Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting the Questions Right

To anyone who knows anything about the OPC, not only is the denomination small, but a majority of her congregations are small as well. This lack of size does create certain challenges. However, it also can lead to certain questions, all of which are not necessarily helpful or the right questions to be asking. In this new book on the church, Kevin DeYoung has some helpful thoughts and questions regarding the issue of church size (pp. 31-36).

DeYoung notes that often, when faced with the problem of a church that is not growing and maybe even shrinking, people will respond by asking "What are we doing wrong?," or "What is the Church not doing right?" Although he is directing his comments towards the "disgruntled-with-church-as-we-know-it" crowd or "Disgruntled Johnny," his insights are also applicable for all who fall into the trap of assuming that the lack of church growth is the tell all sign that there is something wrong with the church.

This is not to suggest that these questions are not the right ones to ask, but they certainly shouldn't be the first. There is no teaching in the Bible that promises, suggests or even hints at the idea that the size and growth of a church is the measure of success. As DeYoung states, "the church does not succeed or fail based on the flow of its membership roles." So, rather than jumping right to the assumption that something is wrong with the church and asking "What is the church doing wrong?," there are better questions that could be asked.
  • Are we getting in the way of the gospel?
  • Are we believing the gospel?
  • Are we relying on the power of the gospel?
  • Are we getting the gospel out?
  • Are we getting the gospel right?
  • Are we adorning the gospel with good works?
  • Are we praying for the work of the gospel?
  • Are we training up our children in the gospel?
  • Are we trusting in God's sovereignty in the gospel?
These questions can be very helpful and useful in assessing a church's ministry--however, I would also add to the end of each question "well." It is certainly a good thing to be doing these things, but it is also important to be doing them well. DeYoung hints at this in a brief discussion of the first question, "Are we getting in the way of the gospel?" He notes that despite the misuse and abuse of 1 Corinthians 9.22, we would do well to take Paul's words and example serious in seeking to be all things to all people. Because some churches are aware of the danger of measuring church success by numbers and becoming gospel "sell-outs," they go to the other extreme and see small size and rejection from people as a badge of honor. They complement themselves for being concerned with truth and not being controlled by the need for results.

But a conern for truth and the right desire not to be ruled by pragmatism does not provide an excuse for communicating poorly. The gospel is already a stumbling block, we do not need to add to that by making it unnecessarily hard for people to be welcomed into the church. We don't need to sound like we're channeling some sixteenth century theologian. We don't need to try to recreate the worship and ethos of eighteenth century New England Puritanism. But we also don't have to borrow from twenty-first century American culture either.

The bottom line is that God asks us to be good and faithful, not big and influential. We need to constantly be assessing ourselves by the scriptures, or as Reformed theology has emphasized, we need to be reformed according to the scriptures. We do not need to let small numbers cause us to question the church--in fact, we don't need to let numbers large or small do this. Regardless of the size of one's church, one needs to ask, "Are we being good and faithful?" I think DeYoung's questions above are quite helpful to that end. We need to get the questions right, before we can get the right answers.

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