Six Truths You May Not Want to Hear

I am excited that Cornerstone Church has grown consistently during the last 14 years. We are planting our fourth church, and our first three church plants were self-supporting within a year.

The road has not been easy, and the road ahead has some dangerous curves. So, I am offering six truths of church growth that are counterintuitive and counter-church culture, but they are not counterfeit. They are indispensable steps to church growth.

Put Your Church Junkies in Rehab

If your idea of spirituality is measured with a big church attendance gauge, you are off base as a church leader.

As a shepherd, you need to realize that sheep are not smart. They will wear themselves out. They will drag themselves to an activity every night. Then they will divorce because you did not tell them, “You haven’t been home with your family this week.”

Some people would fall over if their pastor said to them, “I don’t want you to do a Bible study; I want you to go home and be a wife.” or, “I want you to go be a husband to your wife and a father to your children.”

Some pastors are relying on a manic commitment to the church to power the 101 ministries they believe give their church significance. But anytime you have one person working in four different ministries, you are not building a healthy Christian. You are using the life out of them, and that is not healthy.

Administration is more than control. It is the provision that allows the church to produce healthy people rather than people who are out of balance. We have allowed some people in our churches to become addicted to church activity, even to activity that is ministry. They are not ministering because they have a burden for genuine spiritual needs; they are ministering to meet their own psychological needs.

Ministry needs to do much more than make people feel good about their Christianity; it needs to spread the gospel. That is why many of our churches do not grow. We are doing ministry that makes us feel good rather than ministry that is fruitful.

Ironically, people who get too involved in interior ministries can become spiritually introverted and fail to effectively reach nonbelievers. For example, church A has 20 Royal Rangers activities a year. Every other week they have a Royal Rangers activity, but the Royal Rangers group never has a visitor. They have 20 Mpact girls activities, five ladies’ Bible studies, and six men’s retreats. They are burning themselves out. They are so involved in ministry that they do not have time to walk in the community. They seldom do anything with unsaved people to draw them into their circle of influence.

There is a difference between leaving the sins of the world and being separate from the world, and acting as though the lost do not exist. Unfortunately, many church people act as if the lost do not exist. When you balance the life of ministry, you focus on reaching the lost, not serving yourself.

Crave Anointed Administration

Two ingredients produce a perpetually growing church. One is administrative skill. You need technique, methods, and application. But these are worthless without the second ingredient — God’s anointing.

We can easily identify those who attempt to administer without the anointing. These ministers are spiritually drier than stale cornbread. They can lead a herd of elephants, but they have no anointing.

As I travel, I am surprised at how many of our churches do not give altar calls, and how many pastors do not lay hands on the sick. Many pastors have lost one of our foundational truths — divine healing is part of the Atonement. Anointed ministry wants all that God wants for His church.

We are much slower to identify pastors who demonstrate God’s anointing but fail to exercise administrative gifts. It seems unspiritual to even consider such a criticism. Yet some pastors have incredible altar ministries, preaching ministries, or teaching ministries, but they have no administrative skills. People love to hear them preach. They come to their altars and are blessed. But they do not stay in their churches because there is no preparation for what happens after the altar call. There is no follow up. There is no assimilation process.

The pastor who diligently studies administration while walking in the Spirit discovers a beautiful reality. Anointing allows you to operate beyond your level of skill, ability, education, and understanding. Anointing allows you to operate in the realm of the Spirit. And it produces fruit fit for the kingdom of God. When this takes place, shackles are broken and people are set free.

Too many pastors fail in both arenas. They do not develop their administrative skills or their ability to function as an anointed man of God. That anointing — coming on your life, working through your life, and flowing like a river out of you — allows you to operate far beyond your skills. The anointing produces the motivation in your ministry that administration gives you the capability to keep.

Communicate, Do Not Manipulate

As a young preacher I did what almost every young preacher does. I tried to find some one after whom to model my preaching. J. Don George was my preaching mentor and model. He led me to the Lord, discipled me, and gave me a job as janitor in his church. George tends to hum when he preaches. I would catch myself trying to hum when I preached. I kept trying to create my own preaching persona from bits and pieces of other preachers. Whenever you start patching people together, you end up with a Frankenstein.

Finally, I realized that their preaching persona was part of their anointing and their gifting. God uses different styles of communication to proclaim the gospel. And gifts of communication are not limited to traditional preaching.

I try to learn from preachers who tell stories. The late Gene Jackson, former Tennessee District superintendent, C.M. Ward, and Dan Betzer have transcended generations because they are also storytellers.

The more I have studied communication, the more wary I have become of manipulation. Some preachers spend most of their sermon time saying, “Glory to God,” “Praise the Lord,” and “Hallelujah.” Why do they need a microphone to talk to God? If they have a microphone, they need to talk to me. I believe in public praise and worship, and in Pentecostal manifestations, but I do not include personal communication with God when I am speaking to people.

Why do pastors use statements such as, “You people are not hearing me. You’re not ready for this yet.” That is not the Spirit of God; that is man manipulating for some kind of personal response. Preachers who verbally throw these kinds of statements at their congregations are trying to operate in the image of the anointing, but at the level of human emotion. Pastors must communicate with people in a way that changes their lives, not just stirs their water.

