06 February 2012

"Innovation" and Irrelevance

by Phil Johnson

After five decades spent obsessing over a warped notion of "relevance," American evangelicalism is overrun with "change agents" who are so steeped in worldly values that they can't distinguish true relevance from mere trendiness. Their philosophies of ministry are complex, wrong-headed, counterproductive, and hostile to the notion that some things—namely God Himself and the truth He has revealed in His Word—are by definition not susceptible to change.
    By contrast, what Paul bequeathed to Timothy in two brief epistles was a remarkably simple, straightforward, but comprehensive ministry philosophy. Not only did Paul not urge Timothy to be innovative; what he
did urge Timothy to do flatly contradicts practically every ministry philosophy currently in vogue.
    This is part 1 in a series of posts I intend to write in the days to come.

onsider the undue stress today's leading church-growth gurus invariably put on innovation. We are relentlessly told that pastors and church leaders must be novel, "contemporary," cutting-edge—architects of change within the church.

Evangelicals have been obsessing for at least four decades about "relevance." But that word as used in evangelical circles has become practically synonymous with novelty and fashionableness. It has little to do with actual relevance.

Of course, the church's only true relevance lies in her role as a community where God's Word is proclaimed, where the whole counsel of God is taught, and from which the gospel is taken into the world. But when a church nowadays advertises itself as "relevant," we know exactly what is meant—and let's be honest: it isn't about anything Paul told Timothy to do; it's about being "innovative."

Consider how an organization like Leadership Network sells itself: "Leadership Network seeks to help leaders navigate the future by exploring new ideas and finding application for each unique context." "Our free indispensable twice-monthly email newsletter featur[es] the best in innovative church strategies." Podcasts feature "numerous conversations about various topics of church innovation." The organization sponsors three series of books:
  • Leadership Network Publications (Jossey-Bass) present thoroughly researched and innovative concepts from leading thinkers, practitioners and pioneering churches.
  • The Leadership Network Innovation Series (Zondervan) presents case studies and insights from leading practitioners and pioneering churches that are successfully navigating the ever-changing cultural landscape.
  • The Exponential Series (Zondervan) highlights the innovative practices of healthy, reproducing churches.
And don't forget "Engaging and inspirational videos from a number of today's innovative church leaders." Then there's "Connections,"—"Inspiring stories that show how Leadership Network is helping innovative churches and church leaders better realize their vision and maximize their impact." Something about "innovation" appears on virtually every line of that web page. The Catalyst Conference has a similar theme. The main qualification for being a speaker at any of the Catalyst events is that you must be perceived as an innovator—a "change maker." But, as it turns out, "innovation" in evangelical contexts almost never has anything to do with real originality. The best-known fruits of recent "innovative" thinking in the evangelical realm have been Emergent religion and hipster Christianity. But both Emergents and hipsters slavishly ape worldly fads and conform to postmodern and politically-correct values. "Innovation" has conditioned evangelical churches to follow every new wind of faddishness. "Innovation" itself turns out to be a worn-out cliche. There's nothing truly fresh or original about it. How it coninues to get so much publicity is a mystery to me. The more evangelicals imitate worldly fads and values, the more irrelevant they become. Here's a gentle word of admonition for those who have made an idol out of "innovation": There is hardly any more wrong-headed approach for anyone who aspires to be a true spiritual and biblical leader in the church. It's an emphasis that is entirely missing from Paul's instructions to Timothy. Actually, the truth is even more alarming than that: The church's current infatuation with novelty and contemporary fashion is antithetical to Paul's message to Timothy. It is irreconcilable with a Pauline approach to ministry. It represents precisely the path Paul warned Timothy not to follow:
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
Phil's signature


mp said...

I've said it before (not here) and I'll say it again: "relevance" is uselessness to everybody else.

Aaron Snell said...


I'm glad to see your talk from last year's Shepherds Conference is making its way onto the blogosphere. Many enamored with innovation might hear this as only noise, but may your tribe increase!

Many small church pastors take their cues from "innovative" large church pastors. It was heartening, however, to see so many small church pastors heeding the call proclaimed at the conference to be biblically faithful in the way you describe. it seems like a drop in the bucket, though - for every one small church thus committed, there seem to be a dozen captivated by the concept of innovation.

Obviously GCC and you here on this blog are trying to make a dent in the problem. Do you see any practical role a small church could play to contribute in its own community, besides simply being faithful itself?

Bill O'Neill said...

