Friday, October 26, 2007

Sheep or Constituents?

Many who endorse the Church Growth Movement see it merely as a theologically neutral tool for ministry. In a desire simply to increase the number of people hearing the Good News, what can be wrong with borrowing from the very practical realm of sociology, psychology, and business? We need to be practical and pragmatic in understanding trends and technology if the church hopes to remain effective in a modern world, so the gurus of success tell us.

Aside from the incompatibility of the concepts of "effective" or even "successful" as applied to the ministry and mission of a church under the cross, other matters in this philosophy are equally troubling. In an article entitled "Who Asks the Trough Questions?" from the October 2007 issue of Religious Product, Lyle Schaller reveals the fundamental issue at stake with three simple words. As he discusses five current trends in American Protestantism, he makes this statement: "High on that list is a consequence of that higher level of competition among Christian congregations to identify, reach, attract, welcome, serve, assimilate, and nurture potential future constituents."

What an amazing contrast this is with Jesus who told a parable of the shepherd who left the 99 to look for the one lost sheep. Our Lord often compared Himself with a shepherd who guarded and protected his flock of sheep, intimately aware of each animal's name, ready to sacrifice his own life for theirs. He was not the "hired hand" who abandoned the sheep at the first sign of danger, or who entered the sheepfold illegally to take advantage of the sheep.

But here we have the sheep for whom the Shepherd laid down his life described in sterile business lingo: potential future constituents. Customers, if you prefer. We exist to provide a more appealing product than the next guy down the street. After all, this is a matter of competition, where we must find our 'market niche.'

Sorry, but the folks who will gather on Sunday at my church, member or not, will remain sheep in need of a shepherd, not constituents in search of a more successful CEO.

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