How Can I Kill a Simple Church?
If you ever wanted to sabotage a simple church community, it’s very easy. First, infiltrate the group you’ve targeted by putting on your warmest smile. Be liberal with your use of flattery; phrases like, “This is the most loving bunch of people I’ve ever met” or “This is the closest thing to New Testament church life I’ve ever seen” will seal the deal. Second, implement one or more of these seven proven strategies to nuke a simple church near you.
So, how do I kill a simple church?
(On the off-chance that don’t get my silly sense of humour, I’m not really advocating that you aim to kill a spiritual family. But hang with me for a moment, and see just how easy it is to work against God’s purposes for community).
Strategy 1: Suggest that the needs of the community ought to be the primary focus.
This is a subtle but effective strategy. Pitched correctly, it sounds so right: “For sure, community should be for the benefit of its members”. And there are tons of Biblical passages that, taken out of context, can back this up. Of course, the subtle error lies in the phrase “for the benefit of its members,” but don’t worry, most won’t see it. You’ll notice the first signs of the effectiveness of this strategy in the members’ unease with new believer’s zeal or in their discomfort if unsaved people engage with the church community. These kinds of people upset the status quo, you see.
But don’t expect instant results. This strategy is a slow-death tactic; in fact, the group will probably die with a smile. Happy and comfortable, they won’t even realise that they’ve become ingrown. In fact, they can exist for sometime in pre-death mode but don’t let that disappoint you; the chances of recovery are close to zero.
[In contrast, while there are many, many benefits to all who experience the joys of community, true spiritual community exists for the benefit of the world; that is, our love for one another, overflowing into good works to all, testifies of God’s glory. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)].
Strategy 2: Make one aspect of ministry the “main thing”.
Here’s another subtle yet useful strategy similar to the first; actually, you may find it helpful to use in conjunction with the first. Find out what aspect of ministry the group really enjoys; whether it is worship, or Bible study, or fellowship, or prayer. Then choose this aspect of ministry and make it the “main thing”. In fact, write out a really “holy sounding” purpose statement and spell it out: “We exist to study the Bible” or “We exist to pray for one another” or “We exist to hold one another accountable”. How will this help destroy community I hear you ask?
While these are all important ingredients of community, if you make one of the ingredients the whole recipe you’ll never actually bake the cake! The “cake,” let me remind you, is to be a missional community; the purpose of a spiritual family is to be partnering with the Divine Community in His mission in this world. Make your mission one or two aspects of ministry (or all of them if this is what it takes to muddy the waters) and you’ll sabotage the group’s future.
[For sure, to be faithful to this mission, the community will have to do ministry (worship, study the Bible, fellowship, prayer and more) because ministry is the means to fulfilling the mission. But “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), He didn’t merely start a prayer meeting, a Bible Study or even an Accountability Group; He gave Himself. And Jesus Himself then commissioned us: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21)].
Strategy 3: Adopt a “me-first” attitude.
Okay, let’s get ugly. If you want to suck the life out of your community, expect the group to exist for you; to meet your needs. This may not destroy the community quickly, especially if there’s a number of patient people with gifts of mercy and service, but in time you’ll become a weight that the group buckles under. Milk the group for all you can and then look for another host you can parasite on; nothing discredit’s the Name of Christ more. This strategy is particularly lethal if there are several participants in the group with their mouths open demanding: “Me! Me! Me!”
[On the contrary, nothing strengthens community like an attitude that puts other people first. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3). It is with this heroic selflessness that Jesus builds His church].
Strategy 4: Gossip!
Now here is a rapid-fire killer especially if you can get others to participate in this gruesome and gory exercise. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, any old rumour will do. Simply accentuate personality quirks in members in the group and slap in a little bit of exaggeration. For best results; start the gossip with those people who are particularly negative and struggle to believe the best in others. What works tremendously well is to phrase a juicy morsel of gossip with these words: “I’m really concerned about Bob, but please keep this in confidence. We really need to pray for him”. People just cannot resist passing on a secret; in fact, doesn’t “in confidence” mean “telling only one person at a time”?