We must put our foot down on innovative pastoral hair gel. And hold on as it is apparently slippery when wet. Thanks for this series, Phil. Something tells me this didn't ring as true in Ukraine....

Phil Johnson said...

Bill O'Neill: Something tells me this didn't ring as true in Ukraine....

Actually, here's what made me decide to post this: Every American aberration gets exported around the world, and there is indeed pressure on Ukrainian churches to modernize (and postmodernize). Before you know it, someone will be peddling "Church in a Pub" over there, too.

Despite all their talk about understanding subcultures, appreciating their values, and communicating in their language, it seems American evangelical contextualizers are notoriously bad at understanding any culture other than spoiled 20-somethings (and 30- and 40-somethings whose maturity is seriously stunted.)

wv: "carnale"

mike said...

how long until we see an "occupy blah blah blah" aberration blasting through the cool kids churches?

what is more relevant to the rebellious self indulgent narcissists that these guys think are the prime pew filling stock?

wv misde

Unknown said...

Mmmmh, this blog looks fairly innovative...

In Russet Shadows said...

I dunno if innovation itself is the enemy, but what are people producing who take on that mantle? Where's the fruit? I don't see much fruit, honestly. All I see and hear is noise, trendy, ear-tickling stuff when real needs and hurts go unaddressed.

Phil Johnson said...

Steve Bagdanov:

If you think the post above makes any argument that would rule out a fresh blog design, a modern typeface on the church bulletin, pioneering architecture in the church building, or creativity in the affairs of a Christian's business and everyday life, you need to read it again.

What it argues against are reimagined ministry philosophies that depart from the simple instructions Paul gave Timothy.

If you want to defend an innovative philosophy of ministry, best not to use a reductionistic argument to do it.

Fred said...

Phil, I'm looking forward to hearing about specific examples of innovation gone wrong. On the other hand I've noticed some very stale churches who puff their chests out in pride about being old fashioned. Their members demand sappy light weight songs from songbooks they call hymnals. They take pride in the traditions of the denomination they won't hear of any change in polity that's rooted in the 40's rather than the first century.

Some attempts at innovation are so obviously contrived and a put off. My anti-hipster 20 something sons are so put off by it they would rather have pipe organs and cathedrals with stained glass and sacred music. The popular church in our area has hip cool music every week and a big screen where they play last weeks sermon from headquarters.


Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Johnson
I know this may be off topic and if it is please feel free to delete this question.
Do you think/feel/believe that the Theory of Evolution has no evidence and is just a way for people to excuse their sin or not believe in God? I understand that this is not worded perfectly but basically I am struggling with the massive evidence that supports the ToE in comparison to a literal Adam and Eve. That does not even deal with the age of the earth but that is a different question. Thank you for any response. I do hope you have nice week.

Steve Talas said...

I can remember reading an article in the London 'Times' a few tears ago critiquing attempts by mainstream Anglicanism to become 'Hip and relevant' the conclusion was then, that it was a total turn-off that people (especially the young) actually despised it and could see through it all. While it seems at the moment that 'Driscollian' type of contextualized pandering to the godless is the 'Flavour of the day', it's only a matter of time that the boredom will set in and people will be looking for the next new show in town. Micky Mouse T-Shirts, a cool haircut and clothes to match may be great, but sooner or later should male pattern baldness, middle aged spread stake their claim on you, (hey I know) you're going to look more than a little silly, 'Mutton dressed as Lamb' as the people start to shout 'get off the stage old man you've had your turn'.

Tom Chantry said...

I've always thought that the idea of churches being "relevant" was too much like the middle aged math teacher who raps about algebra so his students will think he's cool. What could be more un-cool than that? I remember math teachers who talked about algebra in a way that made it make sense and who kindly, patiently offered help to those of us who were struggling. We seemed to like them just fine even if their glasses were too thick and their ties too wide.

I believe it was Craig Troxel at the Banner of Truth Minister's Conference the other year who said, "Brethren, we are pastors; we will never be cool." Very true, but if we speak the truth of God's word with clarity and simplicity and if we patiently help those who are struggling we just might wind up doing the work we were called to do.

Robert said...

Let me just say that people who do this are just being fake. They are willing to sell out at any costs in order to seem appealing to the fleshly desires of people. 1 John 2:15-17 clearly speaks against that, but I'm sure that is a part of the Bible that these guys aren't going to touch...at least not in any way that really gets to the point John is making.

Thomas Louw said...

In general term I totally agree but have a few observations.

