Many of our local churches are orderly, life-giving ministries. Their systems are in place, their congregations are growing, and the Spirit of God is moving among them.
But I can't escape the hidden danger lurking in the shadows that may lead some of them down the wrong path: Too many people are telling them what to do.
Books, articles, counselors, seminar speakers, movement makers, endless tape series, ministry "experts" and others are constantly giving us the solution to every problem we face. Some actually know what it takes to help us; others of them don't have a clue. But both sides communicate to us with equal intensity.
**So, to whom do we listen?
**How do we sort out the cacophony of voices gently leading us, and sometimes shouting at us, toward the narrow way to church growth and prosperity?
**How do we know if they know?
DEVELOP A PLUMB LINE
Amidst all the confusion, it's important for us to develop a plumb line for whom we will listen to. We must carefully discern who can speak into our lives, and who cannot.
After more than 20 years of local church ministry, I've found that the best teachers are people who have built solid, long-term, successful ministries themselves. They have earned the right to be heard by what they have done, not by what they say.
When I want to learn to build my marriage, I talk to (or read books by) people who have been happily married for decades and decades and have children who love them and who are happily married as well. I don't want to hear advice on marriage from a Ph.D. who has been divorced four times--I want to hear from someone who has lived life well.
LOOK FOR GOOD FRUIT
In the same way, when I want advice on various situations in my church, I go to people who bear the fruit of healthy church ministry. I'd rather listen to the pastor down the street from me, who has been at the same church for years and has seen it grow year after year, than to be guided by those miles away who say they know, but have never done it. I want to listen to those who have earned the right to be heard by their ability to build and sustain a local church .
"And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom...I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:1, 3-5, NKJV).
LISTEN TO THE VOICES
OF INTEGRITY AND HONOR
Fancy titles, theories and rhetoric might seem impressive, but the core philosophies of our churches can't rest with those who guess. Our ministries have to be built on information from those who have demonstrated God's power for action and have earned our attention through lives of honor, integrity, faithfulness and measurable effectiveness. No other voices should be considered.
Simply put, in order to succeed, we've got to ignore many of the voices and thoughtfully choose to listen to people like Paul.