Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Church Hopping and Boring Pastors

I was talking with a friend last week from out of town who told me they had just started attending their 5th church in 15 years. I thought more about this after our conversation and concluded that North Americans are just too consumer-driven when it comes to “finding a good church.” That is, until I thought through each transition of my friends.
In each instance, these dear folks were part of a church where the leadership began to change their ministry “style” or “philosophy” while they were there. In other words, the church itself changed – either doctrinally or methodologically. The church they committed to was not the same church they felt constrained to leave.
Now, without going into all the details, suffice it to say that the changes that took place in each case were substantial. You won’t get any argument from me against sempre refomata! But, always reforming is not the same thing as flip-flopping or trading in your sermon for a drama and a song.
My own view (for what it’s worth) is that churches whose leaders feel compelled to re-invent themselves every few years will never grow deep in spiritual matters – unless that change is toward instrumental prayer, expositional preaching, genuine worship, vibrant community, personal evangelism and Spirit-empowered obedience to the commands of Christ.
I pity folks who spend their entire Christian life having to learn the next “key” or “secret” every 5-8 years! These trends have grown almost predictable. In my day it has gone Gotthard, to Crabb, to PromiseKeepers, to Openess, and now Emergent. Each one building on the other in the sense of looking for some elusive sense of meaning – apart from instrumental prayer, expositional preaching, genuine worship, vibrant community personal evangelism and Spirit-empowered obedience to the commands of Christ.
We need men who will be content to lead by faithfully doing the essential tasks of a pastor as outlined in the Scriptures. There may not be much publicity or book contracts with that approach – nor stubble and straw to kindle the fire in the day of judgment.


  1. Great post, Paul.

    The continual 're-invention of the wheel' by modern pastors is terribly disruptive for anyone who wishes to cultivate 'a long obedience in the same direction'.

    It is sad that some people must become 'church-hoppers', yet who love the Church.

    May God save the Church from a discontentedness with His own sufficiency!

    (thanks as well for what you said in the meeting the other day)

  2. Here! Here! Which is another way of saying I agree with you! What ever happened to jealously guarding and faithfully proclaiming the rich truth of the gospel that has been entrusted to us. May God give us more faithful pastors and people who will joyfully serve the Lord until they see Jesus face to face.

  3. Wonderful point, Paul!

    In the leadership class which was part of convincing me to wander off from Tyndale, the textbooks used were so man-centred and market-driven that it was painful to read them. Especially Bill Hybel's "Courageous Leadership", which while he made the occasional good point, he quoted Jack Welch (CEO of General Electric) far more frequently than he quoted the Good Shepherd.

    (5 churches in 15 years! Wow. I don't feel so bad for our recent transfer, then. It took us probably 4 years to recognize how far our last church had strayed. I guess we were are a little slow on the uptake.)

  4. Great post Pastor, it is sad that some churches follow after things 'that tickle their ears' or 'gospel lite' preaching rather than helping people desire God above all things. It seems that some churches just go for the next trend or fad rather than stick to the Word of God. I am so thankful to God for those He has raised up who preach the Word of God faithfully!! May God grant us wisdom not to follow trends but to follow Him!!


  5. Did Clint just use a quote from the title of a Eugene Peterson book? Sorry - I got distracted by that.
    Great post - very good synopsis of the fad-driven evangelicalism that seems to be hypnotizing churches across our land.

  6. Heh. The Eugene Peterson title surprised me too. :-)

    Actually, I quite enjoyed that book, along with several others of his ("Answering God", "Working the Angles").

    I get the impression he's not popular in Reformed circles. Is that because of The Message?

  7. I actually quite enjoyed the book as well. And I love the title (in spite of the fact its originally a quote from Nietzsche - I think). I think you're right - Peterson's "popularity" took a bit of a plunge with The Message. I think many see it as yet another concession to the postmodern mindset of our culture - which goes right back to Paul's original post re: jumping on to the latest trend.

  8. Yes, I used the Peterson title. The book was given to me by a TMS classmate of Paul's named Rob Provost, the Masters College dean of men.

    Peterson's pastoral ministry books are very insightful, as they offer a vey un-modern corrective to the plague of evangelical "shopkeepers" (Peterson's term) in our pulpits.

    Peterson needs to be read with discernment, but I still cite him in support of Paul's point.

    Just clarifying. :)

  9. "Shopkeeper" ... too true.

    I like Peterson, for the most part. (I even appreciate parts of the Message. As commentary, of course, not "translation" or even paraphrase.)

    He starts his book "Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity" with this this passionate paragraph:

    "American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn't the remotest connection with what the church's pastors have done for most of twenty centuries."

    What was the famous phrase Paul used the other day? Sempre reformata, right.

  10. Excellent comments by all!

    We are now attending our fourth church since 1991 (the year we relocated to Ontario).

    As "baby" Christians we were attending a church that began a "re-invention" and small groups arrived on the scene (along with drama, etc). Now, don't get me wrong ... small groups in themselves are not a bad thing, but, in most cases the leadership of the small group is more than likely not prepared biblically and can quite often bring some down-right erroneous ideas to the group. In our case I am thankful the group in which we were involved encountered the question "Can a believer lose his/her salvation?". Well, this event was the beginning of our journey to understanding and seeing God's sovereignty in the savlation of our souls. It was a great awakening! We had to ultimately leave that church.

    We were then blessed as we experienced expository teaching for two and a half years, until the Lord called that Pastor elsewhere (thanks Paul!)

    For a number of years we were then exposed to topical preaching, which was fine, however, DEEP digging into the scriptures was not the norm. For example, a message received on Matthew 22:1-13 (yes, on that Sunday the reading was STOPPED at verse 13!) resulted in a topical message on hell, which, by the way, was not a "bad" message. However, a very different message revealing our merciful God could have been delivered if verse 14 had been included as part of the teaching. We discovered over the years that we were doctrinally very much alone (despite the doctrinal statement of the church being "Calvinistic"). Again, we found ourselves at a point where we needed to make a change.

    Once we were exposed to deep expository teaching, we have thirsted after it ever since, and I thank God for it and for those who are committed to sticking with it.