Pragmatic Expediency

by Mike Ratliff 

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV) 

The proponents of the seeker-sensitive church growth model may very well have had good intentions when through it was spawned the rise of contemporary mega-churches such as Willow Creek and Saddleback Valley Baptist and their clones. The focus was outreach to the unchurched. That is a proper function of the New Testament Church, however, one of the model’s fundamental components is actually an antithesis of the clear instruction to Church leaders found in God’s Word. That component is pragmatism. 

Pragmatism is deadly to New Testament Christianity because it is based on human reasoning and human ingenuity in solving problems or issues. It utilizes expediency in dealing with issues rather than prayer and obedience to what is clearly taught in scripture. The reason expediency is wrong is that its solutions will always be short term in focus while neglecting the long term. Here is a secular example. Think of the United States Social Security system. It was designed during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. It was based on the number of workers and on the cost of goods and services at that time. However, that was seven decades ago and with the ravages of inflation plus the number of Baby Boomers nearing retirement age, we have a system that is upside down and completely irrational in scope and function. That is a product of the expedient approach to problem solving. 

The seeker-sensitive church growth model is pragmatically based. It seeks to restructure “church” so that it appeals to the unchurched. Rick Warren formulated his version of it by doing a survey of the unchurched in his area about what form of church they would attend. He then came up with the Purpose Driven Church model and implemented it over time at his church. The model stresses the form of worship and preaching to be ‘done’ in a way that does not offend the lost. It seeks to keep them interested. Therefore, doctrine is never mentioned nor is hell or sin or why Jesus went to the cross. Sermons are pragmatic and ‘light.’ They are full of self-help and are geared to increase the crowd’s self-esteem. This structure is totally expedient because it neglects the more mature Christian. In fact, when a church is being transformed into a Purpose Driven Church, those who resist the changes because of the lack of spiritual depth and theological focus are systematically driven off. Hence, they lose the saved and actually save very few. They create a church full of tares. 

In these churches, hymns are replaced with entertainment. Sermons are not biblical in nature, but instead are motivational with no spiritual depth or theological foundation. With all expediency, however, the bill eventually comes due. A good example of this is at Willow Creek when a survey revealed that the more mature believers in that church were hungry. They wanted to be fed spiritual food. They were starving spiritually. Sadly, the “solution” the leadership at Willow Creek came up with was nothing more than another example of expediency. It was decided to not change the level of Bible teaching to feed the sheep there, but to insist that those who want to be fed learn to feed themselves. 

Let me say right here my brethren that I believe that the take over of so many churches by the seeker-sensitive paradigm were very easily accomplished because the root present in those churches was in many cases rotten. Evangelicalism now is not what it once was. It has been decaying for quite some time as the leadership within them made compromise after compromise in order to not offend their members so that they would not split their membership. Those who caved in to this had been compromised by existentialism and humanism. When the seeker-sensitive package became apparent to these leaders they jumped at it. It looked like a quick fix for their ailing churches. Again, this is expedient thinking. 

I just listened to the latest installment of the White Horse Inn. It is titled “Quitting Church. “ The panel discussed the current state of affairs in the American Church dealing with huge mega-churches. Many Christians are simply quitting church in our time because their only alternatives where they live are dumbed-down mega-churches or spiritually dead liberal churches. A survey of the age group that comprises the teens in our time showed something very striking. Most were not interested in the dumbed-down seeker-sensitive churches nor were they interested in the doctrinally light and ceremonially focused churches (these are the ones not yet picked off by the seeker-sensitive paradigm). No, they wanted a church that actually taught and discussed doctrine and had Biblically based worship. What does the Bible tell us about this? 

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV) 

American Evangelicalism met this criterion when I was growing up. I was a Southern Baptist until just a few years ago and I can tell you that things changed dramatically as we approached the end if the 20th Century. It became “out of season” to preach the Word. Some never forsook their calling, but many did. They made expedient choices that resulted in their churches becoming compromised. However, the command is to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Expediency says to abandon what does not appear to be working and seek that that does appear to produce immediate results. However, that would mean not preaching the Word when it is not popular. Has it ever occurred to anyone that God meant what He said? 

Notice that even when people will not endure sound teaching the Pastor is to never abandon his calling. He is to continue to obey His Lord in being faithful to Word of God by doing the work of an evangelist, fulfilling his ministry. My brethren, if you are in a church that is pastored by a man or men who obey this command then rejoice and thank God for you are blessed indeed. Never stop praying for your pastor(s). On the other hand, if your knowledge of the Bible and doctrine is not growing in depth and you are not being fed the deep nourishing meat from God’s word where you ‘go to church,’ then there is a problem. Go to the throne of grace, seek the face of God and pray for wisdom and discernment about what you should do. 

I know that many reading this are in the ‘quitting church’ mode. I have been in this mode for some time. I do go to church, but God has not shown me clearly that I should join any one in my area. Those of us in this mode either have few if any churches in our area that have not been compromised or, if they have not, they are spiritually dead. We know that religiosity saves no one. However, we hunger for the pure food of God’s Word. If you are in Christ, you do. I have compensated by listening to godly preaching nearly every day through podcasts. I also fellowship with believers where I work and with those who comment here. I fellowship with friends at the church I attend. I study my Bible and pray everyday to prepare for these posts. However, what is missing is the family atmosphere of belonging to a local body of believers. With a church family, we have accountability and ministerial opportunities. However, in my area at least, most churches are geared towards young families with young children. My wife and I have an empty nest and so seem to fall through the cracks of the churches we have visited.  In the meantime my brethren, I will continue to seek the Lord and His will about what I should do about this. Please pray for us as well. 

Let us not walk before the face of God with pragmatic expediency. No, instead, let us always seek His wisdom and discernment and obey Him in all we do. How can we go wrong if we do that? 

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

25 thoughts on “Pragmatic Expediency

  1. Well said Mike. The falling away is happening……..tares have taken over………I hope Jesus returns soon…….:)

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  3. We recently left our church. It was hard. We also didn’t leave without letting the pastors know why. That was very difficult and broke my heart. Telling pastors I respect that they are not correctly handling scripture, and have let emergent/new age doctrine infiltrate hurt. We couldn’t stand to meet with one pastor, it would have felt like telling our dearest grandfather he was wrong for years and years. The younger pastor was not happy with us, let us know we would be in sin if we said that church was not preaching the word. So now, we find it hard to trust in churches we’re trying. How do we know they won’t be in the same place in a few years. We were in a church that catered to our generation, and to our children. We were comfortable. We were getting fat there, but were starving at the same time. We desire pure worship, pure Biblical teaching, and a place where we can serve. We love the pastors and the church. We love the people we left behind. We love Jesus and the truth. We had to try. We failed, as far as we can tell. However, we have children, and we have to work to protect them. We hope to find a church home that will grow us rightly. We know this will be hard, we did not hear what God intends for us, and we bought into the life that the former church provided for us. Leaving hurts, but staying and hearing the things coming from the pulpit hurt more.

    Blessings and prayers for you in your search for a church home. I wish we’d all just get together and have church. So many have left our former church, and have scattered because of the “confidentiality” or because they didn’t share why they left, there was no organizing of people leaving. We feel alone out here in many ways. I know we aren’t alone, we just have to find the others.

  4. “However, what is missing is the family atmosphere of belonging to a local body of believers. ”

    When you leave with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, a church that has changed from God’s Word to man’s word and the seeker sensitive system, you find that this “church family” which you left, divorces you, disowns you and leaves you wondering what happened to all the “We are a family that loves one another.” that was preached there.

    I just started reading Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones and see even more clearly how teachings at my former church miss the mark. Where was the emptiness of spirit that humbles us before God? Where was the sadness or mourning over our sins and the sin state of our nations and fellow man? Where was the hunger and thirst for righteousness that draws one deeper into God’s Word?

    Certainly I’m stuggling, working out my own salvation with fear and trembling, and I have a hard time passing the test of 1 John but I know that I can stand before our Lord on judgement day and have no fear because of God’s love for me.

    1 John 4:15-19
    Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
    And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
    Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
    There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
    We love him, because he first loved us.

