Why a self-defeating strategy is best in church planting…

Why a self-defeating strategy is best in church planting…

Image credit: Senna Hong
Image credit: Senna Hong

Three of the more recent posts I’ve written on this blog addressed questions relating to homosexuality and Christianity, much to the wonder of one commenter, who asked, “You’re trying to plant a church, and homosexuality is what you lead with?” When I claimed that it is one of the most helpful things a pastor can address right now, he said it would just keep gay people out and be unhelpful to everybody else. Later on he asked, “Why have you adopted a self defeating strategy? Even if I agreed with you on homosexuality, I can’t imagine a strategy less likely to succeed than the one you’ve adopted.”

This is a great question, but before I get into the answer, let’s pause for a second and note that the question is not about homosexuality, but rather church growth strategy. The question is whether churches, and especially church plants, can actually grow, even if they talk about and publicly teach against the current cultural sin de jour. Today that happens to be homosexuality.

It is true that most homosexuals would not willingly go to a church that teaches homosexuality is a sin.
The same is also true of everybody else who thinks that homosexuality is A-okay. Even among Christians who think that homosexuality is wrong, not all will approve of making a public issue of it. In fact, I remember talking to a homeschool father who didn’t appreciate his children hearing about such things at church. Others point out that we are supposed to be reaching non-Christians for Christ, and ask how we are ever going to reach them if that’s the first thing they hear? By the time we are done whittling away at this group, there are likely to be precious few left, and most of them are already at other churches.

So the question is answered. We have proven that it is a self-defeating strategy to be so blatant in dealing with the sin de jour of our culture. Under my chosen method our pews will simply collect dust. Here is the alternative suggested by our commenter: “I think most people are more concerned about their own marriages, their jobs, their families, and things that actually relate to them. If I were looking for a church, I’d be inclined to find one that talks about stuff that I’m struggling with.”

Ignoring the fact that the topic of homosexuality is indeed being struggled with by all and sundry in each of those places he mentions, what “stuff” are people struggling with in their marriages? The meaning of sex, how to have good sex, how to raise their children, money struggles, conflicts related to all of the above, and the list goes on.

A moment’s thought reveals that sin and temptation are bound up in each of these areas, but as soon as we begin to speak of sin, the same line of reasoning will be trotted out to explain why we shouldn’t speak out about sin. Preaching against fornication will cause the young people, the “future of the church,” to leave. We will be shooting ourselves in the foot if we preach on money and make the rich people mad.

But this line of reasoning leaves the Holy Spirit out of our calculations, which is kind of like building a space shuttle and trying to ignore gravity. Not only is failure inevitable, but when it comes, it will be catastrophic.

Yet few see this reality, and even those of us who claim to see it are constantly under assault from Satan, who is attempting to blind us in any area where he can gain a foothold. Hence, the constant temptation of pastors—and more especially, church planters—to convert as many sins as possible into righteousness and ignore those that cannot easily be converted. The other sins, which do not lend themselves to easy conversion and inconveniently thrust themselves into the limelight, are labelled “mistakes.”

Then, to assuage our consciences we deal boldly with those few items the culture currently sees as sin. We have a deep burden of sympathy on our hearts to oppose female genital mutilation and human trafficking in Ethiopia. Yet somehow it never occurs to us to oppose the genital mutilation taking place at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital under the auspices of gender “transitioning” or the buying and selling of children contracted by our wealthy neighbors through so-called “surrogacy arrangements.” Nor do we see the hypocrisy and sad irony of opposing the Confederate flag while refusing to ever mention the genocide our nation has wrought on the black people by promoting abortion as the solution to a “difficult problem.”

Closer to home, we pick a real sin and boldly stand counter-culture with our words, while our actions blatantly contradict our claimed position. Forgetting that the medium is the message, some bold pastors and elders speak of the necessity of men leading in the church and the home and then those bold men refuse to actually lead the church when she is gathered together to worship, sending a woman up front to call us to worship, fence the table, bless us and send us off with a benediction. Is it any wonder then, that the mothers are the ones who lead family devotions and teach the children to pray at home, while the husband leads by telling his wife to get him a beer?

And all of this in an attempt to make ourselves look “reasonable” to the watching world.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? Do you believe He “convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and the judgment”? Do you believe His words are words of forgiveness and eternal life for the lost? It is true, even when the watching world claims they are harsh, judgmental words, lacking love and grace. But let us leave behind the wisdom of the world, embracing by faith the work of building Christ’s church with the self-defeating strategy that Jesus taught us. Remember, He is the one who told us that the world would hate us as it hated Him. He is the one who said, “The first shall be last, and the last first.” And His message will never be attractive to the world, but will always seem a stumbling block and foolishness. 

If you think you can maintain that message and make his church cool, you are the fool.