed to mature as we age. Life enlarges our hearts if we’re willing, and for those who are able to hear it, there is no stimulus to maturity like suffering. I hate saying that, and having said it, I’m not so sure how much I want to mature.

  16. Alan Knox says:

    “Pastoring” means shepherding, taking care of, etc. This is the responsibility of all believers, including elders/overseers.

    “Preaching” means “proclaiming as a herald”. It is rarely, if ever, used in Scripture of communication to believers. It is almost always used in the context of communicating to unbelievers.

    “Preach the word” was a command given to Timothy, who is never called a “pastor” or an “elder”. (However, on a side note, he is called to be a good deacon (“servant”) just a few verses after the instructions for deacons in 1 Tim. 3.)

    “Preaching” or “proclaiming” the word of God is required of all believers.

    There are no commands to preach, teach, or instruct given specifically to elders/overseers. They are certainly required to be able to teach, but this does not mean that they are responsible for all teaching or even a majority of the teaching. This is the responsibility of all believers.

    Elders / Overseers are responsible for being a good example of a follower of Christ. As such, they will certainly teach and care for God’s people, since this is what a follower of Christ will do.

    Maturity is a result of believers who are in Christ, working with one another in other to build up one another toward Christ. I agree that it cannot be measured by us.

    -Alan

  17. Gordon, I sure don’t mind you “argu[ing] staunchly”! :) That’s part of the reason I love having you around here. I’m certainly not just looking for pats on the back from my commenters!

    I will accept your clarification. Saying that a pastor (or anyone for that matter) can produce growth in another is naive at best. So we are in agreement on that. My disagreement was from the standpoint that a pastor can hinder growth in someone by standing in the way of that person’s growth.

    With regard to whether or not a pastor can see spiritual maturity in the church, I think it is possible. I’m not ruling it out entirely. But, again, I keep coming back to this key question: What is the best way for the body to function, based on what all we do have recorded in Scripture for us to read?

    It’s not a slam on pastors. And certainly not a slam on pastors with churches larger than 20 people. I don’t think that anyone can be expected to know how others are doing beyond that kind of small number.

    It all boils down to relationships. Jesus preached to large numbers of people. But He spent most of his time with 12. And even beyond that, 3. The others came and went. But the 12 stayed with him. I believe that relationship has a lot to do with that.

    Please know that I respect the ministry you have at PPBC. I would not have participated with you in Sunday’s service if I didn’t at least respect what you are doing. I love your heart, Gordon. You are sincere, and I believe that you not only believe God called you to that ministry, but you want to do it the way He wants you to do, for His glory. I really believe that.

    As for the comments regarding Timothy, I don’t know if I can explain my thoughts in this space here right now. I need to go back and look at a few things, too, before I speak too quickly off the cuff.

    The questions I’ll be looking for answers in my study, though, are ones such as:

    1. Is Timothy referred to as a pastor?
    2. Does the context of Paul’s admonition to “Preach the word” and “do the work of an evangelist” lend itself more to your viewpoint that they are (by virtue of being spoken separately) two different functions, or to my viewpoint (because “preach” and “evangelist” are mentioned in the same set of instructions) that they indicate complementary facets of the same function.

    Good discussion, as always! (and my anti-spam word is your favorite composer – pachelbel!)
    steve :)

  18. Alan’s comment came in while I was posting mine, and I didn’t see it until after mine was posted. He already anticipated the same question I posed about Timothy being called a pastor.

    Tradition refers to the letters to Timothy as part of the “pastoral epistles”, but I think that might cloud (no pun intended, Gordon!) our thinking on this topic…

  19. Phil Wyman says:

    Steve,

    Having been a proponent of small and simple for almost twenty years, I have seen these weaknesses from within and without. I went to church growth conferences in the 80s, and pastors like myself with churches of 25 people were forced to sit through classes such as “Breaking the 200 Barrier,” and that was the first level of teaching for the small churches!

    I have written extensively about small church life, and some years ago wrote something which fits this thought perfectly called Pastoring Paper People.

