Self-defeating Ministries & Self-defeating Christians

During the missions conference at my church last week, I heard an interesting illustration. It came from a personal experience of the preacher who used it. Having visited a country in central Africa, the preacher had taken a tour of one of the deepest gold mines in the entire world. It reached nearly three miles below sea level. In order to reach the lowest point of the mine, the preacher and the tour guide had to use a series of elevators.

As they were transferring from one elevator to another, the preacher asked the tour guide why they had to use so many elevators. The tour guide explained that the mine shaft was far too long for only one elevator. After a certain distance, the weight of the elevator cables become too heavy for any elevator system. It becomes a self-defeating mechanism.

The preacher had a different application for his story, but before he proceeded to it, he threw in the comment, “I know a few ministries like that – so big, they’re self-defeating.”

At first, I wasn’t sure how applicable the illustration was, how much it could mean to me. Then I heard the testimony of a pastor from Juares, Mexico that we called Pastor Pedro. As a native of Juares, Pastor Pedro leads a faithful congregation of a little over 20 people, a fairly large group for a thoroughly Catholic city. His current church building consists of a concrete foundation and 3 cinder block walls. The people are saving from their poverty level income to have a roof built.

But here’s the kicker. As Pastor Pedro was sharing prayer requests with a group of our men through an interpretor, he explained that saving for the roof was a little slow. Why?

Because he and his people had a burden to plant another church in a nearby town.

When I heard that, I immediately thought of all the gigantic church buildings I had seen in my life. My heart sank into deeper guilt when I thought of my own disregard to each of them. In short, I felt worthless. But, I guess that is the result when you hear the testimony of someone who is godlier on his worst days than you are on your best.

Now, I think there is a lot to be said against the mentality that a church needs to be planted on every street corner. (I grew up in a town like that. It doesn’t work as well as one might think.) However, I do believe that a large part of the local church’s obligations under the Great Commission is to plant other churches in places that are without a gospel witness. That was the desire of Pastor Pedro and his people.

How many gospel preaching churches across this country have become so large they are self-defeating? They are too heavy to bear their own weight. If you’re like me, you could easily name at least five Baptist churches that could literally be split a hundred different ways and still be as larger than Pastor Pedro’s congregation. Yet, how many churches have they seen planted? Let’s say, at best, 10 maybe 20. They are still 80 churches short of what Pastor Pedro and his people would be willing to do were they 3,000 strong.

But, maybe that’s the point. Maybe, a church that’s 3,000 strong is too big. Maybe, it’s so big, it’s self-defeating. Maybe, it takes a concrete slab and cinder block walls to realize what’s truly important – a gospel witness. Maybe, if we could ever get that through our American-Christianity minds we would quit building empires and hording recourses. Maybe, then we could reach the unreached like our Lord meant for us to do.

Pastor Pedro’s testimony was convicting to me on that level. But, the Holy Spirit would not allow the thought of the people in Warez to stay on a ministry level for me. It sank deeper. The thought eventually came – it is possible for a Christian to be self-defeating.

In recent years, theology has become a passion for me. I love to read it. I love to discuss it. I love to figure something out and understand it in a new and enlightening way. But, sadly, I have to confess that it often becomes a hobby. I often get to the point where I no longer study to learn more about my God. I simply study to learn.

This is evident because I am too often satisfied with the fact that I understand. It pains me to think about how seldom I am concerned with someone else’s understanding. I go so deep into theological ideas and concepts that I become self-defeating.

It’s obvious, theology is not a bad thing. In fact it is a very important thing. But, is it the most important thing? I’d say that my commitment to the Great Commission, to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, is quite a bit more important than my ability to articulate the differences between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. But, ashamedly I have to admit that I too often would rather pay more attention to the latter.

I understand that church facilities are important. I agree that we should accomodate our congregations. I understand that building church buildings are a necessity… well, are they? I wonder how Pastor Pedro would answer that.


3 comments so far

  1. breadandsham on

    Thanks TJ for being willing to call us to attention. I have read from PA Sorokin that when a very prosperous civilization is fatigued and near a collapse, one of the four characteristics is known as “colossalism:” As in, we have to grow larger box stores to replace smaller department stores. This gives us stuff cheaper and more conveniently. The notorious blogosphere guru, Seth Godin, writes about the “Meatball Sundae.” The gist of it is this: we can get fine jewelry at a family-owned shop for a handsome price, or we can get jewelry at Wal-Mart for less. The reality is, the product is not great at Wal-Mart, it’s only average at best. But the convenience of making it so available has allowed anyone the chance to own cheap and fast alternatives. It’s simply more efficient.

    I think that if I were still attending a mega-church:
    I would tithe to a committee that does the work of love, self-sacrifice, and service. Thinking . . . “Maybe I could even get a tax write off for it? I’m going to the church cafe for an espresso double shot. Man, I’d use valet parking if they had it.” “Is it a bit too cool in here, or is it just me?”

  2. TJ on

    Thanks for the comment.
    It’s the misplaced focus that gets me.
    A large portion of Amercian evangelicalism (fundamentalism included) has long since lost the priorty of the Great Commission. The Lord Jesus commissioned us to reach out (evangelism) and go deep (theology). Instead, we’ve built up (empires) and are stuck on self (superficiality).
    When’s the last time you’ve heard anyone call attention to the fact that the early church met in houses and marketplaces – even when they were adding 1000’s of converts a day! Where was their focus: building up or reaching out?
    If a church has the resourses to start a cafe, it has the resourses to plant a church or two!

  3. iowabaptist on

    I believe the preacher was right. So many churches get so big that they can’t function Biblically. Kind of like a “body” that gets too big. I believe the Biblical model would be that of the church in Jerusalem when after given the commission in Acts 1:8 grew to several thousand members before they finally went into “all the world” in Acts 8:1 because of persecution. A missionary friend in China tells me that the US needs a good dose of persecution so we can be more affective in the Lord’s work.

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