Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers,
and shut thy doors about thee:
hide thyself as it were for a little moment,
until the indignation be overpast…
The Bad News
I’ve been thinking about the damage “social distancing” mandates have done to churches. After all, generally speaking, churches are sustained both by the biblical exhortation to “not neglect our meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25) and by the business end of what it takes to accomodate the meetings–as in a lot of brick and mortar.
But I am suggesting that no matter the outcome, i.e. the limiting of both congregants and contributions, this experience might be a very good thing for believers who discover or re-discover the Holy Spirit model of Church growth that is not so dependent upon the physical size of the church and the congregation.
In fact, even if all the brick and mortar is gone, so to speak, the church still flourishes.
And perhaps this re-focus and/or reminder comes just in time.
Because there may well be many more reasons in the future that will reduce participation and donations in and to physical churches, whether by a new quarantine or something else.
But believers will still get what spiritual sustenance, strength, hope, and guidance they seek God for because, well, they seek God, relegating material gain to its proper place only, and not as an indication of godliness, as some religious paradigms teach.
And it has always been so because the real leadership of the Christian faith does not dwell inside brick and mortar but inside the heart of each individual follower of Jesus Christ.
But first, to “Big-Business Model” churches, as it were (very popular since the latter part of the twentieth century) which, for many, often overshadow the fact that size is not necessarily indicative of the presence or blessings of God.
Indeed, the big business model might well be a dangerous mindset*, given the prophecies concerning a severe persecution to come, if we are, indeed, in the “end times” as many prophecy scholars indicate.
Because if it’s down to only a one-on-One with God, due to what may come, this is still sufficient.
Christians are encouraged to remember God’s “model” of “church growth” has very little to do with nickels and noses and everything to do with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The “Big-Business Model”?
Back in the late twentieth century, some pastors were noticing that it was hard to “grow” their churches because they were not successfully appealing to the 18-35-years-old demographic. They were thinking they needed better marketing or perhaps a re-design of church organization.
Then along came Peter.
Not Saint Peter, generally regarded as the first human leader, as it were, in the church (see below), but revered secular business management guru, Peter Drucker who, having brilliantly helped industry to maximize its potential via his operations model, was just then looking to help out non-profits, too.
It seemed a marriage made in business heaven.
Adapting Drucker’s management techniques to the new, “emergent” churches, “founding pastors,” aka the “druckerite trinity,” Rick Warren, Bob Buford, and Rick Hybels, quickly shifted church management style and the pews soon overflowed with the target audience.
It was the dawn of a new kind of church growth not so dependent on the Word of God anymore as much as the word of the druckerites, as they were called.
Trouble was, some of the church oldsters were causing some problems.
They began to ask whatever happened to the old, Scripture-inspired hymns now being replaced by what one old-timer I knew called “seven-eleven songs,” that is, seven-word chants repeated eleven times–and so loud! with the volume up so high it hurt the ears! (One church offered free ear plugs at the door.)
Others noted, with much more concern, all the new books (many distributed through the Leadership Network) used along with, and in many cases instead of, the Bible, as the primary source of information for the new business model–and a new church paradigm for modern times.
Where, they wondered, were the warnings about Christian persecutions, trials, and tribulations– sure to come, as Jesus foretold–and how to prepare and overcome?
And, even more concerning, whatever happened to the teachings on prophecy, specifically, end times prophecies many mature believers had studied for years and knew to be fast-approaching in this generation?
But the young new members and the young new business model of church growth got the attention, it seemed.
Many of the old-timers left on their own, or were told to find another church…
So I can imagine, what with the COVID-19 quarantine effect on church attendance for the past few months along with the fact that the mortgage still has to be paid and the facilities maintained, there may well be some big concerns about what church growth–at least church sustaining–model to follow now.
Because, some both inside and outside the church are saying we might never “get back to normal” and had better get used to a “new normal”.
The Good News
But I’m thinking this might be a blessing in disguise, prompting many who are not sold on and/or who reject outright the Peter Drucker model of church growth in favor of the Saint Peter model (aka the Holy Trinity model).
