I have had the growing conviction for several years that the church in America is plagued by an insatiable desire to find the next silver bullet. We yearn for that program, that curriculum, that “best practice,” that younger leader, that leader with more maturity, that congregation that will finally be open to change, that perfect outreach event… How often we have knelt at the altar of the next big idea or latest trend in ministry? How often have we attended our nice polished Christian conferences and learned the latest cookbook approach only to find it lacking any transforming and lasting power when we get back home?
What if there is no silver bullet? What if we are longing for the wrong thing? What if all our attempts to fix ourselves are futile because we are simply not the ones who can do the fixing?
There has been a coalescing of this theme in all my reading and learning in recent years. From Kevin Watson‘s compelling call for the resurgence of Wesley’s intentional discipleship in classing meetings, to Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken’s book Renovation of the Church, to Pete Grieg’s leadership in the breathtaking 24-7 prayer movement, to the call for travailing prayer at the most recent New Room Conference I attended, to West Ohio’s movement of Breakthrough Prayer. All around me I sense a move of God’s Spirit, calling the church back to a power greater than the latest tips and tricks.
Friends, there is no strategic plan that can take the place of the Holy Spirit. There is no perfect ministry program that can replace the willingness of his people to get on their face in prayer. No amount of ministry scheming can replace a group of people who are head over heels in love with Jesus and willing to sacrifice for his sake.
We are at a time and place in history where I find myself full of joy that God is burning away the facade of cultural Christianity in the West. We bemoan the rapid decline of an American Christianity, but I think it may be perhaps the greatest gift real Christians could receive. No longer can we play nice church games and think we’ve done our part. No longer can we get away with the complacent life of timid religious robots.
In his classic work, “The Master Plan of Evangelism,” Dr. Robert E. Coleman wrote about the issue today in striking fashion. Originally written in the 1960s it’s striking how much this relates to our current Christian culture in America.
This is our problem of methodology today. Well-intended ceremonies, programs, organizations, commissions, and crusades of human ingenuity are trying valiantly to do a job that can only be done by people in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is not to depreciate these noble efforts, for without them the church could not function as she does. Nevertheless, unless the personal mission of the Master is vitally incorporated into the policy and fabric of all these plans, the church cannot function as she should.
When will we realize that evangelism is not done by something, but by someone? It is an expression of God’s love, and God is a person. His nature, being personal, is only expressed through personality, first revealed fully in Christ, and now expressed through his Spirit in the lives of those yielded to him. Committees may help to organize and direct it, and to that end they are certainly needed, but the work itself is done by people reaching other people for Christ.
That is why we must say with E. M. Bounds that “men are God’s method.” Until we have such people imbued with his Spirit and committed to his plan, none of our methods will work. (The Master Plan of Evangelism, Dr. Robert Coleman)
Or listen to these powerful words from Dr. Jason Vickers talking about the church’s birth at Pentecost…
When the earliest followers of Jesus literally lost sight of their Lord, they did not rush to attend a seminar on what to do next. Nor did they cling for all their worth to the time-tested structures of Judaism. To be sure, the disciples later organized themselves and set out to spread the gospel throughout the known world, but they did not do this initially, they did one thing. They tarried together in prayer…
Indeed, to tarry together in prayer is to admit that we are out of answers, that we have lost confidence in the ability of marketing schemes, new technology, and fund-raising campaigns to save us. It is to turn our attention heavenward and to ask God the Father once again to pour out the Spirit promised by the Son. (Minding the Good Ground: A Theology for Church Renewal, Dr. Jason Vickers)
Ministry is not done by something, but by someone. There is no silver bullet.
Church, when will we come to the end of our pursuits of human ingenuity and begin to pray like it actually matters? When will we recognize that now is not a time for us to scheme our way out and instead fall desperate before the Lord?
I don’t know about you, but often in my life I have been forced to my wit’s end before I will recognize I have been trying to fix things on my own and I am forced to turn back to God in desperation. I feel like we are at that same place as a Church. We’re out of our own answers…we’re beyond silver bullets…and that makes us ripe for real revival!