Being relevant is not difficult at all, if you preach the gospel it is essential, everyone needs it.
The problem I have is that you cannot dress the gospel in some Victorian age culture and then present it to nations in Africa.
The gospel must stay untouched but, singing hymns form the 1600’s aint going to fly.

So is it with the culture everywhere else, time travelling trough ages and importing “the right way” to do things across culture lines just does not work.
I would say as the pastor/missionary stay true to whatever style or lack of style you have. It’s not a sin to change your hair style but, changing it just to be hip and cool. Shouts to me you cross the line and maybe want to much focus for yourself.

Have the light the band, if it fits, don’t try to fit.

Gradually styles change.
The reason why we do things is the key.
Hint, being cool and accepted and not offending people is not the trait we are looking for

Thomas Louw said...

Oh, yes not bashing hymms, in our church that's the only thing that fly's.

(I do sometimes miss the odd drum sollo)

RevWood said...

Thanks Phil, So many churches today are trying to reinvent themselves. Rather than getting back to what they should be preaching, the Gospel. Looking forward to your future blogs on this subject.

John Dunn said...

"Relevance" has overthrown the apostolic imperative of walking in the Spirit by faith . . . in accordance to those spiritual realities which cannot be seen, touched, or experienced in the flesh.

"Relevance" casts out faith and embraces everything that the 5 senses can readily devour.

David A. Carlson said...

Pretty Broad Brush.

So your saying Acts 29 is "emergent", "wrong-headed", "counter productive" and hostile to the fact that "God himself and the truth he has revealed in his word"?

Guess we are going to disagree on that one.

*and before you get bent out of shape at my assertion, feel free to examine the works of some of those authors that produce works for the groups that Phil has tarred. Like Matt Carter and Darrin Patrick. Just what of their words actually does not walk in the steps of what Paul taught Tim?

candy said...

I've always said it is the thesis+antithesis=synthesis ploy being played out in the church, just as that ploy permeates every aspect of our culture in order to hammer at absolute truth. The possibly unwitting players in this ploy utilize words like "mysterious" to describe the trinity, or "unity trumps doctrine", to chip away at essential truths. Then comes the attack against those who hold to absolute truth, as being rigid and unyielding to other Christians. Divide and conquer. ER2 was the latest set stage in order to see this played out in predictable fashion.

DJP said...

Is "DAC" in your case short for D. A. Carson? And the misspelling and grammatical errors are meant to misdirect our suspicions?

(I only thought that when a well-known person emailed me, referring to the latter with that acronym.)

Tom said...

FWIW, not all hipster pastors are fake, just like Sensei's bravado is not fake.

Don't rely on stereotypical arguments to discount a man or his ministry before you know either. Christ said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment."

I don't think Phil is necessarily advocating that we should judge by appearance, but it is a fine line that we cross sometimes.


Anonymous said...

I don’t think appearance is really the issue at all (unless one is literally preaching in a clown suit). The issue is approach.

If the emphasis is on sound, biblical instruction then the pastor shows he is fully relying on the power of the Holy Spirit working through the revealed Word to convict hearts.

If the emphasis is on being relevant then what does that say about the pastor’s confidence in the Word of God?

bad bob said...

I could not agree with you more on this matter. I am a member of a church where all we do is follow the latest world trends. While the sermons are doctrinal, all of the trimmings of this evangelical turkey are of the shelf worldly.
My church is woman-ran and therapeutic. Totally feelings based in deed, while paying a lip service to Scripture from the pulpit.
Perhaps the biggest danger I see is that the "innovations" we are employing create a false "excitement" in our body, where the expectations of whoever wanders onto the property is that they will get their "needs" met. Whatever that means.
Longer term, I believe one of these days we're going to be left holding a very messy bag, when the management hits the proverbial road. Pastors and their entourages do leave/retire.
I suppose we'll just have to come up with some cool new "method of soul-winning", huh? (Adjusts the chin-strap of tinfoil hat).
Or maybe I'm just nuts, or not filled up enough with that Holy Spirit thing my body is always on about.
Anyway, thanks for letting me rant. I'll go back to lurking now.

Solameanie said...

Just finished teaching through both letters to Timothy, so wonderful timing and encouragement. You are spot on, as usual.

Kevin Zuber said...

You want "relevance"!? -- I'm heading this moment to a class room discussion of some "innovators" (and "elevators") that my students want my take on!

This post will be featured in the discussion!

Scot said...

In order to chase "relevancy," you need a lot of time and energy. In order to teach and preach the Word well, you can lot of time and energy spent learning hermeneutics, exegesis and ancient languages. It seems that you can't do both.

