My Hope & Prayer for 2008


I have a hope and prayer for 2008 that I wish to share. It started off from a series of negative experiences, but I want to make it positive because I believe the positive word comes from the heart of God.

I’m late to the show on the book Simple Church by Rainer and Geiger. Judging from Amazon’s rankings of the book as #1, #2, and #3 in various evangelical categories, it’s still hot long after its release in 2006. I’m also amazed at the number of strongly approving reviews. Amazed. In fact, if I could sum up my review, I would describe the book in one portmanteau word: Craptacular.

That encapsulates almost all the hottest books on “How to Do Church” that I’ve read in the last few years. The same hot churches are held up for mimicking. The same church problems are cited (correctly, I might add—the one nod I’ll give these books). But the solutions are always wrong. Always. Nearly all are just business principles given a good shellacking of Christianity to make them look smooth and shiny. Honestly, if Google and The Gap are the models for effective churches, all is lost. (That author Tom Rainer is the head of Lifeway Christian Stores should not surprise anyone.)

What is my biggest problem with all of these modern “How to Do Church” books? Every last one of them offers solutions that can be instituted without the Lord. The fixes are universally man-made. This, universally, makes them the arm of flesh. And the arm of flesh will always fail. Always.

But one fix never fails.

That fix is not a thing, but a person. We know Him as the Holy Spirit. He will lead us gently if we allow HimHe’s perfect. Unlike one craptacular, modern, “How to Do Church” book after the other, the Holy Spirit guides into all truth. Not some truth, but all truth. He’s the ultimate source for making the Church all She can be.

Here’s how I can save you hours of reading lame books on how to fix your church and turn it into the church God desires. You only need to listen to the Holy Spirit.

I suspect that’s not a very satisfying answer for some people. You can’t make money selling curricula, church models, and seminars by telling church leaders they need to dump all their craptacular books and start listening to the Holy Spirit. But that’s what church leaders need to do.

A church is made up of too many diverse people for a “How to Do Church” book to succeed. If you read the Bible closely enough, you’ll realize that it doesn’t even attempt to provide all the solutions to how a church should operate. Yes, some general ideas exist, but when it comes down to the specifics, that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

Take this passage:

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
—Acts 13:1-3

No “How to Do Church” book is going to give you that. They’ll tell you a process by which you have to funnel everyone, but they won’t get down to this level of leadership.

Why not send Lucius? Or Manaen? Why send that guy who used to persecute the Church, that Saul character?

I would suspect that at the board meeting of your typical church, simple, complex, traditional, emerging, or whatever, the process would dictate who got chosen and for what purpose. What God thinks and the ones He would choose would probably be far down the list. Too dicey to depend on the Holy Spirit; just let the established process make the decision instead. We send the ones WE think are best, the ones who best fit our idea of who should go for the given job. And aren’t we the ones deciding what that job is anyway?

Give me a thousand copies of the bestselling Christian leadership books out there and I’d burn them all than trust one over what the Holy Spirit thinks. Why then, do our church leaders trust books so much and God so little?

The Holy Spirit provides perfect answers to intractable problems. He also provides specific answers for dealing with specific people in specific situations. He alone makes a church what it should be. He alone makes genuine disciples out of wrecked people.

We need to stop this craziness and get back to the Lord. If our churches are not run by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then they are not churches. We must also keep the Scriptures ever before us, but with the understanding that people—sadly—can use the Bible to justify all manner of leadership styles that rely not one iota on the Holy Spirit. These “How to Do Church” books quote a million Scriptures, but they use the Scriptures to support their foregone premises, rather than seeing what it actually says. And what it actually says is that we’re blowing it if we’re not dependent on the Spirit for guidance.

My hope and prayer for the Church for 2008 is that we find a way to get back to depending on the Holy Spirit to guide our churches. And not just lip service, but genuine dependence so that we don’t do a thing unless the Spirit confirms that thing one way or another.

How do we get there?

1. Know the Scriptures—We’ve got to really know them,our leaders especially. The Holy Spirit calls to mind the Word of God, but if the reserves aren’t there, we won’t hear.

2. Holiness—It’s time to get serious about holiness. That means dropping out of the world’s game. That means being a people separated unto the Lord. You want to hear from the Holy Spirit? You want your church to prosper? Then tear down the altars and purify the temple. That never fails.