  5. Christianlady,

    Yes, departing from a Church home like that is very traumatic. However, it was very interesting how once my wife and I did it how we have been free from much of the bondage that we were under there. Neither of us desire to get back into that. I think the genuine Church will eventually go underground as it is in China for instance. The visible Church will just be made up of the compromisers, the tares. Yes, it would be great if we could all get together like that.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  6. Paul (TOG),

    The Church I left was much like what you described. It was devoid of that sorrow. I only regret the loss of those friendships at that church. I know I was being obedient to the Holy Spirit when I left. I am like Paul in all of this:

    For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:5-10 ESV)

    There is not a day goes by in which I do not find myself perplexed about what is going in on. However, God never lets me wallow in despair very long. He is very good at drawing me continually back into working out my salvation with fear and trembling. In this I do mourn for my sin and my lack of spiritual maturity.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  7. Mike,
    Your comment, “My wife and I have an empty nest and so seem to fall through the cracks of the churches we have visited,” is very telling. After searching for a long time we found a church that seemed to be focused on the Word. Over time however, it became clear that if you were over 50, it was OK to attend and give, but you were considered to be a marginal element at best.

    My sense is that unless you can find a church where the Pastor is not age focused and preaches the Word, being over 50 will leave you feeling as a visitor at best. This “illness” is almost as bad as that of the “seeker” type of church.

    Fortunately we have now found a church where the Pastor is not age focused and preaches the Word. May you find the same.

  8. Mike, your sincerity for God’s Word shows in you postings. Even though I do not often comment, I enjoy and am blessed by your writings.

    I pray you do find a church family that is true to God’s Word. Certainly they would be truly blessed to have you in their midst.

    What an awesome Lord God we strive to serve.

    In Christ,
    Paul

  9. Thank you Paul (TOG)! I am truly humbled by what you said. Amen, our God is beyond our comprehension! He is so far above us yet He loves us and works all things out for our good. Amen! What an awesome God we strive to serve!

  10. My family has been there as well. We left a vibrant, godly church that eventually caved to PDL. It has been a long journey. We attended many churches and found them wanting. Finally, after three years, we have found a church home with a very young pastor who loves God’s Word and teaches it a systematic manner. Praise the Lord. We never thought that we would find such a church again! We even became members, something I vowed I would never do. But God is faithful and we are forever grateful. Nothing can take the place of godly fellowship and ministering.

    This is know, God loves His children deeply. He will always care for us, no matter the state of the church or the world. It is up to us to abide in Him.

    Praying for you, Mike. God bless you. Your words that I read daily give me such a blessing.

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  12. Mike,

    Amen to this and your other postings which have been blessings to me and my husband.

    One of the links on your site (sliceoflaodicea.com) has a “slicecast” featuring Pastor Dustin Segers. In it he recommended that if you cannot find a spirit-led church in your town, you should consider moving or planting a new church.

    I was going to ask if you ever considered planting your own church. Beyond the obvious that that is something only undertaken by God’s inspiration, I realized that it would also compromise this internet ministry.

    May God grant you wisdom in this.
    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
    Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV

    Your situation is heartbreaking and something my husband and I can well relate to. Be assured you and your wife are in our prayers.

    May we all find that place where where we are Fed, where we can Fellowship, where we can be Fruitful, and where we Fit in. (These four “F’s” courtesy of Mark Martin of Calvary Community Church, Phoenix AZ)

  13. Stephanie,

    Thank you for your prayers. To be honest, I have considered planting a new church. I know that God has provided all the spiritual gifts necessary for me (and all of us) to do His will. I cannot be in a group of Christians without teaching. It just overwhelms me. This is the Spirit, not me. If you had known me before God saved me you would be shocked at the transformation. In any case, Please continue praying for us. I am convinced that it is through hardship and struggles that God does His greatest work in our hearts.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  14. Mike,
    Thank you for commenting. Yes, I do believe there might be a day of underground churches. I also wonder if we could effectively work within existing churches to change things slowly. The problem is that churches are working on getting the children and young families and are ignoring the wiser older adults who could help them avert many of the problems with their knowledge. I’ve not see so much ageism in my life except in politics!