Being truly innovative and original requires a lot of time, energy, and gifted workers, and I've honestly seen very very few ministries have all three things in place all at once. Almost every time a ministry or church says it's innovative, you can replace that word with embarrassing.

Now evangelicalism has a younger generation that looks down on studying, can barely exegete a passage, and really thinks having fun is the sum total of Christian life. This isn't across the board, but it is a disturbingly large cross-section.

Anonymous said...

Good post. Eager to read part 2.

What do you think is the root of this vogue?

The Squirrel said...

Tom Chantry said...
"I believe it was Craig Troxel at the Banner of Truth Minister's Conference the other year who said, 'Brethren, we are pastors; we will never be cool.'"

Some of us are cool.

We can't help it.

That's the way it is.

Just sayin'.



Tom Chantry said...

"Cool" in the eyes of all the other arboreal rodents is not what we had in mind!

Scot said...

Chipmunks are cuter.

Ken Archbold said...

This is where relavance has got us to:

CHRISTIAN : A feminine do good-er that does trite nice things for the praise of others and the uplifting of their own self esteem. A person that knows nothing of what they believe and cannot defend their position in a thoughtful logical way - but they believe what they believe and defend it with anger and name calling. They need a person to read the same book over and over to them each week explaining in detail the simplest concepts. The book is constantly having to be reduced from a high school reading level to a second grade reading level with pictures,video,and stage props because the majority of Christians are just too stupid to read the Bible for what it says, understand and follow directions. An amazing fact considering that most of the book was written by uneducated fishermen , shepherds , from a third world country. This isn't MIT material. They sing songs that are reduced to hypnotic trances and mantras of the same 4 words over and over lead by a kid with uncombed hair, dirty clothes with holes in their pants who sing so loud that they drown out the congregation. They then get so caught up in their performance they don't notice that no one can keep up with their new version of a song they thought they knew.
They beg everyone for money and think that getting others to help them in their cause is some kind of sacrifice on their own part. When confronted with the strong statements that they claim to believe (it is in the Bible of course) they back down and explain that the Bible doesn't really say what it really says and apologize for the offence.
Everything small unimportant thing is an offence. I am offended at your smoking,drinking,language,heathen ways,and I AM VERY ANGRY AND UPSET!!!! Why is that? If there is an offence it is not against the Christian but against God. Why take offence? Don't you expect people to act like people? Why are you surprised?
They claim that Jesus saved them then try to save themselves by good works because as we all know all good people go to heaven. Then they say we are all sinners. They claim to believe the book of Genesis is true and then say we are also decedents of apes. They believe in marriage and then welcome gay lovers into their membership and fellowship without any judgement. They sing and dance and do mission work with poor people then divorce their wives , cheat on their taxes, step on others climbing the cooperate ladder,run of the older church members who do not like the most recent fads in the church. They create a carnival like atmosphere to get you in the door , tell you how wonderful you are and how with God you can succeed, then ask you to please invite Jesus to live in your heart (whatever that means).. They shake your hand and give you a fake smile , tell you how great it is to have you here with them today , show you the donuts and coffee , lead you to a Bible study where no one actually brings a Bible or even mentions it. They give you another fake smile as you go and wish you come back again.


Nash Equilibrium said...

"Church strategies." lol - I didn't know that church bodies need a "strategy."

But now we are told that a church needs a "strategy" more than it needs unchanging truth. Truth is optional apparently, but not strategy.

What a fouled-up mess!

yankeegospelgirl said...

Too true, too-hoo...

Solameanie said...

Shouldn't we be asking the folks at Youth Specialties about subjects like this?

Sorry, that was totally uncalled for. I shall now head to my woodshed to spank myself.

donsands said...

"Their members demand sappy light weight songs from songbooks they call hymnals."

You don't mean the hymns in the hymnals like: "Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed", for an instance?

The Issac Watts, Charles Wesleys, fanny Crosbys, William Cowpers, and others will always prove to be exceptional songs for us to sing to our Lord and Savior.

And our more Modern hymns are fine as well. But all the sappy and shallow music we have in the Church today, needs to be sent down the road.

Another well written post. Spot on. Thanks.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"The Issac Watts, Charles Wesleys, fanny Crosbys, William Cowpers, and others will always prove to be exceptional songs for us to sing to our Lord and Savior."

Same thing David probably said about "A Dove on Distant Oaks"

FX Turk said...