    I have been sickened to see what I had hoped a few years ago would be a dying trend of a corporate approach to pastoring only get worse in the circles I had recently been a part of.

    May God have mercy on us.

  20. Gordon Cloud says:

    Alan, you said:

    “Pastoring” means shepherding, taking care of, etc. This is the responsibility of all believers, including elders/overseers.

    I would agree that all believers have a responsibility towards one another in this regard, but let us not forget that “pastor/teacher” is a gift to the church according to Ephesians 4.

    While the Bible never refers to Timothy as a pastor, specifically, there are many records of church history which do so. It is generally accepted that he pastored at Ephesus. I have never seen any evidence produced that refutes this.

    Nowhere have I said that the pastor is to be solely responsible for the teaching of the church or for even the majority of it. I said that teaching is the primary role of the pastor.

    Please do not mistake my dissent for antagonism.

  21. Alan Knox says:

    Gordon,

    I enjoy a good discussion, and I can disagree and have others disagree with me without anger and without breaking fellowship (as long as we all drive a Dodge, right Steve?).

    I have not fogotten that the Lord gifts some as pastors/teachers, just as he gifts some as evangelists and some as prophets and some as apostles. I thank God for those who he uses to care for and teach his church. As an elder, I am especially grateful to God for the multitude within our group that are willing to be used by God to teach and care for other believers.

    Church history is very interesting and informative, but it is not Scripture. Scripture is inspired and given by God for… not church history. Was Timothy an elder in Ephesus? Scripture does not tell us that he was. Since Paul did not expect Timothy to remain in Ephesus for long, it would seem that he was not an elder. Perhaps it is best to see him as an apostolic representative, much like he was when Paul sent him to other churches in the book of Acts. Did Timothy teach and lead and care for people? Certainly. He was a follower of Jesus Christ.

    As more and more believers within our group have recognized that it is their responsibility to teach and lead others, more and more believers are being discipled, and I believe – though I cannot prove it – more and more believers are being matured in Christ.

    I also want to echo something that Steve said. I respect any believer who is following Christ. I am not against institutinal churches, big churches, preachers, etc. I am for the church of God in all of its forms. I thank God for you, Gordon, and for what he is doing through you.

    Steve, my anit-spam word is “dvorak”. What does a type-writer inventer have to do with music? When are you going to include good composers like David Gilmour?

    -Alan

  22. Gordon Cloud says:

    Steve, you said:

    It’s not a slam on pastors. And certainly not a slam on pastors with churches larger than 20 people. I don’t think that anyone can be expected to know how others are doing beyond that kind of small number.

    I’m not sure this is accurate. Let me explain why.

    While you were here, you mentioned that your desire was to go back to the book of Acts and see how church was done there. Let’s begin there.

    If you divide the thousands of members of the early church by 12 (the original number of apostles), you find each apostle with many more than 20 people under the influence of their ministry. (Incidentally, isn’t it ironic that the first church was a mega-church? ;-) )

    And again I would raise the question, why is it imperative that the pastor know the full extent of the spiritual maturity of each member of his flock? Where is this mandated in Scripture?

    You made reference to Jesus and His method of training the twelve. I would agree that as far as personal discipleship goes, this is a manageable number. But let us look at Jesus as the model (Chief) Shepherd. Despite the fact that He only personally mentored twelve, is He not the head of the entire body? Did He not minister to many others beside the twelve?

    That is not to elevate the status of pastor to that of Jesus. But if the local church (in whatever form it occurs) is a manifestation of the larger invisible body, cannot the undershepherd follow the example of Christ and provide shepherding to the entire body? Yes, there will probably be some who will receive more attention/mentoring/discipling than others, but that certainly should not detract from the responsibility of the pastor to be a teacher to all who will listen.

    As Alan pointed out earlier, different members have different needs. Certainly God equips different members of the body to minister to those needs. But again, why does that necessarily dictate that the pastor is not to preach the word to the congregation?