Saint Peter model?
Via the occasion of how the first church member–the Saint, himself–was identified and acknowledged by Jesus, Himself, this narrative explains the plan:
13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, andon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not[a]prevail against it.19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth[b]will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19, NKJV, emphasis added).
Peter knew who Jesus really was and on THIS knowledge, imparted to Peter by God, membership would grow.
It was–is and will always be–a church growth plan not based on fancy advertising campaigns designed to meet “perceived needs” (or polled needs) of the target demographic but by revelation of God’s Spirit meeting the real needs of hungry hearts and inquiring minds.
And that’s not all.
Later, after Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins and the veil separating us from the throne room was torn down from top to bottom and just before he ascended back to heaven after His resurrection, He promised to send “another” to lead, guide, and teach us”: the Holy Spirit.
Thus–as the old-timers and many others know well–we come to Christ by promptings of the Holy Spirit, not business programs, performances, or pontiffs, and the Holy Spirit does this independently of our “brick and mortars.” Here is more information on this plan.
We are not new church members because of business plans, but because of the Holy Spirit, sent by God, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, by and through the Spiritual Leadership Network, as it were.
As put in Jesus’ words to Nicodemus when explaining the need to be “born again”:
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8, NIV)
The Best News
Thus, even though believers caught up in big business churches, or even little, traditional Bible-believing fellowships, might be dismayed over the social distancing mandates (because we need each other for a full experience of what ministries the Holy Spirit provides us when we fellowship together, i.e., preaching, teaching, words of prophecy and knowledg, healing, miracles, and so on), God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is not dependent on any man made structures or plans.
Indeed, if only two can gather together, Jesus encourages us thus:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:20, ESV)
Not only that, but, like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, He can multiply spiritual food, as it were, to meet the needs of however few are present in prayer–or even if just one is present, in prayer, alone.
I am reminded here of the testimony of one former prisoner of war who said that even when he had been tortured, drugged, and put in isolation over a period of time, all it took was one, small scrap of the Lord’s prayer, all he was able to remember and express, for him to feel the presence of God in his cell, and to be edified and comforted.
However, Jesus never promised big churches, business model or not. Indeed, to the original prospective church attendees, so to speak, He said this:
57 As they were walking along the road, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 Jesus replied,“Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (Luke 9:57-58, Berean Study Bible)
And to worldly church growth aspirations and how they differ dramatically from biblical aspirations, consider also this:
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (James 2:5)
In other words, even if we can’t go to our lovely churches, big or small, successful as the world would label them or humble, built “severally as the Spirit wills,” fellowship need not be hindered.
If even it is only possible one-on-One, believer and God.
And if we are as close to end times persecutions as the Bible predicts, there may well be plenty of times we stand or kneel in God’s presence in our “prayer closets,” all by ourselves.
But HE will be still be there. As promised.
His blessings are not hindered by virus or vice, program or pogrom and His Word is not bound–or limited–by what man can or cannot do. As Paul put it to Timothy when Paul was in prison:
And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. (2 Timothy 2:9, NLT)
And the days get darker we may experience more restrictions like the virus quarantines, and surely, as prophecy indicates, more persecution, but we are never alone and without means of fellowship and the richness of God’s provision for us.
No need to worry.
And THAT is the silver lining of awareness that will not only bring us closer to God but also encourage, strengthen, and embolden us.
*For a sampling of how not only the Big Business Model of church growth can negatively effect the church but also other belief systems and practices, both old and newly re-packaged, as well, I invite you here for a brief summary of the end product of a research project from 2012.
Here is also brief warning about adopting business models, specifically, for church growth plans:
Why We Need To Be Careful About Adopting Business Models In Our Churches (Church Leadership May 08, 2019, Karl Voters)
Image of social distancing from Wikimedia Commons
Image of Peter Drucker Total Quality Management (TQM) business model from Wikimedia Commons
Image of The Holy Trinity from Wikimedia Commons
Image of “old man praying” (Vincent van Gogh) from Wikimedia Commons