You know: one of the things we ought to take away from the Keller/Carson post-ER2 essay is the idea that there are radically-bad ways to do radically-good things. I think their example of Biblicism 1 vs. Biblicism 2 is a great way to see that you can even affirm important and consequential precepts but implement them is a damaging way.

This issue of "relevance" is one of those things. As we have here said a bajillion times before, we're not blogging in Aramaic over here. We don't insist that you be able to read and then comment in Greek to grasp what we're saying. And we're talking about the Gospel as it applies to things that are happening today, not merely some airy-fairy "once upon a time" world where every pastor is Spurgeon and every layman is Christian from Pilgrim's Progress.

So let's keep in mind that in some sense, Phil is here talking about the difference between "relevance 1" (the superficial adaptation of pop standards and modes in order to fit in, to the point of neglecting deeper implications) and "relevance 2" (where the real heart of the matter is addressed, and the point is made in a culture, to a culture, for the sake of those living in a culture).

Yes: we get it. We blog. I would, however, put my worse post ever on this blog up against the best in class from the other side of the fence for cutting to the heart of the matter, and speaking to people about their sin problem and our great God and Savior solution.

Ian said...


Well said, but I really think the infatuation with innovation is only possible if there is a fertile soil foundation of pragmatism. I do think if it was vogue to display artifacts of deceased saints and erect eleborate religious monuments to draw the masses they would do it. Whatever works.... that's the philosophy.

May I reccomend an excellent sermon by Paris Reidhead, "Ten shekles and a shirt" full length version should be on youtube.
God Bless

Aaron Snell said...

Still wondering: what role do you (or Frank or Dan) see small churches playing in stemming this tide in their own communities, other than having their own houses in order?

Trinity said...

DonSands, I'm with you, regarding Fred's comment about "Their members demand sappy light weight songs from songbooks they call hymnals"

Like you said, there is Nothing lightweight about the Hymns and the Psalms that we sign in our church (Isaac Watts, Cosby, Wesley, et al..) These are as frothy and full bodied as any music can be. Much more so than the newer stuff, where I can just replace Jesus with my girlfriend's name.

Fred has been hoodwinked by the mantra of the Leadership Network, where guys here this sort of nonesense all the time. They think that AC/DC or Ozzy Osborne is more biblically masculine than the hymns and Psalms, which proves that this generation's conception of Biblical masculinity is anemic. (sorry, rabbit trail).

Fred also thinks that "any change in polity that's rooted in the 40's rather than the first century..."
I'd be curious what kind of polity he is talking about?? Perhaps elders, deacons, and pastors who are male and actually take their roles as under-shepherds of their people? Or is he promoting the CEO-type innovation mentality that uses and despises the sheep?

As you can tell, I'm not very happy with the Innovation Set/Leadership Network approach. After spending 12 years in a church that eventually went down that path, I saw firsthand the havoc this approach has on the Church. And I'm with the Pyro guys on this one, big time!

Nash Equilibrium said...

If there are people who are called to believe, won't they be attracted to the Gospel proclamation almost no matter how it's done?

If so, isn't making the church into a circus midway only attracting people who aren't called, in addition to those who are called and would have shown up anyway?

Or am I off on that?

Unknown said...

Actually I agree with your premise. The most important ministry values are the basic eternal biblically mandated values and solid word driven activities. Innovative approaches do not necessarily mitigate against those values and activities. The value of innovation should not be pitted against appropriate ministry values, otherwise we sometimes simply defend outdated innovation.

The point of my so called "reductionistic" argument was that you're managing to be innovative (albeit in a small acceptable manner)and faithful.

My failure in ministry is often that I have been so entrenched in church culture that my habits go unchallenged and I can actually create barriers to ministry to unbelievers, so innovative people challenge me in that area. I think wise people expose themselves to people who see and do things differently. It always remains my job to discern whether the innovation misses the mark.

My comment was not meant as a blog comment missile, just made me chuckle, probably should have refrained.


Anonymous said...

According to Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 4 etc., that would be correct.

The mentality of many today is that if someone rejects the Gospel then they must not have had enough creative-juice flowing in their presentation – more fog, turn the volume up and please throw in some jokes!

OR even worse, water it down so they would be more likely to swallow it.

Darlene said...

I've got a question for anyone here who is able and willing to answer. Not being an Evangelical myself, but knowing many personally, why is it that these churches (for the most part) do not fast? For me, fasting is integral to the life of a Christian. Yet, with those Evangelicals that I have known, most see it as unnecessary and unimportant.

