Ed Stetzer has published an excellent guest post from a young Reformed pastor who, like some Calvinists, seemed “to have adopted the belief that strategy and planning can be bad things.” Stetzer says he thinks that attitude is an overreaction to some of the excesses of the Church Growth Movement and the result is “a lot of great churches not reaching the people they should and generally looking down on those who do strategic planning and outreach.”
“That is a shame,” Stetzer says. “You can do practical planning and not be driven by pragmatism.”
The pastor, Danny Slavich of Pembroke Road Baptist Church in Miramar, Fla., writes that early in college, he saw “that Scripture clearly exalts God’s sovereignty in all things, even and especially in human decision-making regarding salvation.” Upon graduation he decided to attend Southern Seminary and “green as a fresh Christmas tree,” came to pastor the church in early 2009 — “fully committed to biblically faithful ecclesiology, expository preaching, and extolling a sovereign God and a glorious Gospel. … But as ready as I was to teach theology, I was a lot less prepared to reach people practically. This, by God’s grace, has changed.”
Pastor Danny says he often jokes with other Reformed pastors about being “more Reformed than Jesus.”
He explains: “By this, I mean that they are so enthralled with Calvinistic theology, that they neglect the commands to love other Christians and reach people with the Gospel. They love their theology, but they’ve missed the heart of their God. They’re all head with little heart for reaching people suffering, dying, and lost in sin. [emphasis mine]
“But there are others in the Reformed/Calvinistic camp who want to see their churches grow. They’re preaching the Gospel every Sunday in half-empty auditoriums built in cities where people need to hear the truth of Jesus,” Pastor Danny adds. “They’re afraid to violate their theology, so they don’t formulate a strategy to get the Gospel out to people who need to hear it. They don’t mobilize their people for mission. Their belt is missing some key tools, like mine was.” [emphasis mine]
Those words ought to stir every heart in which the Spirit resides. Neglecting the commands to love other Christians and reach people with the Gospel because you are so immersed in studying and propagating your systematic theology? Failing to mobilize your people for mission because you are afraid of violating your theology? Friend, you need a (more) biblical theology.
Pastor Danny goes on to say: “Thankfully, I’ve learned you can use practical methodology without violating strong theology. I’ve learned that practical tools and theological rigor aren’t enemies. Very specifically, here’s what I’ve learned: leverage seasons when people are more likely to gather with the church and hear the Gospel.” He followed Stetzer’s advice to plan a special outreach series focused on a “big day” and grow from a harvest in the following weeks. A four-week series that began September 23, 2012, emphasized how God’s love changes lives.
“It was straight Gospel truth and theology applied practically. We did mailers, door hangers, invite cards, signs in the front of our campus (we’re on a major road),” Pastor Danny says. “It worked. In 2011, from the Sunday after Labor Day through the Sunday before Christmas we had an average attendance of 128. In the same period last fall (2012), because of our outreach initiative, we averaged 148. We did it again for Easter. We did a big mailer, and handed out almost 5,000 invite cards. We begged God to do something amazing. We started a new, four-week series on Easter Sunday about how the truth of Easter can change your life. On Easter Sunday, we had 281, which is a 20% larger gathering than the largest attendance we’ve had since I began four years ago (220 for Easter 2012). But, even more exciting, we had 228 people return this past Sunday the week after Easter.”
Pastor Danny then turns back to emphasize that he hasn’t abandoned “theological rigor” to play a numbers game.
“Our goal isn’t just to get a lot of people coming to church. Our goal is the formation of fully faithful followers of Jesus,” he says. “… Now I realize that a lot of outreach strategies I might have waved off flippantly can actually be tools in God’s hands to mobilize his people on his mission. I’ve found that practical tools and theological rigor are compatible. God has thousands of people in our cities that he has set aside for himself. He’s calling us to go and find them. Let’s stop arguing and get to work.”
One of the things I admire about Ed Stetzer is his balance in taking hold of important truths, valuable insights, and practical methods to pursue a biblical vision of Kingdom advance. God alone is worthy, and his kingdom is all that truly matters in this life. I’m glad Ed has the opportunity to come alongside young leaders like Pastor Danny … and I’m glad there are young leaders like Pastor Danny who recognize the value of listening to men like Ed Stetzer.
As important as it was for Pastor Danny to begin doing strategic planning and outreach, perhaps the more important truth is that he realizes faithfulness to King Jesus requires us to get the Gospel out to people who need to hear it and mobilize God’s people for their mission.
Many of us are concerned that some young leaders seem to filter everything through their systematic theology. For some, devotion to a particular theologian or system of thought borders on idolatry, valuing a singular point of view over the rich textures, amazing depths, and profound mysteries of God’s own Word. If the result is that parts of Scripture are discounted or even distorted to conform to the theology, that is truly sad. But if the result is that a pastor doesn’t mobilize God’s people for his mission, how are they being true to the one who said, “As the Father sent me, I am sending you”?
We are deeply concerned about a spirit among the churches that values doctrinal jots over the mission and readily argues with brothers over tittles, at the risk of losing those God has given them out of the world and failing to glorify God the way he intended to be glorified through them.
I’m with Pastor Danny: “God has thousands of people in our cities that he has set aside for himself. He’s calling us to go and find them. Let’s stop arguing and get to work.”