    (BTW, I will probably be able to continue this only until around noon, Friday, then I have to hit the road. Hope y’all have a merry Christmas.)

  23. Gordon Cloud says:

    Alan, looks like we are posting on top of one another.

    I would certainly agree that church history is not to be equated with scripture. However, I see nothing wrong using history as a tool in understanding scripture.

    I appreciate your interaction as well.

    I used to drive a Dodge until the motor blew up. :-(

  24. Alan Knox says:

    Gordon,

    Yes, we do seem to be posting at the same time. If we’re not careful, we’ll turn Steve’s blog into a chat room.

    I agree that a pastor should teach. Others should also teach, so that God can work through the gifts of many within the church.

    Bringing up the church in Acts is interesting… Did those 3000 meet togehter in one location? If so, where? Who taught and how often? How did they do this in homes? These are very interesting questions that Scripture does not answer. I don’t think we can call this a “mega-church” in the same sense that the term is used today.

    I do believe that the church in Acts had a senior pastor. And, I believe he was responsible for teaching and leading all of the believers personally. He was the same person who taught and led the Twelve.

    -Alan

  25. Gordon Cloud says:

    Alan, it would seem that the church in Acts met together on at least one occasion. :-)

    My comment concerning it being a mega-church was really tongue-in-cheek. I am not a big fan of the mega-church model that many follow today.

    And I would certainly agree that Christ was the head of the Acts church, just as He is today.

    As I have often stated to Steve, I would welcome the opportunity to share the responsibilities of pastoring my church with others. I think that is the ideal form of church function. We all know, however, that reality often falls somewhat short of what is ideal. There are those in local churches who could be and should be teaching, yet are not obedient to the Lord in fulfilling their giftedness. Admittedly, there are some pastors who are threatened by the thought of someone else teaching “their” congregation and so discourage such activity. (Diotrophes?)

    In the light of the former situation, I choose to remain faithful to God’s calling in my life. In hopes of avoiding the latter, I remain in hopes that I will be able to lead others to be teachers themselves.

  26. Alan Knox says:

    Gordon,

    On which occasion did the church in Acts meet together?

    -Alan

  27. Well, well, well…I should have never gone to bed, it seems!

    I appreciate the dialogue, guys, and since Gordon can only participate for a couple more hours, it may be silly for me to stir anything up this morning, so I’m kind of torn. I want to talk this out even more, but don’t want to be right in the middle of something and have to let it sit for a while.

    Gordon, I fear in conversations like this that you are letting history and tradition force you to read things back into the Scripture that quite possibly were never meant to be the way they are.

    You are far from alone in this, and I’m constantly looking out for areas in which I still might do this in my own thinking.

    A couple of thoughts, though, in response to what you have said. I applaud your desire to share the ministry with other teachers and mature believers. That is a wonderful goal and desire to have.

    Having said that, and even as optimistic and idealistic a person that I am, I don’t think it will ever happen. But it’s not because of anything wrong with you. And that’s the point I want to try to get across.

    Look around you. How many institutional churches do you see? Even in your small town of Cairo, we saw quite a few. Look across the rest of your state. Look at the country.

    Now, how many of those institutional churches are being shepherded by multiple pastors? How many of them have a whole list of names on their marquee?

    Yes, I realize that many churches have multiple elders, but are those elders really doing any shepherding? I have yet to see a church where the elders really functioned in that way. Nope. They were all “under” the “senior pastor”. Some might take a bit more initiative than others, but overall, it always came back to one man being “the head” of that church.

    And this is why I think that your goals of shared ministry would never be able to happen in your situation. Because the system won’t allow for it. Consistently, the institutional church defaults to one man at the top. It’s designed that way!

    In the minds of your church members, who is leading your church? From the perspective of the SBC, who is leading your church?

    Hypothetically speaking, let’s put aside our other differences and think about ministering together. (Note to my readers: this is completely hypothetical, and my visit to Pine Park Baptist Church had nothing to do with future ministry possibilities there, lest anyone start to misread between the lines of this conversation!)