From where I reside, innovation, relevance, and emergent aren't the problems. Or if they are, such things would be applied differently. We don't have rock bands (or some equivalent), and thus no stages on which they could perform. We don't have projector screens or skits performed by hipster dudes. Most of the things that that have become epidemic within current-day evangelicalism wouldn't be a bleep on the radar screen in the church where I worship.

However, the Christian faith is suffering an assault in most places regardless of where one resides. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. The methods he uses may vary, but the objective is the same.

I would say that within my sphere of Christendom (for lack of a better word at the moment), I am more familiar with apathy toward worship and thus toward God. This indifference toward God seeps into every area of the Christian's life - and he/she does nothing to resist it. Struggle against the flesh becomes a surrender to its passions. The Scriptures have little significance and thus are seldom read. Prayer is neglected, and when and if it is done, becomes common and routine. Contrition is avoided or given some form of verbal respect. Fasting becomes a customary observance - something we do, but with little or no connection to its spiritual benefits. What I mean to say is the Christian life, i.e. the Christian's life, becomes a dull repetition of meaningless activities, but the heart of the Christian has grown cold. Where once love of and for our Savior dwelt, now there is disinterest, detachment, and weariness for those things which impart life - life in the Spirit.

I am not unfamiliar with this sickness myself and the cure is prostration and surrender before Christ, a plea for humility, and embracing the kenotic way of life - imitating our Savior. It is to once again reach out for and commune with Christ our God, Who is love.

donsands said...

"..imitating our Savior. It is to once again reach out for and commune with Christ our God, Who is love."

First, I don't fast as I should, that's the way it is with me. How much should a disciple of Jesus fast? I think that's between the individual and his/her Lord.

To imitate Christ is folly. To commune with Christ is different, but I would say, we need to draw nearer to our Lord and Savior.

We draw near through prayer, the Word, and being with the people of God. To have good pastors tofeed our souls and minds.

Jesus said, "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you can not abide with Me, and I with you." John 6
And this has nothing to do with the Lord's Supper BTW.

The main thing for the Christian, no matter what Denom, is to understand the Gospel truth.

Christ died for sinners, and He rose from the dead. Do we trust in Christ ALONE. 100% alone for our eternal life. No adding to what Jesus did for us, His elect.

"Amazing grace, how sweet a sound,
That saved a wretch like me!"

These words never ever get old.

And also the Gospel, with its simplicity, has an eternal depth with it. The love of God is beyond comprehension, and yet is in the heart of the soul that truly trusts in Christ alone.


FX Turk said...

Aaron: there should be more small churches who care about the Gospel, the church, and all people (in that order). That would solve a LOT of this skull-duggery.

Aaron Snell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron Snell said...

But a small church (at least most of us anyway) can't make more small churches.

If, however, you mean that the best thing a small local church can do to turn the trend is get busy with caring about the Gospel, the church, and all people (i.e., being biblically faithful) - put our hands to the plow, as it were - then I suppose you're right.

Tom Chantry said...

Aaron Snell,

The church which planted my church has never had more than 300 people. While they were planting our church they assisted another church of less than 300 with another plant. Since then they have worked on yet another plant, and although we are even smaller we have been able to help.

It can happen, it just usually doesn't.

Aaron Snell said...

Thanks, Tom, that's encouraging. What are the geographical relationships between the mother church and the plants, just out of curiosity?

Aaron said...


You've hit on something. Most churches don't believe that but instead believe in a manner of Arminianism. People will make their own choices, therefore, we need to make the choice more palatable to them.

I went to a seeker sensitive church and it is perfectly logical according to marketing principles. The seeker sensitive model, which primarily the leader in "innovation" in churches, is based on the presupposition that most Americans think of themselves as Christians. So they refer to people as "unchurched" rather than unbelievers, unsaved, lost, etc. In order to get these people into the church you appeal to their "felt" physical and spiritual needs. You slowly introduce them to the essential doctrine of Christianity much like boiling a frog by bringing the water to a slow boil. Wahla! One day the regular attenders wake up and realize their true Christians!

Anyways, this whole "innovation" concept that Phil talks about is built on the foundation that man will make his choice outside of God. So if man makes his choice, we make methods that appeal to men.

You and I know differently, being good Calvinists.

Darlene said...


Thank you for responding to my inquiry.

First, I don't fast the way that I should, that's the way it is with me.

I appreciate your honesty.

To imitate Christ is folly.

I've never heard a Christian (the ones I know) ever say or allude to such a thing. Perhaps you could elaborate on this theme a bit.

