Chapter 4 of “Vertical Church” should challenge any pastor who picks up and reads the book. Humanly speaking, the church in America is failing. How can I say that? The statistics speak for themselves…
• Six thousand churches close their doors every year.
• Thirty-five hundred Americans leave the church every day.
• Only one pastor in ten retires while still in ministry.
• Less than 20 percent of Americans attend church regularly.
• Only 15 percent of churches in the United States are growing numerically.
• Only 2 percent of growing churches are effectively winning converts to Christ.
• Only 9 percent of evangelicals tithe to their churches.
• Eight hundred new church plants survive each year.
• Ten thousand new churches would be needed annually to keep up with the population growth.
I think these stats call for a couple of questions. “How did the church get to this state? What happened?” For church leadership, the questions need to go deeper; “Where were the pastors when the church was falling apart?” The answer for many of the churches is damning. The very sad truth is that pastors were often LEADING the churches into this decline! Not that they were doing it intentionally. But when a pastor’s heart leaves the biblical mission of the church and begins to pursue other missions, he is leading his church to certain failure…even if it’s full of people. So why would a pastor ever lead his church in a different mission? I think the answer to that question gets to the HEART of “Ichabod.”
Remember, the heart is DECEITFUL and WICKED (Jer. 17:9). Without even realizing it, our hearts begin to leave the pursuit of God and we start running after idols. For the average person, the consequences of idol worship are damaging as well…but for the pastor the circle of impact can be catastrophic. Pastors, we need to GUARD our hearts with ALL diligence! Running after other idols can impact generations of church goers if we are not careful!
By far the idol most pastors run after is the idol of…
I have yet to attend a pastor’s conference of any kind, in any fellowship where guys were not comparing themselves with one another. The metric for success is almost always numbers. “How many people do you have coming now?” “You guys doing OK financially?” “When are you going to two services?”
The pressure doesn’t only come from other pastors. It comes from within his church as well. Many church attenders look at the numbers and compare them with the churches around also…and they may feel the need to share these comparisons with their shepherd. “The church down the street is really growing!”…and the understood follow-up question, “Why aren’t we?”
Churches should be fruitful and Jesus Himself said “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). And proper numeric growth IS fruit. However, it’s not the ONLY fruit! Just do a study of how the word is used in Scripture and you’ll find there are many things that are called “fruit.” The fruit of the Spirit ..love, joy, peace…(Gal. 5:22-23). Witnessing is called “fruit” (Rom. 1:13-15). Worship is also called “fruit” (Heb. 13:15). And the list could go on.I like how the folks who put together the book “Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry” put it…
“‘Fruit’ is anything that Christ the Vine produces through one of His branches.”
Numbers is A metric for success, but it cannot be the ONLY metric. Pastors who make increased numbers their “mission” have left the vertical pursuit of God and have begun pursuing their OWN glory.
The ANSWER to “Ichabod” is heart-change. Pastors need to love God’s GLORY more than appearing “successful.” God’s people in the church have to return to a LOVE for the mission God has called them to…HIS GLORY. When hearts change, everything else changes. God will be freed up, so to speak, to rain down His presence once again. And that is really the ONLY THING we should desire. It’s what we plan to do here at Harvest Fort Wayne. I’ll need to keep His GLORY, not numeric success, as my sole heart desire and I’ll need to lead our people to do the same. Prayerfully, we will keep our hearts with all diligence…and “Ichabod” will never be a description of our church!