Hat-tip to Gairney Bridge for this article from the United Methodist Church (UMC) on vitality, growth, worship and church programmes.  Oh, dear.  Gairney Bridge is right — ‘Worship is NOT like going to the mall!’

This kind of thing really frightens me — as much as when Catholics rail against sola Scriptura.

In July 2009, I reported on a UMC survey which found that its members were dying faster than the American population as a whole.  I realise that, as with the Anglican Communion, there is a good and faithful remnant, but they too must shudder when they read about the promotion of church growth, vitality drivers and so forth.

In the UMC’s ‘Keys to building vital congregations’, they champion the following concepts (okay, I’m just using the corporate-speak that they have used):

– a pastor is effective by the third year, by which time he should be contributing to ‘congregational vitality’

– ‘effective pastors are those that develop, coach and mentor laity in leadership roles’

– ‘contemporary services work best when the music echoes what people hear on pop radio’

– ’25 percent to 50 percent of attendees in leadership during the last five years’

Another thing that scares me about this is that the UMC hired a consulting firm, Towers Watson, to conduct this survey.  But, even scarier, a Methodist, Fred Miller, president of The Chatham Group — another consulting firm — is the lead consultant on this vitality project. He had this to say:

The primary responsibility of everybody in all parts of our system — clergy, laity, general agencies, conferences — is to order our ministry around the drivers of vitality … Because if we are a more vital church, we will make more disciples of Jesus Christ.

Well, I worked for a worldwide top-10 consulting firm for 11 years and, until I started immersing myself in Scripture and orthodox Christianity a year and a half ago, I would have said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’   Now, I’m no expert in either Scripture or theology, but even at my neophyte stages, I can point out that something is very wrong with this picture.  And, it’s all been said before — ‘Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church and management theory’ — what an eye-opener!

Read again what Mr Miller says (emphases mine):

The primary responsibility … in all parts of our system … is to order our ministry around the drivers of vitality

Hmm. ‘Primary responsibility’ — shouldn’t that be ‘Jesus commanded us’?  ‘System’ — shouldn’t that be ‘church’?  ‘Drivers of vitality’ — shouldn’t that be ‘Gospel message’? What New Testament verse did that come from?

What did Jesus actually say?  He gave His disciples — and us — the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20), specifically:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

I lament the absence of anything Christ-oriented or biblical — including a New Testament passage — in that article.  I also abhor the Peter Drucker-Rick Warren orientation of their programme. (The link has a series of my posts exposing the errors in it.)  As Voddie Baucham preached yesterday — our Christian walk is about God’s sovereignty and Christ as the propitiation for our sins. It’s not about us!

The worst sentences in that article — for me — were the following:

‘The research also showed pastoral tenure contributes to congregational vitality. Whether a pastor is effective is usually apparent by the third year. If a pastor is effective by then, this success is likely to grow over time with the highest level at 10 or more years.’ So, if your church doesn’t grow by then in terms of numbers, you’re a failure?  Think of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3.  Some of them, like the persecuted church in Smyrna, no doubt lost members and remained purer as a result.

– ‘[Contemporary] services can use traditional hymns, but they had better have a backbeat.’

‘Churches also have rotating lay leadership with people sharing their gifts in a variety of ways over time. People do not serve year after year in the same position.’ That is very consulting-oriented, and that’s one of the things I enjoyed about working in that industry.  But management consulting has nothing to do with God, Christ and church. So — what will happen?  Something like this: ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Jones, we’ve found you are a great success as head Sunday school teacher.  But, as successful as you are, we’re going to move you off now onto something else.  Mrs Smith will take over starting in September.  In the meantime, you can work out the transition with her.’  Whaaaat??

What the UMC needs are sermons that drive home the importance of detaching ourselves from the world and secular pursuits, including vitality drivers.  The UMC would fill its pews quicker than lightning if only they had preachers like Baptist pastor Voddie Baucham.

Here, he preaches on our man-centred approach to the terrible things which happen in our world and tells us to judge ourselves before we start judging God (hint: if you do the first, you’ll never be tempted to do the second!):

In this next one, he tells us to put our social and racial divisions aside — God’s grace still works through us (abolition of slavery) and reminds us that He created all of us in His image — ‘something secular humanists will never understand’:

I pray along with many traditionally-oriented Methodists that this church growth thing does not go too far.

For anyone who still thinks this is a good thing, please read the experiences of the Lutherans on Dr Gregory Jackson’s Ichabod, the Glory Has Departed.