Some many years ago, during a time of personal tragedy and sorrow, I cried out to God in desperation. I recall during that painful time finding a book that was instrumental for me - The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. While I am not a Catholic, what I read penetrated my heart with a longing to know this Christ, it stirred within me a desire to know and love God, and revealed my inability to do so by my own power, though I impossibly tried to do so.

When I spoke of imitating, I was thinking of Scripture. To be precise, I was thinking of Philippians in which St. Paul says, "Have this same mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus." And the beloved apostle John also reminds us "By this we may be sure that we are in Him; he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked." This sounds quite like imitating to me. Furthermore, don't disciples desire to imitate their Master, Who is Jesus Christ? As I heard a evangelical friend of mine once say, "We must walk the talk."

To commune with Christ is different, but I would say, we need to draw nearer to our Lord and Savior.

Sometimes Christians miss each other due to jargon. But yes, to draw near to God is one way to express the point I was trying to make.

We draw near through prayer, the Word, and being with the people of God. To have good pastors to feed our souls and minds.

Yes indeed!

Jesus said, "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you cannot abide with Me, and I with you."
John 6
And this has nothing to do with the Lord's Supper BTW.

I already know this is how Calvinists believe. I would differ with you, (but what do my feeble protestations really mean?) Perhaps on another day, at another time.

The main thing for the Christian, no matter what Denom, is to understand the Gospel truth.

Understanding is very important, but incomplete. For once we understand, it must penetrate the very depths of our heart so that Christ becomes alive within us - so that He lives through us. As Christians we have the very privilege of being partakers of His very life - His divine nature.

Christ died for sinners, and He rose from the dead.

Yes indeed.

The incarnation, the cross, the tomb, the ascension, the entire life of Christ was to impart forgiveness and life to us. I live because He lives. I am able to love because He has given His love to me.

He is our Peace.

May you draw ever closer to Him as the Day draws near.

Aaron said...


Many seeker sensitive types encouraged and engaged in very long periods of fasting. Bill Bright was known to fast quite a bit. In fact, "CRU" still has an extensive section on fasting.

But fasting isn't really on topic, is it?

Aaron said...

@Tom Chantry:

My Church was planted by another "small" church.

donsands said...

"May you draw ever closer to Him as the Day draws near."-Darlene

Thank you. I pray His Spirit does that for us both.

I think you may be correct in that my "jargon" is a bit too picky.

I suppose what I was trying to say is that God in His grace, works in His elect "to will and to do". Our fruit we bear in this age is of our Lord, and He has all glory due to His grace and Spirit, who works in us; both our hearts and minds.

And even though there's this fruit in our lives, it has nothing to add to the truth of our names being written on His nail-scarred palms.
His precious blood is all our righteousness and forgiveness.

I truly appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Darlene.

You are an encouragement to me. Have a blessed evening in our Savior's love and joy and peace!

Gal. 6:14 All for the Cross.

Aaron said...

@Robert 4:50AM comment.

I don't like to cast aspersions. Many of the Pastors I've known personally, who apply a one or more elements of "innovation", genuinely and passionately love the Lord as best as I can see. They just have a terrible theology based on arminianism and bad hermeneutics.

As an immature Christian I thought such things made sense. But as I matured in the faith and my understanding of the Word, I realized how much "innovation" compromised the Gospel.

Anyways, not all of them are "fake." Despite leaving my seeker sensitive church because of the theology, I still believe the Pastors loved Christ, loved His people and I still care for those Pastors deeply.

Jonathan Edwards said...

Innovation and Relevance:


Unknown said...

Some of the best examples of the word being exhorted in season and out of season is the latest outcroppings of young men who are studious, disciplined, and creative enough to make some of the best rap out there that is reformed to the core and gospel saturated. Some of the worst examples out there are seasoned men in the ministry who have looked studious and disciplined decided to lean upon their own understanding and write best selling fodder with a slick cover and advocate a new law and a new yoke.

Looking forward to the rest of this series.

Unknown said...

Excellent post, Phil. Innovation of course isn't itself the problem but the idea behind much innovation: that only by accommodating oneself to the world's fashions, likes and dislikes can one gain a large audience and thereby make an impact. What evangelicalism needs though, isn't slick marketers and pollsters whose hidden agenda is wordly success, but men of gospel passion and blameless character committed to telling the truth in love so as to make mature disciples, who measure success by faithfulness to the serious task of accurately proclaiming the faith, who treasure eternal rewards and the pleasure of their Master above all earthly gain or acclaim.

