Recently, I made a post on Twitter and Facebook that got a bit of a reaction:
Just because you are a critic of yesterday’s church does not make you an expert of today’s church.
It seems that I struck a nerve out there, so I wanted to dive in a little deeper because it seems that many people have been rubbed wrong by what I think is arrogance of my generation’s church leaders.
I’m not sure of the exact statistic, but an astounding number of seminary graduates are opting not to go into existing traditional churches. Due to their frustration with a local church being stuck in tradition or constant bickering, these graduates decide to start something new where they don’t have to deal with the drama.
I understand that. I work in a church that is over 40 years old. There are different challenges in an existing church than a church that is brand new without any apparent traditions to keep. While church planting is a hard sacrificial road for many, it is a preferred option since changing people who are stuck in traditions seems impossible for these graduates.
I have many close friends in thriving church plants. I have friends in struggling church plants. So what I am about to post doesn’t apply to all of them, but it applies to some out there. But I hope it helps diffuse some of the rising tension between the church plant world and the existing church world. Here are the warnings as I see them:
- Just because you are a critic of yesterday’s church does not make you an expert of today’s church. I have seen too many people in my generation grow a church by making fun of and demeaning the church of yesterday. Yesterday’s church is usually the one which introduced them to Jesus, baptized them, discipled them, counseled them, sent them to seminary, sent them on missions, and so much more. That church is the one that is criticized. Many of the critiques are unfortunately right on. But when you build a church on discontented people (especially discontented people from the traditional church you don’t like), you will soon find they will actually find something with your church to be discontent with too. Bashing another church doesn’t make yours cooler or more glorifying to Jesus. You may try to mask your arrogance with zealousness, but God sees our hearts. Anybody can point out holes in a system, a real leader doesn’t spend his time telling everyone how messed up everyone else is, a real leader does what he or she does well and is quiet about it.
- In your break for tradition, watch out for the new tradition in which you are already stuck. My generation usually blasts the traditional church for being stuck in their ways without realizing that they have committed to another tradition even though it is less than 10 years old. Why do church plants insist upon some flashy sermon intro video, rugged style of clothing, one secular song in the set list, having the band on screen during worship, or announcement time after the first song? Because they are already stuck into tradition. Most church plants are not unique today. They just have a fresher tradition, but it is a tradition nonetheless.
- The Body of Christ includes all members not just your demographic. Unfortunately, both groups of these churches think themselves in a war with each other and not at war the real enemy. That’s why time and resources are spent downing the other group realizing that the hand of the Body of Christ is shooting itself in the foot. Stop spending time degrading those that Christ died for and start seeing family in every other congregation that calls Jesus Lord. You never know if you will need them one day. You might even have to join them if your plant doesn’t work.
- Never confuse Seth Godin (or any other leader) with Jesus Christ. I often see my generation tapping into business leader models more than they do scriptural mandates. There is nothing wrong with learning a ton from brilliant secular business minds, but there is something wrong when their way of thinking impacts how we do church more than what the Bible says. What’s on your reading list? How much is your Bible intake?
- We don’t maintain platforms in heaven. The exposure possibilities in this media age is endless, and for the gospel’s sake, that is exciting. For pride’s sake, that is damning for many leaders. How I wish I heard more of my generation humbly point somewhere other than themselves to why their church is thriving. In the Book of Revelation, when John encounters this vision, he falls down to worship at the feet of an angel – a messenger (Rev 22:8). The angel responds, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God” (Rev. 22:9). There are some great leaders out there doing some fantastic things, but when people fall all over them, their response verbally and inwardly should be, don’t focus on me – worship God!
So what does this mean? If you are in a church plant, be who God has called you to be and stop being the hall monitor on how everyone else is doing church. If you are in an existing church, stop downing church plants and being to pray that God uses them to reach the unchurched. For the gospel, for the Body of Christ, for the glory of God.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.