    How would that work? Because the system provides all kinds of barriers to shared ministry like that. If you decided that we would share the preaching responsibility, don’t you think people would get upset that you were doing less for the money they are paying you?

    Do others get to teach in your church? Of course, you have Sunday School classes. And this can be a good thing on some levels. Sunday School classes tend to be a bit more informal, and depending on the teacher, may allow for great participation and growth to take place. But, when it all boils down, is that considered to be church? In the system, the answer is a resounding no.

    So “church” becomes a particular type of service. A service, which, by its very nature and design, limits participation, requires one man to consistently teach and preach, and all the focus gets put on that individual as “the pastor”. Yes, yes, we say that the church is “people”, and we say that all of these other meetings are expressions of the church. But, what we actually do tells a far different story. And the “real” message that people walk away with is that you and you alone are their pastor, and they have to come hear you preach in order to be good Christians. That shuts the door effectively on any other model of ministry taking place within those walls, I think.

    Again, it’s not anything that is wrong with you. It’s not that you’re not capable of preaching every week to that body. You obviously are! :) But if you’re going to see that as your primary responsibility, then what’s to share?

    What I don’t quite get, Gordon, is how you see preaching as your primary responsibility as a pastor, when preaching is talked about so little, especially in comparison to the many other functions of the body. Based on three little words that Paul wrote to Timothy, we have created a “primary responsibility”. That seems out of balance to me. And yes, just to follow upon an earlier comment you made, I think it is entirely possible to have pastoring without preaching, per se. It happens all the time in simple churches! ;)

    I love you, brother. Please always know that my comments to you are in love, even when I really challenge you on something. If what you are doing is in line with Scripture, and you can feel at peace about that, then go for it. But do make sure that you aren’t reading traditions back into Scripture (this goes for me, as well). If something is God’s design, it’s not an issue of “reality” vs. “idealism”.

    steve :)

  28. Gordon, I’m sorry I missed responding to one of your other comments above. I tend to respond backwards!

    Anyway, you wrote: And again I would raise the question, why is it imperative that the pastor know the full extent of the spiritual maturity of each member of his flock? Where is this mandated in Scripture?

    Since you believe that preaching is the primary responsibility of a pastor, then I’m not sure it would be imperative to know that. But since I see the role of pastors and elders to be much more relational and personal than primarily preaching, I believe that one must have an awareness of where the one being discipled is spiritually.

    Does that make any more sense?

  29. Rod, you made an excellent point early in the conversation that I want to affirm:

    I think the standard needs to be the fruit of the Spirit…. But most churches don’t really expect their members to exhibit these qualities.

    This is excellent. And I agree. I have often seen, especially in charismatic circles, a lot of emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, but not much on the fruit. That is sad. According to 1 Cor 13, the gifts without the fruit (esp. love) are worthless.

    steve :)

  30. Gordon Cloud says:

    Alan, I was referring to chapter 2, although I realize that was largely unbelievers at first. Although the Bible doesn’t state specifically that the church met in one location, neither does it say that it didn’t. I know that it refers to them going “house to house”, but that could be considered fellowship as easily as it could be anything else. In fact, that still occurs today, even in the largest churches.

    Steve,I appreciate your concern for my interpretation of scripture. I honestly do not think I am “reading” anything into scripture, but simply interpreting scripture in the light of what we know to be true concerning that day and time. However, for the sake of conversation, lets play along. If we are to base our concept of church methodology solely upon what the Bible states, then allow me to present the following questions.

    1. Where does the Bible mandate multiple elders? (I know it gives a historical reference to their existence, but it does to pastor/teachers as well)

    2. In the simple church model, where do the biblical offices of pastor and deacon fit in?

    3. Where do musicians fit in? (You’re going to have a hard time convincing me that God hasn’t equipped you for this ministry! :-) )

    There obviously could be more, but this is enough to make my point. I don’t believe that I am “reading into scripture” any more than you have to to arrive at your understanding of simple church. I do not say that argumentatively, but there is no directive for what you call simple church in the NT.