Some try to make saints shout while they preach, rather than make sinners repent.

Preach the Truth, Plain and Simple

To change lives, we must remember that we live in a non-Christian society. The words we use must communicate the life of the gospel.

For example, consider the word tithe. Most Christians know it means that 10 percent of their income belongs to the church. When my dad started attending church, he kept hearing that he needed to pay a tithe. But no one told him what the word tithe meant. He had quit drinking when he accepted Christ, so he put his beer money in the offering plate. He did that for about a year. One day the pastor explained that the tithe is 10 percent of one’s income. So my dad added up his money and discovered that his beer money was 10 percent of his income.

Whatever the concept, communicate it in today’s language. I do not use the word tithe in Cornerstone Church without explaining that it means 10 percent of one’s income.

Cornerstone Church has grown consistently for more than 14 years. It has grown even though I am not always politically correct or emotionally sensitive to what people are going to think. Our growth springs from truth, honesty, and realism. This applies to the plain truth of the gospel and to the dynamics of a lost culture.

Divorced people attend my church. Many were divorced before they chose to attend Cornerstone Church. Some were saved and backslid, some were saved and in rebellion, and some had never been saved. I have to deal with divorce, remarriage, and blended families. I cannot act as though they do not exist, or as if grace cannot work in their lives.

When I address divorce, I tell the story about the woman at the well. She was married five times and living with a man. She was probably still living with someone when Jesus sent her out to preach. In third-world Samaria, she probably went home to that man. Otherwise, she would have been on the street that night. She could not kick him out and keep the house.

At what point did this woman change her life? The Bible does not say. The Bible focuses on God’s miraculous grace. Jesus gave that woman opportunity to be valuable in life. Sometimes all people need to straighten their lives out is to discover their worth in God’s sight.

The gospel is controversial. When I preach that Jesus is the only way to heaven, I clearly say that every Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, and person who believes in an Eastern religion is going to hell. People may not like it, but they do not misunderstand what I am saying.

There is no room for political correctness in the church. A pastor must be spiritually truthful. Jesus did not say the gospel would be popular; He said it would polarize people. A person is either on God’s side or he is not. He is either in or he is out. He cannot be on the fence.

We need to be painfully blunt. Jesus was.

If we are not that truthful, we are not as relevant as God wants us to be. We must preach what is in the Word as a light shining in the darkness, and it may hurt some people’s eyes.

Shed Your Sainthood

Almighty God has called me to preach a gospel that is beyond description. Yet, at times, pastors do not give an honest life picture of who they are. Some pastors put forward a façade that discourages the people they need to be loving and encouraging. These people look at the pastor’s polished and prepped exterior and think they could never live that kind of good life. There are poor people who are going to hell who think if they accept Christ, they will have to become just like some fake they have seen.

Does this mean pastors need to display their faults and parade their sins before the world? No. But pastors need the people they shepherd to see their own total dependence on God and their desperate hunger for His touch and transformation.

Consider the challenges men face in our culture. More than 50 percent of men in America are either into drink or pornography. These habits are addictive. And that does not include smokers, adulterers, fornicators, and homosexuals.

As a minister, I need to crucify anything that would cause sin to take root in my spirit. And temptation to sin can come during an activity I thought was acceptable. I am honest with my church about my humanity. The fact God called me to preach does not exempt me from needing to deal with the flesh.

Nullify the Naysayers

Years after I was released from prison, I attended college. One professor I had was so negative. “This will be a difficult class for you,” he told me at the outset. “If you don’t pay attention, you will not have any chance of passing. In fact, most people last semester didn’t pass.”

I got up to walk out the door.

“Mr. Davis,” he said, “where are you going?”

“Back to work,” I told him.

He said, “I’m not through teaching.”

“You’re through teaching me,” I said. “I’m never going to sit under someone who is as negative as you are.”

I never went back.

God has a plan for each of us. We need to take our blinders off and ignore those who would try to put them back on us.

When I came to Cornerstone, attendance was 220, and then it went down. Some people thought I was getting what I deserved. But then we began to grow. When attendance was 600, they began to say, “Well, you know, we’ve had flashes in the pan before. It won’t last.” The growth rate has only increased over the last decade.

It is hard to understand the perpetual negativity of people who have not accomplished growth in their churches when they see others experience the kind of growth God wants to bring.

I must have growth in my church. God is not giving me any other option. Jesus looked at the fruit tree that was not bearing fruit and said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10; 7:19). When I meet with a departmental leader or pastor, I tell him that anytime his ministry discontinues growing we will evaluate it and give him 12 months to turn it around. Our church has grown for 14 years in a row, because unfruitfulness is not an option.

Truth hurts, but it will also set you free — free to blow away the husks of doubting preconceptions, stunted faith, and empty self-sufficiency. Truth gives freedom to grow to proportions that please the mind of an ever-creative God.

Maury Davis, pastor, Cornerstone Church, Madison, Tennessee