And if you want to make the poison in your gossip more potent simply allow yourself to get offended with a person in your community; let bitterness twist you into a cruel and malicious and hateful creature. Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, should give you inspiration. Harbour unforgiveness in your soul as “Precious” and your gossip will be exponentially vindictive and brutal and wicked.
[In stark contrast, refraining from gossip – and abstaining from listening to gossip – is one of the most powerful immune-boosters in the prevention of community decay. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers … forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29, 32). Notice, the point is not just to avoid gossip but to get on the front foot and engage in proactive, life-enlarging encouragement. The goal is not just to do “no wrong” but to do all the good you possibly can!]
Strategy 5: Don’t pray just socialize.
Here’s a strategy that is extremely successful with a group suffering from a little complacency. If you sense the group is spiritually tired, pop this sleeping pill into the mix. Suggest that you spend more time “resting” and less time “working” in your spiritual journey. Be careful to use those words. Actually labelling prayer, ministry, service, etc. as “work” and contrasting it with any of these kinds of words – rest, fellowship, Sabbath, etc. – will push the right buttons every time. If anyone tries to remind the group that “work” is not the problem and that all prayer and service ought to be done from a place of rest not at the expense of rest, simply up-the-ante by throwing in the word “law” as a synonym for “work”. This should crack even the most devoted nut since most Christians are very confused about the concept of the “law”. Then sit back and watch the community morph into a tired, wheezing social club. At least you’ll have a social life!
[While great friendships grow in community, bringing a genuine sense of fun and enjoyment into our lives, the old saying is a true saying: “Friends that pray together stay together”. In the rest God gives, true community never drifts from its Divine Centre: “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Intimately aware of Jesus in our midst, we’re always tuning into His voice and will for us; a “yoke” – yes, His yoke yet a yoke all the same – that is “easy” and a “burden” that is “light” (Matthew 11:29, 30)].
Strategy 6: See the group as a platform to get your gift working.
Looking for something more subversive? Well, here’s a strategy that can even split the group; an insidious adaptation of strategy 3, “adopting a me-first attitude”. Get it in your head early on that this group is simply a stepping stone for you and greater ministry influence. It is your laboratory where you can experiment with self-promoting ideas and where you can sharpen your spiritual marketing skills; oh, and see the participants as guinea pigs upon whom it is your right to practice. And if you play your cards right; when your wheeling-and-dealing corrupts the group, you may even have won over a few gullible members with whom you can launch your own Ministry Inc. Slam dunk! Perfect group split!
[Of course, Paul warned against this self-gratifying, rabid-attitude: “savage wolves will come … not sparing the flock … drawing disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29, 30). James explained that “where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (James 3:16). Arresting statement! (It should drive us into the fear of the Lord!) He went on, calling us to a higher path: “wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (v. 17). Now this is the attitude upon which community thrives].
Strategy 7: Criticise initiative and leadership as “controlling”.
This strategy is the inverse of strategy 6 above, “viewing the group as a platform to get your gift working”. Here you simply accuse everyone who shows initiative or leadership potential of being controlling and of exploiting the group for personal advance. Of course, if you piously claim you only want the Holy Spirit to preside in the community, you’ll force everyone into a witch-hunting panic. Suspicious and fearful, the group will either drown in itself or splinter into pieces. Job done!
[Without question we ought to prize the Presidency of the Spirit and it is vital to affirm our dependence upon Him continuously. One way to do so is to fully appreciate the way He uses people as channels of love, gracing us with gifts “as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11 c. Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:10, 11). Another is to value the Biblical role of servant-leaders and honour the principles of authority He has clearly revealed through the Scriptures He authored (Hebrews 13:7, 17, for example). Being anti-leadership and anti-authority is “lawlessness”; an anti-Christ spirit and not of the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 7:21-23; 24:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 7; 1 John 4:3)].