    You said, And this is why I think that your goals of shared ministry would never be able to happen in your situation. Because the system won’t allow for it. Consistently, the institutional church defaults to one man at the top. It’s designed that way!

    I would say that it was designed differently, but evolved into that state. As I have mentioned before, given the number of churches with only one pastor and the number without a pastor, could a contributing factor to this be that many are not answering the call of God to the ministry?

    You mentioned that “church” has become nothing more than a service. I wish you could have seen how the members of my congregation support one another as well as those in the community in time of need. The letters and cards that I read to the church last Sunday are a commonplace occurence. This is “church” ministry that is much more than an hour on Sunday morning.

    You question whether or not a pastor’s primary role is preaching. For the sake of the discussion, what then would you say is the primary role of a pastor? Upon what scripture do you base this understanding?

    I know I have already said a lot in this comment, (Yours is the only blog where I talk this much, I don’t know why. :-) ) but let me close with this. I don’t believe that the Bible mandates a lot of methodology concerning church. I believe that this is because it is a fluid concept that adapts to the culture. If you look at history, the face of the church has always evolved based upon culture. (And no, I don’t believe that we should let culture rule the church.) From the early Roman church, to the Puritans, to the church in early American history (where one pastor often served a number of churches), to the areas around the world today who are practicing church on a different scale than their Western counterparts, the church takes on the shape of the people in it. This is why it is a “body”.

    I have more I could say, but that will suffice for now. :-)

  31. Gordon, thanks for the great response. A very reasonable response, considering how I came out of the gate this morning with guns blazing ;) hehe

    Seriously, you have asked some good questions that I would like to take the time to answer in a post. It may have to wait until after the holidays, though, at this point. Or, I may get it posted for you to read when you’re back, but we’re also going to be out of town from Tuesday afternoon until Saturday night next week, so I’m not positive how much blogging I’ll be doing, either.

    Your questions about simple church are fair, but I’d rather start a new topic to talk about those questions, than to try to do it here in this thread.

    steve :) (anti-spam word: dvorak, the composer, not the typewriter keyboard dude, Alan!!)

  32. JenIG says:

    what an excellent post. i thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I especially liked this:

    However, I keep coming back to this idea that it is next to impossible for someone to actually “pastor” large groups of people (i.e., anything over about 20) because that person can’t possibly know the spiritual condition of the people he is “pastoring”

    well said!

  33. Gordon Cloud says:

    Steve, guns blazing though they were, I think you missed me. hehehe

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas. Our holidays were made a little brighter by your visit.

    But you just wait until the holidays are over! :-)

    BTW, I got Pachelbel.

  34. Alan Knox says:

    Gordon,

    You asked Steve about responsibilites for a pastor. I would consider 1 Peter 5:1-4 and Acts 20:28-35 to list biblical requirements of elders.

    You also asked where Scripture mandates multiple elders. Scripture does not mandate elders at all–one or multiple. When elders are mentioned in Scripture, they are mentioned in the plural, even in the context of one church.

    I’m glad to hear that the people there consider the church more than the one hour, Sunday morning meeting. That is certainly not normal in the churches that I have been part of.

    Steve,

    Thank you for answering my question about ‘dvorak’. But, you didn’t answer my question about David Gilmour.

    -Alan

  35. Alan, that’s only because I haven’t yet taken the time to…(hanging head in shame)…Google Gilmour’s name to find out who he is!

    Gordon, I’ll be waiting ;)

  36. Jen, thanks for reading! Nice to have you commenting over here. I definitely write a lot more here than I do on HSB! ;)

    Gordon, another thought that came to my mind about this idea of pastors knowing the spiritual condition: When the shepherd left the 99 to go find the 1, do you think it’s just because he counted and saw one was missing? Or did he know his sheep that well? In other words, is that story just about keeping the numbers up, or does it imply a relationship?

