Recently I’m running into a lot of writers who are asking the question “If we all serve the same God, why is Christianity growing all over the world except Europe and the U.S.?” I find that am important question. The problem is most of the answers I’m seeing deal with fringe issues and don’t go to the heart of issue. The issue is far more than spirituality or commitment. The heart of the issue is more in the implementation of that spirituality and commitment. Many U.S. churches have deeply committed Christians and yet their churches are dying like flies. I know some deeply spiritual and committed pastors who can no more grow a congregation than they could fly. No, the problem isn’t spirituality or commitment. The problem goes much deeper to our assumptions on how to implement our faith. Let me share just one false assumption.
Most churches in the U.S. require an ordained, seminary trained pastor whereas most churches in most of the places around the world where Christianity is exploding don’t require a seminary trained, ordained pastor. That simple fact alone is a major deciding difference. Let me explain.
Seminary takes seven years at minimum – four in college and three in seminary. Three things are wrong with that picture: one, it takes the best years of a person’s passion. Two, it takes too much money and leaves one in too much debt. Three, it’s not the way Jesus mentored the twelve disciples who changed the world.
The places around the world that are thriving are growing faster than they can train seminary pastors. They are laying hands on everyday lay leaders and sending them out the moment they prove themselves which takes neither seven years nor a boatload of money.
I’ve used my tribe, The United Methodist Church, which isn’t united and isn’t Methodist, as the best example I know to explain this issue. The original Methodist Church, under Asbury and Coke, used non-seminary trained, everyday Christians to plant churches in almost every town from the East Coast to the West Coast. All they had was a Bible and a horse. They were called Circuit Riders and they created the largest Protestant movement in our history. Methodism continued to thrive until the 1960s. Guess what changed from 1950 to 1960? Prior to 1950 Methodist pastors were not required to attend seminary. Some went, but the majority didn’t … that is until the 1960s when seminary training became a requirement. We’ve been in decline ever since.
Of course most of my peers have pooh-poohed this rant of mine over the years, but that’s because of their false assumptions. Christianity is not about how much you know; it’s about how passionate you are about who you know. We have substituted education for passion, mentoring for curriculum, and institutions for community. And the results have been catastrophic.
As long as we continue to require seminary training, fancy buildings, ordination of only seminary trained leaders, we are doomed to continue the headlong spiral into oblivion. Surely we are smart enough to see that, or will our pride and false assumptions continue to rule the day?
For further reading see
Dinosaurs to Rabbits: Turning Mainline Decline into a Multiplication Movement