There seems to be an epidemic of copycat mentality in church ministry today. I’m not referring primarily to pulpit plagiarism, although that is a real issue (only exacerbated by the availability of online sermons from the very good to the very poor – all of which are readily copied by some). I’m thinking more generally. If a church is successful (measure that however you choose), then methodology is deemed worthy of mass representation for the benefit of others who in some way seek to reproduce something of that methodology or vision in their own local context.
By the way, please don’t think of this simply as a feature of one brand of Christianity. I have heard the sneers and comments at the expense of Willow Creek or Saddleback, but some who sneer in that direction would affirm and delight in, for example, Redeemer Presbyterian’s Church Planting Center, just to cite one example.
While some are quick to mock some of this, it is certainly not bad. Many churches have been helped and strengthened (not just in numbers) by learning from other church leaders in respect to methodology and ministry vision. Some of the contemporary attacks on Christian consumerism have an element of irony about them inasmuch as there seems to be a band-wagon of consumerism-bashing. Nevertheless, we should ask ourselves after the next seminar we attend, or “this-is-how-we-did-it” book we read . . . am I copying the right thing?
I’m not condemning all the seminars and books on methodology. We can, if we are discerning and aware of our own context, learn from what others are doing in theirs. We should certainly think carefully about that if we are inclined to use methodology as a short-cut, a cut and paste approach to doing church, a photocopied church program from another place, another culture, another context. Learn from others, but recognize their context, and implement prayerfully in recognition of your own context.
But the greater focus, the one so often missing today, is the one Jethani points to at one point in his book, The Divine Commodity, an engagement with the pervasive consumerist distortion of Christianity. “Rather than reproducing a leader’s ministry methodology, we ought to focus on reproducing his or her devotion to God.” (p98)
Why don’t we give more attention to that? Why do we look at “successful” church leaders and copy their method, but not yearn to reproduce their spiritual devotion? If they don’t have that, then what is the method really worth? If they do have that, what is it about us that fails to be stirred by it? Look around for a great Christian leader, one with a deep devotion to God. Don’t cut and paste. You can’t fake that, although you may be tempted to try. Don’t fake. Don’t ignore. Don’t methodologize. In the right sense: Copy.