Every once and while, I read a blog or article that demands I write a response. This is one of those occasions. The blog in question was posted on the MINISTRY MATTERS forum (The blog-arm of the Anglican Church of Canada), entitled ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective Churches.’ (https://medium.com/ministrymatters/the-seven-habits-of-highly-effective-parishes-5dee9709fdce). Before I go further, let me say this; I don’t know the author, Peter Misiaszek. I am sure that he is a lovely, intelligent, and godly man. I am confident that he loves Jesus, has a strong desire to see the church flourish and thrive. That is, after all, why he wrote the article. Unfortunately, there are several reasons why I believe that his article not only misses the mark, but unwittingly endorses a detrimental view of church and ministry.
1: A Focus on Numbers. Misiaszek is obviously riffing on Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This is nothing new. A cursory google search will yield a plethora of blogs and articles taking up this language. For Misiaszek, the context of effectiveness is clear; an effective church is a church with a lot of people and a large bank account. Effectiveness is narrowly defined as an yearly increase in the rank of numbers through which we look at congregational life. Consider, for example, that Bosco Peters begins his blog of the same name (http://liturgy.co.nz/seven-habits-of-highly-effective-churches-1), by stating that effective churches “Focus on God.” Misiaszek’s first point? “Giving to church ministry is exceptional.” Interestingly, Misiaszek’s second point also deals with financial giving. The message comes across loud and clear. The number of people and the size of your bank account is of utmost importance. The spiritual life of the parish plays no part in the equation.
Is this really the case? Does more numbers actually equal effectiveness? Possibly not. Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken’s The Renovation of the Church; Graham Standish’s Becoming a Blessed Church’ and Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson’s Move: What 1000 churches reveal about Spiritual Growth all argue that ‘largeness’ does not equal effectiveness. Misiaszek’s blog, however, promotes the dangerous idea that larger churches are better churches.
2: Little Mention of Prayer or Spiritual Disciplines. As I read the blog, I kept waiting for the Misiaszek to speak about the prayerfulness of the church. It was my hope to read that an ‘effective church’ would be one that had active spiritual life, or that people were growing in their relationship with Jesus. To be fair, Misiaszek gives a nod to these things. For example, his last point is that ‘Healthy churches experiment with liturgy styles, music, missional engagement, giving vehicles and roles to volunteers.’ Yet Misiaszek’s point seems to be more about the right management of these things, and not about the activity themselves. It appears that creativity is the salient point – not worship. Misiaszek isn’t claiming that healthy churches are rooted in prayer, or that the fundamental nature of the church is to seek God’s face, and hear God’s word; his point is that the effective churches are creative.
Misiaszek’s point on discipleship falls into the same trap. Stating that effective churches have priest’s who ‘promote’ discipleship is not the same thing as saying that the church engages in discipleship. Talking about evangelism is not the same thing as evangelism, and learning about prayer is not the same as actually praying. Again, the blog seems to suggest that the spiritual heartbeat of a parish is less important than the structural or programmatic boxes it can tick.
3. The Role of God is Absent. Perhaps my biggest peeve with the blog was that it seems to ignore the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community. There is no talk of ‘responding to God’s leading’, or ‘enjoying the Spirit’s presence.’ Effectiveness in the church is solely linked to human activity. Of course, we are called to embody our faith n the world, but as I mentioned above, this embodiment has little to do with prayer or any other spiritual discipline. Effectiveness and health are about communication strategies, financial giving structures, and creative programming. Not one of the 7 habits mentioned in the blog speak of God’s activity in the life of the people of faith.
The message of the blog is that we create an effective church. It is about the effort we put in and the structures we create. Jesus just kind of comes along for the ride. Yet who are we if we are not the body of Christ? What is the church if it is not a body of people gathered in the presence of God? Creative programming and a slick website do not make a church. The church is created through baptism; by which we are immersed in the reality of the God’s kingdom. We gather in the presence of the risen Lord, proclaiming that the grace of Jesus is present, real, and is active in our very midst. If our goal is to be an ‘effective church’ – then we must recognise that effectiveness comes only from being open to the power of God ‘working in us [to do] infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.’
4. A singular Vision. Peter Misiaszek works for the diocese of Toronto, and as such, his vision of an effective church is very much an affluent, urban, congregation. A steady stream of new comers; a plethora of young-people; money for creative programming and liturgy, mission trips to the developing world – all suggest that an effective church looks like the downtown mega church. Within the blog, there is no consideration for churches that do not have the same physical, or financial resources available to them.
But what does this vision of effectiveness say for the small country parish, rooted in the BCP, and enthusiastically singing hymns from the hymn book? Can they be effective, even though they may never grow beyond 60 people? According to Misiaszek, no. He writes “We have seen that while there is a place for traditional ways of doing church, those that are thriving are doing things differently — they must.” Well that’s a pretty damning statement. By suggesting that small, traditional, churches are not ‘effective’, one is stating that they are essentially failing in who they are called to be as a church, and as Christian people.
I could go on. Obviously, there are many things that I take umbrage with in this article. I write this not to be nasty or negative – nor to discredit the ministry of one of my Christian brother’s. I, too, want the church to thrive. I just see the matter of a thriving from a different viewpoint. For me, church effectiveness is more about being an intentionally prayerful, worshipful, and loving body. Whenever the church gathers together to seek Christ’s, to be formed by His presence, and to be empowered for His work, then we will be living our Christian life effectively. What our numbers say is really a secondary issue.