the weblog of Alan Knox

Is there a fungus among us?

Posted by on Jan 18, 2008 in discipleship | 7 comments

Just over a month ago, the huge oak trees on the seminary campus shed their autumn leaves. For several weeks, they were completely bare. Of course, it is normal for oak trees and other types of trees to remain bare during the winter.

However, today, when I looked up into the branches of one of the largest oak trees on campus, I noticed new growth. There were tufts of green springing out throughout the brown and grey branches.

As I looked closer, I realized that the growth was not oak tree growth. Instead, the growth that I saw was Mistletoe, a parasite that had attached itself to the oak tree. So, while growth was taking place, it was not oak tree growth, but parasitic growth. The mistletoe was pretty to look at, and it may have indicated that the tree was alive, but the presence of mistletoe did not indicate that the tree itself was growing. It looked good from a distance, but there was nothing of substance there.

I wonder if our church growth paradigms have taught us to count parasitic and fungal growth in churches even when there is very little or now real spiritual growth taking place. We count noses and programs and activities. We measure buildings and offerings and staff sizes.

But, are these indicators of spiritual growth, or simply measurements of organizational growth that may or may not accompany spiritual growth? Do these things help us discern our walk with Christ, or do they simply indicate that our institution is function efficiently? Do they measure real spiritual life, or do they simply measure parasitic and fungal growth that we’re attached to?

I’m learning to be less concerned with numbers and attendance, and more concerned about the people themselves. I’m learning to be less concerned with programs and activities, and more concerned about serving and helping.

I’m trying to learn how to discern spiritual growth without being fooled by the parasites or fungus that are among us.

Do you agree that organizational activities and characteristics can distract from the ability to ascertain true spiritual growth? Why or why not? If you agree, what are some ways that we can discern spiritual growth without being sidetracked by organizational activities?


7 Comments

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  1. 1-18-2008

    It always comes down to the fruit doesn’t it? Pretty fruit that kills.

  2. 1-18-2008

    Alan,

    As so often has been the case in the last year or so, your writing reminds me of incidents in times past. When a very young preacher, my sermon was along a similar vein to your blog. It was titled “Weeds in the Vineyard”. On Monday morning a woman came to see me and said her husband wanted to see me ,urgently.

    When I went to visit I was greeted by a very angry man whose first words were, “You called me a weed, yesterday!”

    Of course I hadn’t, but he was adamant. I was certain that Someone really had spoken to him!

  3. 1-19-2008

    Alan,

    You asked,

    “Do you agree that organizational activities and characteristics can distract from the ability to ascertain true spiritual growth? Why or why not?”

    I agree. When the church is viewed as an organization instead of a living, breathing, Spirit-filled organism, it is inevitable that the same characteristics that are expected for secular organizations (i.e., numerical and financial growth leading to the production of worldly characteristics and traits) will become evident in what is supposed to be an organism that is to be focused intensely upon people instead of building programs designed to attract greater numbers.

    “If you agree, what are some ways that we can discern spiritual growth without being sidetracked by organizational activities?”

    Focus on spending time with and getting to know each individual in your church. If your church is too numerically large to do this, then focus on loving, ministering to, and engaging other believers in your small group settings. My own personal view is that every local church should not be so numerically large that each member cannot personally know and minister to everybody else. Typically (and I speak from personal pastoral experience), once you have a great *orator* who can captivate people for 45 minutes (vs. mutual ministry occurring in the assembly for 1 to 1.5 hours) then people become consumed with numerical growth, bigger programs, bigger and louder “praise bands”, and other such things. What is lost in this mix is the people, who are struggling with indwelling sin, or others who are living in outright unrepentant sin. As a result, compromise of the gospel message is inevitable because you become more interested in pleasing the crowd rather than feeding and nurturing the sheep. If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. May God keep us from such things by His grace.

  4. 1-19-2008

    Alan,

    I determined not to answer questions such as you pose with my opinions, but, this time, you struck a nerve which has caused me much discomfort from ministering brethren who hold the opinion that evangelism happens in church buildings, therefore it is necessary to get warming posteriors sitting on pews, hence the dependence on “church growth paradigms”.

    Because of these church growth principles being the reason for growth, the “parasitic growths”, or “weeds” as I call them (Jesus called them ‘tares’), actually sap a large amount of the energy out of the host organism,and where the host is not healthy, can kill the host, as can the misletoe on your oak trees.

    Well polished pews,continually multiplied, in larger buildings, are no indication of spiritual growth,depth, or a Biblical congregation. Neither is diligent attendance to all church meetings.

    Your comments about what you are learning are music to my ears, as are Dusman’s words!

  5. 1-20-2008

    Alan, this struck me the most ( I think, a lot did ):

    I’m learning to be less concerned with numbers and attendance, and more concerned about the people themselves. I’m learning to be less concerned with programs and activities, and more concerned about serving and helping.

    ————

    This has been tough for me over the years. When I was in seminary, my masters degree was in Church Growth & Evangelism. It was all about getting “numbers” into the church.

    I think that this is wrong. I believe that we need to change our scorecard. The numbers that I care about more are the lives of our people and where they intersect with our community and how their life is impacting the community.

    Yes, we need to gather and do numerous things but for us to be fruitful and to make an impact, they need to be out there.

    I want to go on .. bur I do not want to take up the space :)

  6. 1-20-2008

    Jonathan,

    “Pretty fruit that kills”… I like that – I mean, I don’t like that. Anyway, that’s a good description.

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for your well thought-out comments. This is the type of discussion that I hope we can continue to have – “we” meaning the church. We need to hear voices like yours.

    Dusty,

    Thank you also for your well thought-out comments, both here and on your blog. It is so easy to focus on things that have little to do with spiritual growth.

    Jeff,

    I appreciate the comment. Feel free to take up space anytime. I especially appreciate your comments since you have been trained in church growth. Perhaps you can expand on some of these thoughts on your blog.

    -Alan

  7. 10-17-2011

    Yeast, too!

    Mat 16:6 Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”