Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Natural Decline And Ultimate Demise Of Christian Ministries

Ron Livesay is a friend of mine who has spent most of his career in Christian School Administration. He has written an article about the threats to Christian schools that is insightful and sobering but has relevance and application to all Christian ministries. Responsible Christian ministry leaders must be soberly focused on true, biblical purpose or risk the demise of their ministries.  Failure is the natural end of ministries that are built by the wisdom of men; success is supernatural.

During the seventies and eighties, so called “Christian ministries” flourished. We had Christian night clubs, Christian dating services, Christian cruises. Whatever the world had or did, we could imitate. Christianity was popular. Christianity was patriotic. It was socially acceptable and everyone wanted to be one. We had the moral majority. We had the Republican party. That should have alerted real Christians. But most of us jumped into the cozy bed of roses and enjoyed the euphoria without discernment.

And it was during those years, Christian Schools became a rapidly growing movement. Those days are gone and today they are on the decline. OK, so there are many reasons for that but, leaders of Christian ministries have got to take a deep breath, stop making excuses, set aside their emotions, their positive thinking, their false hopes, and foolish acts of misplaced faith, and DO WHAT IS RIGHT or die.

I worked as a church and Christian school business administrator for six years and have been the administrator of a Christian residential care facility for nearly seventeen years. I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of pragmatic business practices in ministry management. Here are some of my random, disconnected thoughts (from personal experience) about the difficulties and threats facing Christian ministries:
  • Just because you call it a ministry doesn’t make it a ministry. Legitimate Christian ministry must have a biblical purpose. That purpose is established by God through the person of His Son and is defined in His Word. All ministry, to those who are unregenerate, that does not specifically, purposefully, and directly confront the sinner with his hopeless condition and call him to repentance is ILLEGITIMATE.
  • There are basically two ways to grow a ministry; either by God’s power or the world’s wisdom. I’m not trying to be cute here but we often give lip service to God's Word and then make organizational and business decisions that contradict His principles and precepts. I just read this week about a Christian school in our area that has been “emancipated” from the control of its Baptist church and has formed an inter-denominational district under the control of several local churches including Assembly of God and Methodist. O.K., so obviously their reasoning was pragmatic; the economic condition today makes it tough to attract enough tuition paying students to keep it viable so they believe this move will broaden their market base and attract new clients and support.
  • Whenever a ministry is pressed or driven to attract “customers” in order to maintain its viability, (like in the above example of a Baptist school under the control of churches (Methodists, Baptists, Independents, and Pentecostals) their doctrine will become compromised. Teachers and students will derive from a broad spectrum of Christian beliefs so they must compromise their once-held beliefs about biblical truth. Convictions will give way to accommodation and tolerance. They must find some comfortable way to convince themselves that unity is more important than truth.
  • The current climate in America is hostile to Christian ministries; you can’t ignore this. You may remember the two girls who were expelled from a Lutheran school in southern California for their open declaration and demonstration of homosexuality. Fortunately the school prevailed in the girls’ discrimination law suit but, the most troubling thing I heard was an independant opinion of an attorney who insisted that the court was wrong. The attorney disagreed with the court’s premise that the school was similar to a social organization like the Boy Scouts and was therefore, exempt from discrimination laws. She argued that the school is a business because it provides a product (education) in exchange for money (tuition).
  • Some ministry leaders just don't get it either, and act as though their ministry is a business. When that happens, the ministry is already in trouble and deserves to fall.  I heard one pastor say, about his church’s Christian school, “it is not a ministry; it’s a business because it collects tuition and pays salaries.” Try to figure out that convoluted thinking.  Ironically, he is a paid employee of his church whose paycheck derives from the church's collected offerings, yet he considers himself "in the ministry."
  • Ron Livesay makes another important observation. Some people enroll their children for all the wrong reasons. Christian schools are perceived as nothing more than elite, private academies providing education that is comparable to public schools but in a safer, Christian environment. When I was on the school's staff a few years ago, one student’s father said to me, “This is a great school except for all that Bible stuff.” It is insufficient to define a Christian ministry as something just like its secular counterpart except that it employs Christians or has a Christian "atmosphere" (whatever that means). Christian ministries must be Christ-centered in word and practice.  Furthermore, the Christian world-view as understood from the Word of God must permeate all aspects of classroom education.
  • Independent and autonomous ministries are all at risk. Currently, churches still enjoy some degree of social tolerance and constitutional protection to operate their ministries according to their religious beliefs and convictions. That is much more difficult for para-church ministries; especially in the areas of religious and sexual discrimination in employment practices and personal behavior and morality. The safest position for any ministry is to be an integral part of and under the authority of a local Christian church that has a clear understanding of its biblical purpose and mandate.
  • Preferably, the ministry will be directed by a church’s pastoral leadership. Whenever parents, students, clients, or any other organizations of non-Christian participants have influence and control in the direction, objectives, practices, marketing, or business decisions of your ministry, it will be compromised and vulnerable to attack. Likewise, whenever a ministry subjects itself to the direct control and/or authority of an outside association, agency, or government for approval, licensing, or financial benefits, that ministry will be conflicted, compromised, or crippled. Ultimately, the safety and security of a ministry depends on God's approval, protection, and blessing.
  • There are no secular or political guarantees and the State will never be your friend. The anti-Christian political climate is downright scary. But have we not been forewarned? Jesus said that the world would hate us because the world hates Him. And furthermore, we can count on the fact that anyone (or ministry) who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But fear not; when we are weak, He is strong.

     originally posted in 2009


Daisy said...

And never ever ever take a dime from the state or federal government; From Catholic schools in NYC to my local ex-church's income-based preschool and senior housing to the local christian foster care agency. Once they take money from the government, they become dependent and willing to compromise in order to remain solvent. There are sooo many "Christian" organizations that are now Christian in name only. Guess that worked out pretty well for the government.

Ralph M. Petersen-Always Right; Sometimes Wrong! said...

Right Daisy

The dependency is just the tip of the iceberg. It is about control. Once the government has you hooked on their resources, they control your message and your practice.

One of the country's largest Christian School Associations (ACSI) has been giving their members bad advise. About some forms of govt. funding that they advise, they said, "Catholic Schools have been doing it for years and it hasn't hurt them.

Other avenues that may lead to outside control are credentialing, accreditation, and licensing. Ministry leaders should avoid them like the plague.

Ron Livesay said...

Following is an excerpt from a letter I sent to ACSI a few years ago:

Of all the things about which I totally disagree with ACSI’s position, none is as huge as this current idea of accepting government funds. I find it hard to believe that you could possibly think this is a good idea, and I am appalled that ACSI is encouraging schools to take part. It has long been an established principle that, in order to remain free of bondage, Christian schools should not take a dime of federal, state, or local taxpayer money. Why the change? Please consider the following:

•The government has neither the Biblical authority nor the constitutional authority to even be involved in education, let alone control it and fund it.

•The government has only what it takes from the people. Why should we have our hands out asking for “our share” of taxpayer money? Government takes and wastes far too much money already.

•Clearly, the government wants control and power. Why play into their hands? Bait always has a hook in it. A trout never suspects the hook is there until after he has swallowed the bait. By then it is too late. We need to be wiser than that. There is no such thing as free money.

Ellery said...

There are many things to discuss here, but it all come back to "Who do you serve?" Who said,"He who controls the purse strings...?"