The problems with the clergy-laity system are a) centuries old and b) pandemic. Most of my disputes with this system run pretty deep and are long-lived,¹ but this particular rant is rather shallow.
Having recently visited a church I’d been a member of years ago, in which one preacher had filled the pulpit for about 50 years, I suppose it was inevitable that, soon after, I saw two articles about other, way-too-long-term preachers. (These things seem to come in multiples.) First, the man I once knew. Then, another octogenarian, celebrating 50 years with the same church. And then a feature article about a guy who was with one church more than a quarter-century and with another church in the same city for 10 years.
This man is surely a wonderful man, with a good heart and a love for God.
But he is quoted as having said … and, you know, everything has the potential for being quoted out of context … but, get this:
Church growth must begin with the preacher.
Yeah . . . NO.
Oh, my goodness. . . .
First off, the term “church growth” is loaded, and I don’t accept its chock-full package as entirely worthy of discussion. Sure, the growing of churches is likely a good thing — at least potentially so, for some churches grow merely in an opposite reaction to the decline of other churches, which fact makes the growth rather moot. Numerical growth in terms of overall congregational “membership,” then, may be good but also may be neutral. Spiritual growth is not quantifiable. In my experience, “church growth ‘experts’ ” focus almost exclusively on quantifiable data.
Even if one accepts (or ignores as loaded) the term “church growth,” the notion that “growth much begin with the preacher” is ludicrous on at least two levels.
- First, the presence of a preacher is required by no biblical text that I know of, and this fact negates the “must.”
- Moreover, I would assert that if either spiritual or numerical growth is preacher-driven, it is growth that is not going to last.
Preachers, of course you should keep growing and not become stagnant. (This self-evident truth may get at the speaker’s intent more than the ripped-from-context quote.) My rant here is in no way intended to ignore the human tendency to become stale. I have had good models in staying current in one’s discipline, including my grad advisor Ken Singleton, who, for instance, annually updates his repertoire list with new, good music, refusing to do anything but grow. Preachers should do similar things, studying new books and documents and Greek and methods, etc. But really, preachers, don’t be deceived into thinking that you should function as the center of things.
P.S. to the Christian Chronicle: I chose not to read this article in depth. It’s a matter of time and priorities for me. But let’s think about the big, bold quotation at the top of the page for a moment. Couldn’t you have chosen a better seven-word quote to pull out for highlighting? Surely there were better, more on-target things that he said! 🙂
¹ Grandmother Kathryn Ritchie (1909-1988) taught me that “long-lived” was originally pronounced with a long “i,” as in “dive.” I have trouble saying it that way now, because everyone thinks it’s wrong. Often, taking the less popular way ends up being right, right?