Mimicking the Fruit: The Church Is Not an Entrepreneurial Endeavor

Those who grew up in a Christian context, know about the “fruit of the Spirit:”

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control….”  Galatians 5:22-23a

The saving work of Christ should naturally result in a particular type of character: the character of Christ. It is not something we make by our efforts (that would be a ‘work’ not a ‘fruit’). A healthy tree naturally bears the fruit. If it doesn’t, then the tree is sick or diseased. The fruit in our lives is evidence of the Spirit at work in us, conforming us to the image of Christ. Like a farmer planting seed and tending to the plant doesn’t himself produce the fruit; God does. As it relates to ministry, we seek to create healthy environments for the Spirit to do His thing. That is faithfulness on our part. But the Spirit makes it happen. We are faithful. He is efficacious.[1]

This is not the philosophical basis of most growth-oriented churches and church planting in the United States. Instead, we have taken our cues from American business and entrepreneurial enterprises. I think church leaders can learn much from the business world, but we must make something very clear: the church is not an entrepreneurial endeavor. Sadly, we conceive of it as such and apply business metrics and models to create a “successful endeavor.” “Ten percent growth in membership year over year.” “Five percent growth in establish member giving and 75% of new members starting to give.” “Raising small group engagement from twenty percent of the congregation to 50%.” These all sound like wonderful developments and I have no objection to these goals nor to things learned about human behavior from the business world. But when we focus all our time on simply “hitting the numbers” something else is being forced out: spiritual life. Because our “ministry” simply becomes programs to produce what looks like spiritual fruit. What has really happened is that Christian character is replaced with branding. Caring for the poor becomes a marketing gimmick or virtue signaling. Preaching becomes a form of propaganda. We dissect the healthy organism in the hopes of making something that looks just like it … cloning it… mimicking that life so it can be replicated over and over again. Again, what is missing is true LIFE! It’s missing the work of the Holy Spirit to make the wooden puppet a real boy.

How do we make a spiritually vital church? I can’t make that happen and neither can any other human being I know. No human can. If you meet someone who says they can, be sure that they will seek to have the congregation mimic that life through force of personality or manipulation. When that isn’t sufficient, some will turn to bullying and intimidation. The result may be a growing machine, but it will be more like a taste of hell than a taste of heaven.

Church leadership seminars, webinars and church planting conferences can be helpful and encouraging, but so many focus on technique as the key to success. I am reminded of the Second Great Awakening in the United States during the early part of the 19th Century. Preachers like Charles Finney instituted innovations to preaching and religious meetings designed to move the individual to a conversion “experience.” The movement of the Spirit was not necessary:

“There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind becomes truly religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth. They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God….

“A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means—as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.”[2]

Author Michael Horton writes that when the leaders of the Church Growth Movement claim that theology gets in the way of growth and insist that it does not matter what a particular church believes: growth is a matter of following the proper principles, they are displaying their debt to Finney.[3]

Such a position shows neither an understanding of the New Testament nor an awareness of its contents. And yet, we see this very philosophy reflected over and over again in our church planting and church growth training. “The right personality, the right resources, the right techniques: this is what makes a ministry successful.” If we were in our right minds and not led astray by dreams of kingdom conquest, we would readily see the repulsive nature of these ideas.  Please, take my meaning: I believe in the mission of the church and that people should be trained to go out into the fields white for harvest. I have spent most of my adult life in that endeavor. And I condemn no one as I have at times let myself become intoxicated with the very same dreams. But our lust for numerical success has eclipsed our commitment to faithfulness. We have used the ways of this world to mimic the fruit of God’s Spirit and patted ourselves on the back for these accomplishments…. accomplishments that will not stand the test of fire:

13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” 1 Corinthians 3:13

If we continue to consider the church an entrepreneurial endeavor and build with human techniques, we may have accolades in this life, but that work will not endure. We must depend wholly on the Spirit to build the Church.

[1] 1 Corinthian 36 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”

[2] from What a Revival of Religion Is, C. Finney, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/DETOC/religion/finney1.html

[3] The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney, by Michael Horton, https://www.monergism.com/disturbing-legacy-charles-finney

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