Church Growth: Andy Rowell Summarizes the Studies, Part 4 (Leadership, Prayer)


Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson report that “we let the data set the agenda, and godly leadership was at the top.”[7]

[7] Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2007), 34.

In the Churches of Christ, it’s all about the elders. Lousy elders produce lousy churches. Great elders produce great churches. Divided elders produce divided churches. Great ministers are vital, but the best ministers in the Churches can’t overcome lousy elders. It’s that simple. Until a church produces a generation of Godly elders, it won’t grow — or if it grows, it’ll growing in a bad way (such as by sheep stealing or becoming cultic).

Now, it’s notoriously difficult to get shed of bad elders. I’ve addressed three series of posts on eldering that would be relevant here —

Bad Elders


Overseeing the Moderate Church

And for all that, I wish I had an easy answer. I don’t. But let me offer one more answer: one way, perhaps the best way, to fix an eldership is through the adult Bible classes. Here’s what you do (whether you have a great or lousy eldership) —

* Eliminate Br. Jones’ class — you know, the class where the same guy teaches it year after year, generation after generation. Require teachers to rotate among the classes. If you don’t, then each class will have its own theology. You’ll have the liberal class, the legalistic class, and the we-like-Bible-stories class. If you want a church split in a generation, let classes have the same teacher all the time, picking their own material, and teaching different doctrine.

* Teach grace to every class — many times, from many angles. The Amazing Grace series here is one template to work with. I’ve posted a bunch of material here to work with. Maybe you just work through Ephesians, Romans, or Galatians. Maybe you teach a gospel, noting how Jesus’ emphasis is not on doctrinal purity so much as on changed lives — and with heavy emphasis on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, and “judge not.” Grace is in all the books. If you’re not teaching grace, you’re not teaching Bible.

* Teach the Spirit. Until you include the Spirit in your theology, it won’t really make sense. And it’s my observation that as people become more aware of the Spirit, the Spirit works more powerfully in them. And ultimately, this is a problem the Spirit needs to fix.

* Don’t let the elders skip class. Well, not much. In some churches they routinely meet during class. They need to be with the sheep, and they need to participate in the teaching through discussion as class members if not as teachers.

* Once the church is prepared through the classes, reinforce the teaching through the pulpit.

I’ve seen it work. After a while, the church will change.

Build a church on compromise, and it’ll fall apart. Build it on grace, and you’ll have a church filled withe gracious, Spirit-filled people. Some will become elders.


This is a hard one for us in the Churches of Christ. We know we’re supposed to pray, but the combination of American self-reliance and Church of Christ Deism makes it hard for us to really believe that prayer works. We believe it, but not in our bones.

By “Church of Christ Deism” I mean the notion that God has never violated the laws of nature — done a “miracle” — since the apostolic age. It’s a gross over-reaction to Pentecostalism, and it’s being more and more loudly taught in some circles. It’s a ridiculous teaching, but it’s led to a culture where we are uncomfortable talking about answered prayers or asking for God to heal those we love.

However, if God really does answer prayers, we’d be nuts not to take advantage of the power of the Maker of the Universe to help us further his agenda. We need to get on our knees and pray. Our people are reluctant to do it — and I think the solution is not a sermon that makes us feel guilty for our lack of prayer but testimonies from people whose prayers have been answered. There’s nothing like evidence to persuade us rationalistic folk.


12 Responses

  1. “By “Church of Christ Deism” I mean the notion that God has never violated the laws of nature — done a “miracle” — since the apostolic age. It’s a gross over-reaction to Pentecostalism, and it’s being more and more loudly taught in some circles.”

    Deism… seems to me to not be “christian” at all..
    Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19-19 – ASV)

    “However, if God really does answer prayers…”

    I’d just like to say that He sure does, daily, clearly without doubt, and frequently also, unless you don’t really believe in Him (in that case, it seems to me, He probably would rather not prove you wrong as you’d dismiss that somehow too…)

  2. Seems rather graceless to call it “Church of Christ deism” when those who simply haven’t thought through the ramifications of their teachings. There are enough thoughtless “short-cut” theological statements laying around, we don’t need to create another one.