Darlene said...

Sir Aaron:

What is "CRU"?

CTaylor3113 said...

I am currently working out of state. I miss my church dearly. The manager I am working for invited me and to her church with her family. I was excited. Key word was. She told me how much I would enjoy the service. She said it is so "relevant" to todays culture! I went online a couple days before and listned to some of the messages. Nothing about the blood of Jesus. Nothing about sin. Nothing about the current condition of so many souls. It was a pep rally. It was a party. In the grand scheme of things it was not "relevant" at all. I stayed in my hotel Sunday morning listening to podcasts of my pastor back home preaching through the book of Isaiah. Continue to pray for these churches.

CR said...

Darlene - CRU is what use to be called Campus Crusade for Christ. They said that crusade was becoming offensive and they went further and took "Christ" out of the name. I don't know what CRU stands for? It's not even a word.

Fred said...

To Don and Trinity,
I'm afraid my poor writing skills have caused you to miss the point of my post. I'm not calling the hymnal a sappy songbook but there are some sappy lightweight songs in ours. These songs seem to be the favorite of some who take pride in being traditional rather than meaty teaching doctrinal Hymns. I Love Hymns especially Hymns by those who you mentioned. My reference to sappy song is regarding a purposeful efforts to use songs rather than the great hymns of the past. This article says it better than I'm able to articulate in this post.


I hadn't heard of the leadership network before this post. I guess my point was focusing too much on style over substance is a problem for example clinging to a style from the 40's and 50's just for traditions sake. My reference to polity was in regards to most SBC Churches of which I'm a member.

Fred said...

To Don and Trinity,
I'm afraid my poor writing skills have caused you to miss the point of my post. I'm not calling the hymnal a sappy songbook but there are some sappy lightweight songs in ours. These songs seem to be the favorite of some who take pride in being traditional rather than meaty teaching doctrinal Hymns. I Love Hymns especially Hymns by those who you mentioned. My reference to sappy song is regarding a purposeful efforts to use songs rather than the great hymns of the past. This article says it better than I'm able to articulate in this post.


I hadn't heard of the leadership network before this post. I guess my point was focusing too much on style over substance is a problem for example clinging to a style from the 40's and 50's just for traditions sake. My reference to polity was in regards to most SBC Churches of which I'm a member.

Fred said...

Trinity, I heard enough AC DC in the early eighties to last a lifetime. I'd walk out of any church that played them no matter the point they were trying to make.

jmb said...

I appreciate what I take to be a deliberate reference to the great Chris Elliott movie, "Cabin Boy," on the mock magazine cover.

Robert said...

Sir Aaron,

I'm not saying that everybody who does this has a fake love for the Lord, but that what they are doign is fake. They are willing to change how they do things all the time to appeal to the lost, even when they don't believe that what the lost are involved with is good. And they sell out by not setting a Biblical standard and sticking with it. Instead, they just change to accomodate the newest fad or trend. In doing so, they may be undermining their own efforts by allowing worldliness to creep into their services.

Robert said...

I was reminded of this post this morning as I lstened to Alistair Begg preach about Paul's instructions to Timothy. What really brought this post to my mind was that at the beginning, Begg said that Paul's instructions to Timothy had to do with affirmation of the truth and not innovation. It should only make sense that the pastoral epistles are where church leaders ought to turn for advice on methodology.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Maybe it stands for Motley CRU, in an attempt to be relevant?

Mizz Harpy said...

Good point Phil.

So synophrys is definitely out if you want to be innovative?

Aaron said...

@Robert: I know. Just be careful you don't throw too wide a net. That's all.

Robert said...


Thanks...I don't want to be lumping in the good with the bad.

Linda said...

I just started reading this book by James Montgomery Boice called "Whatever happened to the gospel of grace?" and the preface sounds like it addresses similar points as this post.

Great post Phil

Jim Pemberton said...

I don't know but that hating the haters is one stream of the new "relevance".

Jude said...

Hello, and thank you for your thoughtful blog post. I would love to share this on my FB page but alas, I have deactivated. I will however share it on my blog http://wonderfulwanderings-jude.blogspot.com/ BTW I linked here from the Gentle Reformation blog http://genref.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/vines-and-oaks/#more-3519 Feel free to delete the links if you would rather not have them here. Again thanks - I love my simple reformed church where we just sing the psalms. I came out of a REALLY LOUD church with obnoxious kids and praise songs with tight jeaned young women and men "leading worship" with praise choruses that went on and on and on.