3. Waiting—The Holy Spirit answers on His time, not ours. Just because our society is enslaved to busyness doesn’t mean our churches must be. We must stop trying to force things to happen that aren’t in God’s playbook.

4. Humility & Repentance—We must repent and humbly admit that we’ve attempted to take the world’s ways and make them the Church’s. But what fellowship have Christ and Belial? None. We cannot continue to swallow fleshly business practices within our churches. Those ways end in ashes.

5. We must desire the leading of the Holy Spirit—The Holy Spirit leads where Christ is hungered and thirsted for. He is faithful to those who desire to hear from Him. The Lord does not leave His people adrift. He never has and never will. However, we did not believe this, so we gave up on His leadership and instituted the world’s. It’s time to get back to the Lord and desire Him above all.

I wrote this several days before it posted because I cannot escape the message. The Church that is not led by the Holy Spirit is utterly directionless, not matter how smoothly it may operate. God has a better way. My hope and prayer is that we rediscover that leadership by the Holy Spirit in 2008.

May you find the Lord in 2008, and know his guidance, when you seek Him with all your heart.

31 thoughts on “My Hope & Prayer for 2008

  1. Thank you for speaking my mind! Absolutely, unreservedly, amen. Seeking and listening to the leadership of the Holy Spirit takes at least three things we’re not willing to invest in: time, trust, and surrender (of control). And that’s not just church leadership but the rank and file too.

    • Mrs. Hartley

      Bro. Edelen,

      As time does not permit in my daily life, I rarely posts comments or blog. After coming across this website and reading this particular blog, I am out of my chair, on my feet, and saying, “preach it!” to the computer screen. Thank you for frank, refreshing truth, spoken against the tide of “modern” Christianity. May the Lord continue to inspire and anoint you in this coming year,


      a sister in Christ

      • Peyton

        Dan, I don’t know if this is entirely apropos, but I ran across a quotation from Kirkegaard just this morning at another blog:

        Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible.

        The Church cannot define or quantify the Holy Spirit, so she explains him away!

        Happy New Year.


  2. Normandie

    Dan, Happy New Year and may your prayer for the church and its leaders come to pass. May they/we listen to your words and to those of the Holy Spirit, who I think inspired yours.

    One thing committees miss is that if the Holy Spirit leads there will be unity and freedom in the decision-making. Back in the old days when I headed up a leadership committee of five, we sought the Lord and didn’t move until we’d all heard the confirming word. It didn’t take long, because we were focused on Him and on His Word. I haven’t been in leadership in many years, but I know that seeking God works in my marriage and my daily life. And when I don’t seek Him first, you can just bet that I’ll have to at some point during the day–because things won’t be running smoothly at all!

    I fear for the churches that get all caught up in studying what someone else says, in patterning their agenda after the latest and greatest how-tos. If you follow a book other than God’s, it’s too easy to cover and overlook the important things, too easy to imagine that Step A will lead to B will lead to C and the outcome you want. Like those who say that God has to answer our prayer and give us what we want if we merely ASK the right way. As if God were a sugar daddy or puppet, there for our manipulation. As if God weren’t holy and omniscient, knowing better than we just what we need.

    O, Holy Lord, forgive us and heal us your people. Lead us into all truth and protect us from the snares of the enemy that come in the guise of wisdom–yet aren’t from You.

    • Normandie,

      What frustrates me to no end is that even a casual reader of these kinds of books MUST see the resemblance they all bear to one another in their slavish devotion to a church model that does away with divine guidance. Seriously, a person would have to be totally ignorant not to catch this pervasive problem.

      In regard to the one book I mentioned, the authors are exactly right that we need to simplify the way our churches address the mission Christ gave us. But their solution only compounds it. And that’s the way it is in so many of these books.

      It boggles my mind that this book overwhelmingly received kudos on Amazon.

      • Ben

        “What frustrates me to no end is that even a casual reader of these kinds of books MUST see the resemblance they all bear to one another in their slavish devotion to a church model that does away with divine guidance. Seriously, a person would have to be totally ignorant not to catch this pervasive problem.”

