Martin Downes is beginning a series on idols that cause pastors to stumble. There are three great idols that all ministers must tear down daily cast into the fire for scrap: buildings, bodies, and budgets. These are the three things that almost invariably come up in conversation with pastors and, I must confess, I’ve too often been a part of the problem. When I go to classis (the regional gathering of pastors and elders) I often ask pastors, “So, how’s it going?” by which I mean, “How’s your attendance?” I’ve felt guilty asking it but I want to know because that’s how we measure how well or ill things are in a congregation. The other two, of course, flow from the first. If the pastor reports “good numbers” then the budget will be in good order and building plans in the offing.
I’ve coveted nice church buildings and complained against the Head of the Church for not providing more richly for the select of elect. Why does he provide so abundantly for churches that seem to have so few (or none at all) of the marks of a true church? If attendance is high then everything is thought to be in order. Never mind the sanctification of the people or the mission of the church.
Is “idol” too strong an adjective? Well, challenge these reigning gods or dare to remove them from their pedestal and see what happens! Propose somethig that might affect adversely the building, bodies, or budget and see what becomes of the proposal.
These are the things by which ministers often define themselves. These are the things they covet. These are the status symbols: a growing budget, increasing attendance, and a bigger building. These are the idols that shape the program-driven church. These are the gods that drive the liturgy and the gods that promise rewards to those who serve them faithfully.
“Ah, you’re just jealous because you’ve never had any of these.” Maybe so. God forgive me, I’m a wretch. I may be jealous and I might even find a way to rationalize the killer Bs should someone give them to me, but that doesn’t make it right. I may be jealous but so is God and he’s the one about whom you should worry.