con-trar-i-an (noun): a person who opposes or rejects popular opinion; a person who goes against current practices.
Not too long ago, while I was reflecting on ministry and my years of being a pastor, I had the following thought: What if I took everything I learned about church growth and turned it on its head? .)
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea and so I came up with 10 contrarian principles for church growth. My theory is there are a lot of pastors, like me, who are tired of all the books and conferences and experts telling you 10 ways to grow your church and after implementing those 10 ways your church doesn’t grow. My thesis is that many church growth conferences and books leave the average pastor feeling inadequate and discouraged. My question is: “Are there biblical principles about what it means to be a church, that if implemented, will not guarantee numerical growth, and in fact, may stifle, if not halt, church growth, but they are biblical anyway and need to be implemented?
So, this is a fourth post in a series of posts fleshing out my contrarian church growth principles. And rest assured, I believe in and practice each one. Here is the link to the first contrarian principle to church growth. Here is a link to the second one. Here is a link to the third one. This post is about the fourth principle:
Contrarian Principle #4: Spend as much time preaching about social sins as you do personal sins. But be warned! Implementing this principle has the greatest danger of causing your numbers to decline. As a pastor, implementing this principle may get you fired.
Have you ever read the Old Testament prophets? I mean really read them? The prophets were dealing with the sins of the people, as a whole, as an entire nation. Sure, they addressed personal sins, but for the most part, they were judging the sins of society as a whole.
Consider the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We usually jump to the false conclusion that the sin that doomed them was homosexuality. As a result, we have completely condemned a segment of our population, offering them little home. We even have “Sodomy laws.” But according to the prophet Ezekiel, their doom was not the personal sins of immorality. Rather, it was the social sins of not caring for the poor. Here is what Ezekiel says, “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen” (Ezekiel 16:49-50).
The prophet Jeremiah, wrote a whole book of lament because the people did not heed his warnings against their sins as a country. Not only did they not heed his warning, they tried to kill Jeremiah for warning them. Jeremiah echos the prayers of any minister who has suffered for preaching truth when he writes the following:
“You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.
I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!
Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
then we will prevail over him
and take our revenge on him.”
But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
their dishonor will never be forgotten.
Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous
and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
Sing to the Lord!
Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
from the hands of the wicked.
Cursed be the day I was born!
May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
who made him very glad, saying,
“A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
with my mother as my grave,
her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
to see trouble and sorrow
and to end my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:7-18)
Basically, there were two things the prophets preached. First was holiness, which are personal sins. But second, and just as important (maybe more important) was justice, which are social sins.
It’s good to preach against abortion. But it is just as good to preach against mass incarceration.
It is good to preach against sexual immorality. But it is just as good to preach against a lock of affordable health care.
It is good to proclaim holiness. But it is even better to proclaim justice!
If you want the people in your church to grow, but your numbers to decline, Spend as much time preaching about social sins as you do personal sins.