Acceptable worldliness in the Church

contemporary church service2Well, I’m going to say upfront that I might say some things that will rub some Christians the wrong way, especially those in the non-denominational world. I’m just putting it out there. In fact, it’s safe to say that this post might get a bit ranty. But I have observed a kind of worldliness that has been brought into much of contemporary evangelicalism that gets a pass.

No, it’s not having a hot band playing secular music or what some might associate with secular music with Jesus lyrics. Nor am I referring to sexual immorality with fornication and adultery going, although of course that can definitely be classified as worldliness worthy of some serious discipline.

I’m referring to the way we do church. And by that I mean, structuring church according to the philosophies of this world including borrowing leadership principles and techniques in the name of church governance. I’m talking about creating corporations with the senior pastor as CEO, elders as the board of directors, staff as the implementers of whatever vision was cast by “leadership” so the church achieves its outcomes for the consumers called the congregation.

I don’t know where it started. I don’t know when pastors/elders turned from being shepherds of Gods people with qualifications specified in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9  into Jesus PR marketers, thought leaders, transformational strategists and vision casters. I don’t know when this informed the qualifications of leadership, with pastors being dismissed for ‘not being a good fit’ or ‘carrying out the strategies of the organization.’ I don’t know when it became acceptable to abandon the care of the visible church according to the vision Jesus already gave to come up with innovative techniques to run the company and franchising it out through satellite churches. I don’t know when pragmatism ran all over liturgy and kicked it out the door. I don’t know when the apostle’s teaching as specified in the NT, turned into storied, life principles and other cute methods to attract people, instead of boldly proclaiming the whole counsel of Scripture.

And speaking of casting a vision. Where did this come from? Not Scripture for sure. Jesus already cast the vision for the church–go make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching all that was commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He did not call his shepherds to build strategic models but to serve his people so that they grow together in the unity of the faith, no longer being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:11-14).  That does not negate the need for corporate worship but does indeed inform how it should be carried out. And if you’re talking more about John Maxwell than the apostle John, that’s a problem.

Now, please do not get me wrong. I’m not saying that our local churches should not have leadership or organization. Of course they do! But it’s not worldly leadership or organization, in the sense that church is modeled according to the philosophies that make corporations great. I think in rightly rejecting this unfortunate intrusion of worldly modeling, some go too far and reject a leadership or hierarchical structure altogether. Throughout Scripture, God has called out some to be leaders and there is the expectation of how gatherings should be conducted. Local churches do require governance.  To deny this in favor of a flattened, egalitarian structure where you have no real leadership or liturgical organization is probably just as bad.

There is much talk of leadership today. So many are obsessed with how to be a great leader. But when leadership is modeled after the latest corporate strategy, that’s the exact kind of worldliness that Paul warns against in his letter to the Corinthians. They had the same problem, defining the church according to pagan philosophies of what a great structure and great leaders were supposed to look like. It’s no wonder too, why such churches become very personality driven and look more like concert venues.

But leadership in the church is wholly different that corporate leadership. The Mortification of Spin team have touched on some key points related to governance of the church that is NOT a corporate model that makes secular companies great.  Give it a listen. It’s good stuff.

Most importantly, Jesus demonstrated that the concept of leadership is born in servant hood, with denial and self-sacrifice. Leaders are really servants. Leaders serve the church to nourish the body. Even Jesus’ disciples had this issue in understanding that Jesus introduced a contrary paradigm to what the world would call great.  In God With Us, Glenn Kreider, my theology professor from DTS, has captured it well regarding Jesus rebuke of his disciples when they asked who would be the greatest. Citing Matt. 20:25-28, he states;

The contrast between Gentiles and disciples is clear. Gentiles are concerned about positions and influence, are obsessed with being served, are ambitious about climbing the ladder of success, are interested in making an impact, and desire to change the world. They want to be recognized for their greatness, receive the trappings of power, and be praised and honored by their subjects. Their desire to accumulate property and people, climb the ladder of success, and be famous and important in the eyes of the world. But of his disciples, Jesus says, “Not so with you.” Instead, disciples are servants. They look for opportunities to give, not to take; to serve, not to lord it over others; to be anonymous, not to be famous; to lift others up, not to elevate themselves.

Seeking to be a great leader in the vein of how the world views leadership, is the opposite of what Jesus commanded. Promoting leadership in this vein has not only become rampant but also accepted. And it is worldly. Servants don’t go about boasting the latest techniques they’ve figured out to boost a corporation. Servants of Christ don’t try to figure out how to apply the latest marketing strategy. They just serve. They pass down what has already been provided for the building up of the body.

I pray for Christ’s church. I pray that we become less obsessed with how to build strategic models and model the obsession that Jesus already provided. I pray we be more concerned with service and sacrifice and less about leadership. I pray that we become more faithful  servants and less preoccupied with marketing visibility. I pray we stop bowing our knee to pragmatism and rise up to the faith that has already been established. I pray that we see Christ’s body as people to be nourished not widgets to be produced. I pray that the beautiful model of the early church portrayed in Acts captivate us all;

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.” (Acts 2:42).






5 thoughts on “Acceptable worldliness in the Church

  1. Jeremy Butler (@jeremyqbutler) May 25, 2015 / 1:35 pm

    Lisa, GREAT Read! Goodness, so relevant with our culture. Sometimes I think we lose sight of who we are and what are mission is.

  2. Mary Mihalko May 26, 2015 / 8:24 am

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. Sometimes I wonder what kind of “Revelation letters” Jesus would write to our churches today. He might say, “how good that you continue to preach the gospel and do community service days, but I have this against you…” I think the phenomena of things happening today that you touched on might comprise some of those things, things that threaten to dilute our salt and dim our light and slowly draw us away from our first love. God help us and grant us again repentance and revival!

  3. gmoney26 December 31, 2018 / 10:22 am

    Great article and I needed to hear this as encouragement for planning session meeting in which I have been asked to address this very thing. Thanks and congrats on your upcoming wedding

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