There is a type of shrewdness that is pastoral. There is another type of shrewdness that is Satanic. Knowing the difference is key to church revitalization.
Pastor Jim normally threw away all the ads that piled on his desk on Monday morning. Most of them frustrate him. He’s been pastoring this little church for a few years now. The initial growth which came from the “new pastor” is long gone and his hope is deteriorating every Sunday. They’ve plateaued and he knows it. So all those invitations to conferences about pastoring an awesome church serve as daggers to his weary soul.
But one catches his attention. He goes to the conference. He is on cloud nine as he believes he has been given the silver cattle prod to wake up his dying church. One of the conference speakers explained how his church grew from 125 people to 750 because they changed their music style, shape of their pulpit, color of their sanctuary, and the way they welcomed people.
Jim knew that such changes would be difficult for him to institute. He also knew that it would cost him a ton of relational capital to do things like change carpet colors and put in a projection system. He wasn’t sure his pastorate would survive the changes.
Thankfully, Jim had a buddy who was a seasoned worship leader with thick skin who needed a job. Together they devised a plan. Jim’s buddy would push hard for all of the changes that Jim wanted. He’d gather a paycheck for about a year, make everybody mad at him, and keep the pastor out of it. At the end of a year, Pastor Jim would have his projection system and colors changed in the sanctuary. Then he’d also receive the added relational capital of firing the music guy that everybody now hated.
Jim hasn’t pastored his church toward revitalization, he’s just planted seeds of discontent and established a pattern that is going to bite him in the end. You cannot get holy results through unholy methods. It just doesn’t work. Ask the Israelites in Hosea’s day. You sow the wind you reap the whirlwind.
One could look at this and rightly accuse Jim of having a wrong focus. We could say, “Silly boy, the church isn’t changed by carpet colors and projection screens”. But what if we change carpet colors and project screens to, “hiring gospel-centered staff, moving towards a more biblical leadership structure, and healthier models of discipleship”. Is it okay for us to engage in deceptive practices and maneuverings in order to see more biblical things happen in our local church?
Listen, any unholy seed you plant is going to come back and bite you. It is true that God uses crooked sticks to accomplish his purposes. But those who are intentionally engaging in crooked practices (even in attempts to “be more biblical”) aren’t engaging in the right type of shrewdness or wisdom.
When we engage in church politics instead of faithful and holy proclamation of the Word what is really happening is that we’ve stopped trusting in the Lord. I’ve never once regretted time I spent in prayer or faithful proclamation. But I’ve regretted plenty of “wise” decisions that I’ve made. Charles Bridges is correct when he says, “Be in the habit of going to him in the first place—before self-will, self-pleasing, self-wisdom, human friends, convenience, expediency.” Trust in God’s methods.
Revitalization is a long and hard road. But it’s a straight and holy road. I’m not sure what you’d call the church replanted at the end of a crooked road—but it isn’t revitalized.
Be holy, first. Then you’ll be the right kind of shrewd.