By Bob Russell
But if we become obsessed with gaining a reputation for being cutting edge, we’ll wind up reinventing church every few years and eventually lose credibility as leaders. Charles Spurgeon had it right years ago when he said, “He who marries today’s fad will soon be a widow.”
One of the leader’s ongoing challenges for the future is to discern between passing fads and permanent trends. When I first started preaching, bus ministry was a popular fad. We were told, “Buy a fleet of buses and send them into every corner of your community and pick up kids. You’ll eventually win their families.”
Then came the seeker-friendly emphasis. We were told to design our worship services to impress the first-time visitor. We were advised to sing just one congregational song because the seeker doesn’t want to sing. Those fads came and went.
Over the years there were also some permanent trends that significantly impacted the church. We changed from the King James Version to the New International Version, from a pipe organ to a praise band, from a hymnal to posting words on a screen. To fail to make those adjustments in a timely way leaves the impression that the church is for a previous generation only.
Think of the stylistic issues the church faces today. Which are passing fads? Which are permanent trends? Casual dress, darkened auditoriums, preaching without notes, organic sermons, one point sermons (divided five different ways), the pulpit replaced with a round table and stool, calling Christians “Christ-followers,” and senior ministers “lead pastors.”
There’s the elimination of special music, no invitation at the end of the sermon, the avoidance of patriotism, and the emphasis on satellite churches. The emphasis on the arts, missional versus attractional, building buildings versus renovating supermarkets, emphasis on the 10/40 window versus local mission needs, as well as more emphasis on discipleship with less on mass evangelism. These are all current issues, but which are passing fads and which are permanent trends?
I would offer two suggestions. First, unless you sense a divine imperative to be a pioneer, be patient. God does anoint some to innovate, but don’t be a groupie to every new idea that comes along; be content to let others pave the way and learn from their experiences. Be your own person and ask yourself,, “Where is this idea working effectively and will it work here?” before jumping on board.
More important, put your confidence in and invest your time in the study of God’s Word and not the latest religious fad. The Word of God is eternal truth. To be consistently relevant we must be eternal. Isaiah prophesied, “Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the God of truth” (Isaiah 65:16).
In my opinion, cutting-edge methods comprise less than 10 percent of a healthy ministry. Ninety percent of your influence in the future will depend on whether or not you can teach God’s Word in a way that’s understandable, practical, and inspirational. No exciting fad, popular trend, or creative visual aid can replace the regular feeding of the bread of life.
Hebrews 4:12 promises, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
This column is excerpted from a commission to new ministers preached by Bob Russell at the North American Christian Convention on July 13, 2012.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Russell. Permission to copy this column may be obtained by writing Debbie Carper, Southeast Christian Church, 920 Blankenbaker Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40243.
Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky.