A couple of days ago, I wrote about my struggle of faithfulness versus fruitfulness. I confessed that I want to be perceived and praised as “successful.” I now realize that I have been engaged in idol worship. As a pastor, I have been worshipping the idol of church growth.
Author Will Mancini crystalized my sin in his book, Church Unique: How missional leaders cast vision, capture culture, and create movement. He explains that “the primary culprit of popular church growth methodology–the iniquity of church growth–is not the teaching in and of itself but the tendency to nurture growth idolatry in the pastor’s heart.”
As the author explains,
Growth idolatry is the unconscious belief, on the soul level, that things are not OK with me if my church is not growing. I have struggled with this sin, and I know many other leaders do too.
An idol is anything we add to Jesus in order to make life work. The irony is that in the call to preach the gospel many ministers fail to apply the gospel personally in ways that free their heart from a performance trap. This performance, of course, is measured most easily by church attendance, so the temptation to compare is always as close as our heartbeat. For some, the competition nurtured through sports fanaticism or market indicators magnifies the intensity of having to grow. When it’s time to attend a pastor’s gathering, deep emotions are connected to how the church is doing. If it’s growing, we can’t wait to find subtle ways to tell our ministry colleagues. If it’s not, we hope no one asks (or we just don’t attend the group).
Ouch! That quote describes the struggle of my own heart. My perception of my own success rises and falls with our church’s weekly attendance figures. If attendance is up, I’m a success; if it’s down, I’m failing. When people ask how the church is doing, I try to find creative ways of describing internal growth because our numbers reveal our growth is flat. Add it all up, I conclude there must be something wrong with me as a pastor.
I need to repend of my own idolatry. I need to be reminded again that God rewards faithful service. I need to refocus my attention on depth versus breadth–commit myself to build deeply into the lives of people and let God determine the breadth of my ministry.