    My wife’s bizarrely-legalist grandfather made a comment like this one day. I asked him directly if he still prayed.

    “Of course! Why would you ask such a thing?”
    “Praying for God’s intervention is asking for a miracle. If miracles have ceased, there’s no reason to pray. While apostolic, miraculous gifts were not transmitted beyond the second generation, we still believe that God can and does intervene, don’t we?”

    After a long pause, he said, “You know, you’re right. That’s a really good point.”

  3. Jon, do people no longer need knowledge, has knowledge vanished?

  4. Jon,

    I readily grant that there are members who’d quickly repent if the flaws in their thinking were pointed out to them, but I’ve discussed this issue with many ministers and other thought leaders among the conservatives, and very few of them repent. Rather, they feel compelled to insist on their belief that God has not been active in this world since apostolic times.

    I think this used to be something of a minority position, but I’m seeing it more and more. I thought it would die out on its own, due to being obviously anti-scriptural, but it seems to be growing.

    This kind of thinking really needs to be resisted. And while it’s not technically Deism, it is very much the same sort of thing. I don’t intend to imply that those victimized by this error are lost. They’re just denied the blessing of seeing God’s hand at work in their lives — which is sad. It’s a depressing, humanistic doctrine that denies the NT teaching on the Spirit and on prayer, which pushes us toward a works-based religion, which is a very bad place to be.

    I’m open to a better terminology, but the origin of such thinking is Western materialism and empiricism, not Christianity.

  5. I have found that many will accept the ‘providence’ of God as explaining His current actions (and responses to prayer ). They prefer to leave the word ‘miracle’ to the style demonstrated in the NT where the power of God was directly transmitted and demonstrated through a human.

    I have talked to several from other brands of churches who use the word ‘miracle’ to describe God’s actions today. Many admit that ‘Bible miracles’ no longer occur.

    Sometimes it’s all in the choice of vocabulary.

  6. Rich,

    I think your comment is quite insightful. Sadly, though, many of my brothers in the Churches of Christ insist on defining “miracle” as any violation of the laws of nature, that is, anything outside of the deterministic natural world. That definition greatly hinders what you can believe about God’s activities today.

    Fortunately, not everyone has bought that line — but it’s a remarkably common teaching. Just Google “church of Christ” with “miracle” and “that which is perfect.” The number of congregational websites denying that God ever violates a law of nature today is staggering.

  7. Yes, I have heard that before. I prefer to use the word ‘providence’ instead of ‘miracle’ to describe God’s active role today. It seems to drastically reduce any confusion.

    In my past job, I communicated with people on six continents weekly. Having a common, consistent vocabulary was 80% of the work toward reaching understanding.

  8. If we are communicating with christians that do not have our church background, wouldn’t it be better to use the commonly accepted word that they understand? “miracle” is defined and understood by the average christian not of our movement as “God’s Providence”; such as in an obvious answer to prayer. Is it necessary to have a separate vocabulary? Doesn’t that just foster more division?

  9. Try to find any teaching about the Holy Spirit on congregational websites, and you will find plenty of “deism” if you find any mention of Him (the Holy Spirit).

  10. Paul,

    Thanks for the feedback. People use the word miracle to refer to ‘faith healers’ as well as ‘God’s Providence’. I find the separate vocabulary quite useful for people to understand. I don’t get bent out of shape over it though. I’m just trying to communicate.

    Just be aware that when you say miracle (for providence) some will think you mean faith healing.

    The general use of the word miracle is not consistent with the Bible’s usage.

  11. Now that you put it that way, I can see how miracle may not be the best choice. Many people do associate the term with ‘faith healer’s also. Either way, we still need to clarify what we are talking about. It seems one term doesn’t ‘do’ in most cases, as there are so many different definitions of the same term. Good point.

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