        OK, but if you aren’t really in an environment to even consider the possibility that these “solutions” are in some way sidetracking God’s Word, it seems near impossible to realize. Your post on this issue I think has really opened my eyes to some things.

        People aren’t by nature reflective upon their life situation in terms of asking the “why” questions on a regular basis. People inhabit this earth through experience, not thinking. As a result, people are easily suggestible, buying into various people’s assumptions unreflectively when these assumptions can prove extremely influential, perhaps detrimental. When you add the Church into the mix, there seems to be a new element of lack of reflection: the Church is ordained by God, and who is to question God?
        Thanks for your deep reading of such things Dan. Keep it up!

  3. Jeff

    Well said Dan.

    A friend of mine recently suggested that we shouldn’t see the infiltration of business practices, fads and soft teaching as the problem, but rather as a symptom of the absence of the Holy Spirit. As you noted, we need to let the Spirit back in the building!

    It’s amazing to be in community with brothers and sisters when the Lord’s “name and renown are the desires of our hearts” and we wait patiently and humbly for the Spirit to lead.

  4. Holly

    What a great post to set the focus for 2008, especially point #3:

    “Holiness—It’s time to get serious about holiness. That means dropping out of the world’s game. That means being a people separated unto the Lord. You want to hear from the Holy Spirit? You want your church to prosper? Then tear down the altars and purify the temple. That never fails.”

    You have quite the knack for saying just what needs to be said without mincing words in the least. Just recently I discovered a series you did back in 2005 on General Church Issues (“The Altar of Excellence,” “Class-ism in the Church” etc) and found them to be exceedingly insightful. It appears the link to “We’re Cool, Too” is broken, though. Would you be able to fix that link? I’d really like to read it. Thanks!

    May God abundantly bless you and your family this year above all you could ask or think — and may He continue speaking His words through you for the benefit of His Church. It’s much appreciated! 🙂

  5. Steven S

    I agree on the book. I got suckered into reading it based on the title (for those who may be confused, it has absolutely nothing to do with the “simple church movement). What a waste of time.

    I also agree that any book on how to do church that doesn’t start with the principles:
    – Jesus is the head of the church
    – Jesus is still actively leading His church
    – Do what he tells you to do
    …isn’t worth reading.

    Beyond that, the best you can do it clarify (based on scriptures) some boundaries within which God is likely to work:
    – God will not lead His church to become less participatory
    – God will not lead His church to make being transformed into His image less important
    – God will not lead His church to deemphasize the need to show God’s love to people in and out of the church.
    And so on.

  6. Dan: Too dicey to depend on the Holy Spirit; just let the established process make the decision instead.

    Interesting post, Dan. I think the truth is that the big majority of pastors would much rather have the “established process” because it keeps everything nice and predictable and respectable, and it eliminates the possiblity of “surprises” or things getting “out of control”. Afterall, the most important thing is to have a smooth-running, well-oiled church-machine.

    Dan, you should do a little research in church history and ask yourself the question: Why did the church (especially in the West) go Cessationist to begin with? Furthermore, the Cessationism was carried over into the mainline Reformation, and is still with us to this very day. (Among the other things carried over into the mainline Reformation was the Augustine-Constantinian view of the Church’s relationship with the Secular Government, which is why everybody back then was fighting to get control of the government, and why everbody was using the “Emperor’s Sword” to persecute the other side.)

    • Oengus,

      I know some Church history. I’m not sure what I’m saying is even a cessationist/continualist debate. The issue here is one of being led by the Holy Spirit. Do not even cessationists believe that people are led by the Spirit? I mean, if a cessationist says, “I prayed about a tough decision and God gave me a peace about one option over another,” is that not what I’m talking about here without “going all charismatic” on the issue?

      If anything, this disregard for being led by the Spirit is more the fruit of the Enlightenment and scientific rationalism than a cessationist argument (though you could make the case that science ousted the Spirit in the West).

      • Okay, Dan, if that’s where you’re coming from. I’m not trying to be impudent here.

        But you happened to cite Acts 13:1-3, which is one of the classic instances in Acts of the NT “prophetic” being exercised in the Church. At Antioch, some “prophets” and “teachers” get together and start worshipping and fasting, and then the H.S. starts talking to them very specifically as if He were standing there in the room. For some reason, there was was no confusion about what He was saying. Nobody was put off about it. And apparently, in Antioch everybody recognized who the “prophets” and “teachers” were.

