By reducing our conceptions of the church to an institution or organization to be managed, there often follows a decreased expectation of the supernatural in the affairs and activities of the church and, by extension, the individual Christian. Rather than seeking results beyond our human schemes and expectations, we find ourselves managing the church as an enterprise in which results can be forecast and progress measured using metrics common to modern business. The watchword becomes “measurable results,” without which an activity is deemed unworthy of pursuit or, if implemented, unsuccessful. Lost is the concept of faithfulness to our Lord and the principles of his kingdom, which may not always yield success in terms visible to us.
This, I think, is why “making disciples” is often exchanged for proselytism—because conversions are more easily measured than spiritual growth. The result can be evangelistic efforts and campaigns that are aimed at obtaining professions of faith, which as we now know are often nothing more than assent to a set of ideological propositions. This might explain why seventy-seven percent of American adults claim to be Christian and yet a mere four percent agree with the most basic tenets of the Christian faith. In the absence of true spiritual growth—in which our conceptions of reality are informed by Scripture—we can remain immature in our understanding and practice of the Christian faith.
Additionally, conversion through mere intellectual assent may remain devoid of real spiritual transformation. In the absence of an incarnational experience, one is left with an understanding of being Christian as merely following a set of do’s and don’ts—a life of self-reliant sin management. The unhealthy institutionalization of the church only reinforces this false notion, thus perpetuating a false understanding of what it truly means to follow Jesus.
Lastly, institutionalization has a dramatic impact on our expectations of the office of pastor. Instead of shepherd, the pastor is expected to function as the CEO—the person primarily responsible for the so-called success of the organization. As a shepherd, the pastor is devoted to the spiritual well-being and maturity of the flock. This is an activity beyond the scope of measurable metrics. In contrast to task-oriented church leaders, the pastor who shepherds a faith community through the competent exposition of the Scripture in a spirit of self-sacrificial service to those entrusted to his care leads a flock that thrives.
Sadly, the institutional mind-set has little patience for such pastors who invest more in the spiritual growth of their people rather than the numerical growth of the congregation. This might explain why only one out of ten men who enter the pastorate today will survive until retirement. This is an appalling statistic that reveals unhealthy expectations, which when unmet result in the pastor being kicked to the curb. I can’t imagine Jesus treating people the way we frequently treat those who have been called to preach the gospel!
© 2013 by S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the president of Battle for Truth and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on Battle for Truth and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.