Today, there are many formulas floating around the American Church promising success. If you do this – that will happen. They don’t require much faith – you simply follow the formula and you will arrive at your spiritual Disneyland.
Most of these so-called formulas perpetuate a mindset that has crippled the effectiveness of the Western Church. Here are a few of these formulas:
“You need to read in order to lead.”
The need to read in order to be an effective leader in the Church is a phrase that has surfaced in our educationally empowered Western culture. I don’t mean to say that reading is a bad thing. It is simply overrated.
This formula doesn’t hold water in the interior of China where a leader may not own a book and may only possess only a small fragment of the Bible. If a phrase doesn’t work in the outback of Africa or the interior of China maybe we should cull it from our Western church vocabulary.
I have always thought the best leaders led from a place of revelation. Maybe that is why so many leaders in the undeveloped parts of the globe are now leading in the power of the Spirit instead of the published opinions from someone in a developed nation.
“If you build it, they will come.”
Just before the Recession hit, faithful pastors I know bought into this formula and led their churches into building programs that could not be paid for once the bottom of our economy fell out. It doesn’t take faith to get a bank loan. All you need is the good credit that came when the financial bubble was in full bloom.
People will only come to what we construct if God is the One calling them. He is not calling those in our care to come and pay for our presumption. He is not impressed with the brick and mortar facilities we build in His name.
“Dress for success.”
When I lived in a developing nation, I remember how poor the people were. They had two changes of clothing. One set was literally rags worn to work the fields during the week and the other was a polyester suit from the 1970’s pulled from a “missionary barrel” to wear to church on Sunday. These leaders were wildly successful in God’s eyes, but not in a culture where we have a great deal of discretionary income we can devote to the changing tastes of personal attire.
“Do things decently and in order.”
This formula has led some to create controlled church environments that are structured around a fear that warns us things could somehow get out of hand. A wise theologian once told me when Paul used the words, “decency and in order”, those words actually mean, “What is appropriate.”
Paul was not issuing a prudish prohibition. What was decent about Jesus smearing spit-laced mud in a blind man’s eye? What was orderly about His tipping over tables in the Temple? What made sense when He said to eat His flesh and drink His blood? Jesus was not tidy. What is appropriate is our obedience to whatever God asks us to do in the moment, no matter who likes it or not.
The danger with these kinds of statements is for some they have actually become formulas for success in life and ministry. Faith can never be reduced to a formula that guarantees a predictable outcome. Faith has us step into dark and undefined places where we have never stepped before. Faith produces actions that are not always figured out before we take the step. Simplistic formulas cause us to invest in things attainable only by our natural logic and human understanding.
These formulas produce a way of thinking that infers “it” can only happen along my narrow lines of definition. Our formulas also have a by-product - they begin to exclude people from our lives who do life and ministry different from us. Our formulas become the knives we use to amputate parts of Christ’s body that don’t fit into our equation.
Ephesians 3:20, is the wrecking ball used to demolish these manmade formulas.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”
Whenever I read this verse, I am reminded of those times I have failed God and His people by trying to create formulas through which I would evaluate them or include them in what I perceived God was doing. I have had to repent of this a few times over the years.
God is at work outside and beyond our formulas in those places that require a raw exercise of faith. This can have us looking like we don’t fit anyone’s formula. It is in these times that God does His most profound work apart from our manmade attempts to formulize how He accomplishes His will.