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10 August, 2008 / theexpositor

Terry Johnson-Piety of Programs

Terry Johnson is Senior Pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia.

We live in the era of the “gimmick-driven church.” On a nearly weekly basis mailers cross the desks of ministers promising the silver bullet which will slay the dragons of non-growth and invigorate a season of super-growth. We can recall the yellow Sunday School bus ministry, “Here’s Life America,” hand-bell choirs, Evangelism Explosion, small group discipleship, telemarketing, the seeker-friendly church, the purpose-driven church, the church for the unchurched, each presented as a panacea that would cure what ails the church. Since the advent of the twenty-first century we’ve seen Promise Keepers, Wild at Heart, The Prayer of Jabez, WWJD, the Passion of Christ, and so on. Tomorrow another cure-all will be revealed, another “can’t miss” program that will tip the scales. 

The truth, however, is that exemplary piety on the part of those leading the church is the single most important factor determining whether a ministry will or will not be fruitful. Years ago my brother-in-law, an elder in the Presbyterian Church of America, served on his church’s search committee for an assistant minister. After interviewing half-a-dozen candidates he made an interesting comment. He noted that all of the candidates were young, sharp, and hip. He said they all displayed keen wit, winsome personalities, and social finesse. However, he went on to observe, none of them seemed to be particularly godly. He didn’t perceive much spiritual passion. Or disciplined devotion. Or ethical precision. Or a burden for souls. Or a controlling love for Christ. Or a zeal for the glory of God. They were well-educated, thoroughly trained for ministry, and competent program organizers. They were groomed for success. All the necessary ingredients were present. But they lacked spiritual gravitas, the seriousness and focus, the intensity and carefulness, that comes from knowing the God of the Bible.  

Deep piety, we would argue, is a necessary concomitant of supernatural religion. Spiritual worship requires spiritual leadership. The single most important factor in the leading of effective ministries is the spiritual maturity, the depth of devotion, the depth of piety of the ones leading these services. Put negatively, one cannot effectively lead in prayer publicly if one is not devoted to prayer in the closet; one cannot effectively lead in the study of God’s word through its reading and preaching in public if one is not disciplined in the study of God word in private; one cannot effectively lead the people of God into communion with Christ at the Table unless one pursues communion with Him as a habit of life.  

The professionalization of the pastorate coupled with a market-driven philosophy has been tragically misleading at this point. The impression has been made that “success” in ministry is almost entirely a matter of external factors. This may not have been said in so many words, but rather has been implied by where the marketers and church-growthers have placed their emphasis. The keys to success, one might have thought, are to be found in a style of dress (casual), a format (late-night talk show), a style of music (pop), a type of building (non-churchy), and kind of message (topical sermons addressing felt needs). Success for the church (it has been implied) is to be found in niche programs and services, advertising, marketing, top-of-the-line sound and light systems, therapeutic or “practical” messages, managerial skill and professional leadership. The godliness of those leading the church is almost entirely overlooked. This is nowhere more obvious than in the prevalence of young people, often teenagers, up front, leading worship services with instruments, music, and transitional comments, who, unlike the ministers of yesteryear, are untested, untrained, and spiritually unqualified for the task. Personality, it would seem, has been allowed to trump piety; format, faithfulness; style, substance; and technique, character. If John Angell James thought in 1847 that “An Earnest Ministry” was “the want of the times,” one can scarcely imagine his response to the state of the ministry at the beginning of the twenty-first century.1

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One Comment

  1. Rodney Queen / Aug 10 2008 3 03

    Great post. You nailed it.

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