  15. Christianlady,

    Me either. There is a church in the city in which I live that is called “First Family Community Church.” They are geared only to serve those families that have children at home. They aren’t interested in couples like us at all. We visited two other churches in our area where we were greeted warmly and asked about our children. When we told them that ours were grown they lost all interest in us. I think this is not right.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  17. Mike,

    I am the husband of Stephanie, who replied earlier today. An interesting twist for us to finding the right church is one where we not only support the teachings, but also the musical choices.
    We do understand that the Bible does not give a clear definition for appropriate music in the church, but we are just most comfortable with the older, classic hymns. Somehow they inspire us a lot more than the modern songs, that seem more repetitive and shallow (maybe “easier”?) than anything else.
    Again, we do not judge other styles of worship, but we just prefer the more traditional, classical approach. During our many moves across the US in the last five years (we are on a spiritual journey for sure) we did find several churches with solid teachings. Calvary Community Church and Bethany Bible in Phoenix, Kingwood First Baptist close to Houston and now Trinity Evangelical Free in South Bend IN. Only one, Kingwood FBC, had a traditional service. Great church, solid teachings, we loved it. It was very tough to leave. Recently though we checked back on their website and we were shocked to see a lot of things changed. Different times and names for the services, a lot of associate pastors and the musical director gone. So maybe Kingwood FBC is adjusting to these times and (perceived) demands as well.

    The other beforementioned churches all have either contemporary or a “blended” worship, and support a casual dress as well. The latter to us seems also to fall in the category of “making church more accessible”. Drawing customers, taking away barriers.

    We, Stephanie and I, again hold nothing against churches or people that support contemporary worship and casual dress. We just prefer traditional worship and more formal dress. We feel that if you can dress up for a party, a night out or even work (!), why not be at your best for the most important celebration of the week, our Lord’s?

    There are definitely parallels with society, where conservative values are more and more replaced by liberal views and teachings. In this sense, churches are simply reflecting society. To be attractive and popular is more important than to be Biblical. Taking a stand hardly happens.

    Especially the prosperity movement (Osteen, Copeland, Moore and many others) is very successful. People love it, because the positive vibe makes them feel good. It’s all about being happy, being prosperous and, most of all, about you and your will. Unfortunately, this is totally a-Biblical and more motivational than enything else.

    Yes, everyting will work out for good (Romans 8:28). God wants us to prosper, etc. But He is in control of everything and He chooses you, not the other way around. Nobody knows how to teach you better than He. You may have to suffer a lot to get on the right track. Also, you need to store treasures in heaven, not here. And then there is JOY: Jesus, others, yourself. In that order. Not the other way around.

    Like in society, money is a problem as well. Some ministries are making mega-bucks. Copeland has his own $20M jet. Osteen sells (a lot of) tickets for his “events” when he leaves Houston for tours around the country. Let alone the books, cd’s and dvd’s, etc. they sell.
    For smaller churches it is just to survive. The pastor is simply out of a job when he doesn’t get an audience.

    There are still a lot of good churches in the US. More than in West-Europe, where I am from. The de-churching rate is alarming there, maybe 25% of the people go at all. No coincidence of course in liberal societies. It’s one reason I moved my family here. We still hope to find that perfect church. It seems God is leading us back to Arizona, Tucson. We are already looking to find a great church there. Or maybe we can contribute, make it better. Who knows?

    Wha area are you in, Mike? You have several curches listed on the site, are they recommended or are they being advertised?

    We are very impressed with what Dr. R. C. Sproul is doing with his Saint Andrews Chapel in Sanford, FL. We would love to attend them. Obviously great teaching, but their whole approach is very appealing. Very Biblical. Their future sanctuary looks awesome!

  18. “I wish we’d all just get together and have church”
    On the bright side We will all be together one day in His presence :)

  19. “pray for our pastors”, amen!, day & night…

    when we approach “doing church” like a business, we start to rely on “man’s wisdom”, results drive everything, in the pragmatic church. why can’t we leave the results up to God, and just preach Christ crucified, press the gospel against men, Sunday after Sunday, show men/women their need, and leave the rest to Holy Spirit & God. sheep don’t need to be entertained they need food!

    What drives me crazy, is when a pastor thinks he needs to be funny for 1/2 hour, just preach the bible, let me hear a word about God, not your cleaver jokes…

    anyways, really liked the post, sad & true

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