  37. Gordon Cloud says:

    Steve, greetings from Florida. In response to your last question, I’m not sure that the parable of the lost sheep is a fitting analogy for pastoring. As I recall, that is a parable of the kingdom of heaven. Given our differing viewpoints of eschatology, we probably won’t agree on the interpretation of that either. :-)

    However, you bring up a valid point concerning relationships. I have not said, and certainly have not intended to imply that pastors are not to have a relationship with their congregation. In fact, the opposite is true, we should seek to relate to those in the church as much as possible. But the fact is, you can have a close, even intimate, relationship and still not be aware of the full extent of their spiritual maturity.

    I also would like to respond to an earlier comment of yours to the effect that given my priority on preaching that it may be difficult for me to share that responsibility, let me assure you that I wish I could take the study and preparation time that I have each week and only invest it into one sermon instead of three or four. I would be more than happy to share the responsibility of the pulpit with others. (I think I even have a track record that demonstrates this, but you aren’t aware of that.) I am not so enamored with my own preaching that I feel the need to speak in every service.

    See, it’s 1:10 A.M. I can’t sleep, even in Florida. :-)

  38. ded says:

    Back to the idea of maturity:

    I lay awake this morning about 2:30 pondering many things and had this thought:
    Abiding in Christ equals maturity.

    It isn’t that maturity is measured or achieved or even maintained.

    We purpose to be at rest in Him, period. He takes care of everything else.

  39. Well said, ded. And a very merry Christmas to you and Mrs. ded and all the (not so) little ded-ites ;) hehe Maybe we’ll see you at the Franklin’s tonight??

  40. Gordon, you wrote: I am not so enamored with my own preaching that I feel the need to speak in every service.

    I absolutely did not think this in any way! I think I said that the system would not allow it. It was not personal at all.

    As a side note to this aspect, I did comment favorably to Christy that I had noticed in the Sunday evening service that you did not feel the need to have a sermon on top of the special musical presentation. So I definitely don’t see in you “the need to speak in every service.”

    We’ve gotten quite a bit involved in tangential topics, and I feel like I’m not taking the time to really deal with them efficiently. I promise we’ll talk this out in more detail so that we understand each other better.

    For now, have a wonderful Christmas and enjoy your time away!

    steve :)

  41. Gordon Cloud says:

    Thanks, Steve. Actually I was responding to this statement that you made.

    Again, it’s not anything that is wrong with you. It’s not that you’re not capable of preaching every week to that body. You obviously are! But if you’re going to see that as your primary responsibility, then what’s to share?

    Later, Dude! Have a good one. ;-)

  42. Pingback: Theological Musings » Q and A about Simple Church (part 1)

  43. Pingback: Theological Musings » Q and A about Simple Church (part 2)

  44. ken says:

    I agree with the author that there needs to be an effort to assess spiritual growth. In the book of Hebrews, the writer talks about spiritual babies or infants who still need milk even though they should be drinking milk. He must have had a way to gauge where they currently where and realized that they should have grown further than that.
    Hebrews 5:12 says “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” The Holy Spirit is certainly speaking through this author, likely Paul and saying that there is an expectation for believers to grow in a manner that can be assessed. Teachers here doesn’t mean that they were expected to have gone to Seminary and become teachers but rather that they should be mature to be able to teach and mentor.
    In first 1 John 2:13 NLT, the apostle John writes to believers at different levels of maturity saying “I am writing to you who are mature in the faith because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning. I am writing to you who are young in the faith because you have won your battle with the evil one.” John is talking about spiritual maturity not age. Surely there was a way to tell. In the scriptures, only mature believers are encouraged to be given positions of leadership. How do you tell who is a mature believer to put in a position of authority if you have no way of assessing?
    So indeed there should be a way to assess. That way is through spending time with the people, small group lay pastors are the ones who can do this if the church has small groups. A shepherd knows sheep by spending time with them. I agree with the authors idea of 20 people or less.
    I’m actually currently planting a church in Austin, Texas right now and I’m figuring out these important details…