        Nonetheless, it is the case that cessationism entered the Church pretty early on (probably in parallel with the rise of the monarchial episcopy), long before the “Enlightenment” or “Scientific Rationalism” ever came around on the scene. But I don’t think these issues are quite as disconnected as you imagine. By the way, some have cogently argued that it was precisely the rationalist emphasis of the mainline Reformation that greased the skids of history causing it to lead straight into the “Enlightenment” and Modernism and the whole of the rest of the story.

        But in fact, even back in the 1st Century, it was necessary for the Apostle Paul to issue the instructions, in 1 Thess 5:20, to “Do not despise prophecies”, precisely because it was very possible to do so, even way back then. (And of course I’m not forgetting verses here 19 and 21 and 22 in case someone mistakenly thinks I’m “going all charismatic here.)

        Personally, I just don’t see how one can keep making such a nice neat razor sharp dichotomy being “being led by the Spirit” and the gifts of the Spirit. They’re part of the package.

        (This is admittedly a poor analogy, but it’s kind of like getting a a big gift from a friend which consists freezer full of prime rib and other expensive cuts of beef, worth many thousands of dollars. Now you can keep the meat in the freezer if you like, and even conduct extensive classes defining and explaining all the various cuts of meat, from what part of the cow they come from, how they’re processed, and so forth. Or you can take some meat out, thaw it out, cook it up, and have dinner. The meat’s always been there. Though your friend meant for you to have sumptuous dinners for a long time to come, yet you’re not being forced to eat it, because the person who gave you the freezer and its contents is a gentleman and not at all pushy.)

        But speaking of being pushy, I guess I might have gotten a little on your nerves lately, for I see that my obscure blog is no longer on your blogroll. But that’s okay since it’s your call.

          • Thanks for the clarification, Dan. And thanks for keeping my most obscure blog on your most honorable blogroll. By the way, I’ve been serializing a long story of mine, and I think that only one person in the entire United States is reading it, and this person happens to live somewhere in northern Ohio.

        • I wanted to add another note, something which occured to me later, about Acts 13:1-3:

          I think we can safely assume that Barnabas, Simeon , Lucius, Manaen, and Saul were “Spirit-led men”. So what did these “Spirit-led men” do?

          Well, one of the things they did would have caused a great deal of consternation in many churches nowadays: They actually paid heed to a word of prophecy—one which by the way happened to start the ball rolling on the world’s first long-haul global missionary effort, not to mention having a big chunk of the NT getting written.

    • Holly,

      What you encountered was the difference between Blogger Permalinks and WordPress Permalinks. Blogger truncates theirs and WordPress does not. When I imported my blog from Blogger into WordPress, many links broke because of this difference.

      To fix the problem, I had to revert to the link found in the Best Of post rather than fixing it another way. So now the “new” link I sent doesn’t work, though the one in the Best Of now does.

  7. Diane Roberts

    I read a companion book by Ranier and another man, and frankly I learned something of great value from it. The authors said that some of the most successful churches (but they only polled Baptist churches) had one main key – and this might be surprising but I think it is encouraging to know. In fact, most of the book was about this. The key, according to the authors, is a very strong disciplship-type Adult Sunday School program. I found that fascinating.

    • Diane,

      Ranier loves small groups in Simple Church, but we both know that small group models have huge problems with teachings and with persuading people to be involved in them.

  8. Don Fields


    This reminds me of Bill Hybels latest revelation and “repentance.” He found out that what they had been doing for the past thirty years wasn’t really making disciples. So what did he do about it? He came up with a new program, which of course he encourages you to participate in by buying the book, DVD, etc.

    If I remember correctly you blogged on this, so once again we are in complete agreement.

  9. Vicki

    Preach it, brother, and amen! The arm of flesh always fails.

    Don, you’re right about Hybels, yet I’m still not sure he’s without just another agenda. He’s only changed his paradigm shift. We’ll see what happens.

  10. poetryman69

    Azure in the courts of Cerulean.

    Languishing in the Indigo isles.

    Peace and blessings for the New Year.

    Refreshed body and renewed mind.

    A new man for the new year.

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