(This entire thread is still in the meta of Joshua's blog; I've reformatted it a bit since I can, but the text is unchanged, other than using Joshua's full name, which he seems to be using now.)
Thanks for the time in writing a response, Joshua. There’s a lot I could say to clarify what I meant or refute what I disagree with in what you wrote, but I think you’ve done a good job finding the core bone of contention between how we teach/think/believe: pragmatism within the church. I’ll stick to that; the rest (e.g. changing methodology over time or culture), however important, is secondary, and largely an application of the central issue. And I’m sorry this is still long; I’m too tired to effectively edit it down.
We may not mean exactly the same thing by “effective,” but your reply was pretty thorough, and I think we’re close. And yes, you’re correct: I disagree with you. I’d go further, and say I believe that your position is counter to Scripture, and its typical application lays the enormously heavy burden on the servant of God. (We haven’t spoken for years, but trust me when I say that I don’t use terms like this often or lightly. This is a serious subject.)
You said “Does effective = good? Maybe not all the time. But I’ll say this with conviction… INEFFECTIVE does NOT = good.” Yikes, Joshua. It is a very small step from there to “INEFFECTIVE = bad.” Do you have any idea of the disastrous weight such a concept places on the believer that God, in His wisdom, has called to preach without visible result?
Effective and ineffective are moot; ONLY FAITHFULNESS = good in this mathematics. Jonah preached to the Ninevites and they repented; was his ministry better than that of Noah, who preached for a century without effect outside his own family? Or Ezekiel, who was sent to Israel to give God’s message and was actually told by God that he would be completely ineffective!? (Ez 3:4-9)
What of the missionary that faithfully labors years or decades preaching the Word and displaying God’s love in the field before seeing a convert, or the pastor of a small flock that he shepherds faithfully, but without growth in numbers? Are we to condemn their lack of “success?”
Point 1: We are called to be faithful, not effective. The results, whatever they may be, are to God’s glory, for His pleasure.
Clarifying subpoint: Part of faithfulness is to be good stewards of the gifts and talents God gives us; being lazy or half-hearted in one’s service is not being faithful.
You continued “And churches who make the case that God alone is responsible for their growth while doing nothing to try to increase their effectiveness in communicating the gospel are in sin.” There’s a lot of wiggle-room in how you’ve phrased that, so I’m going to hold back a bit. I’m concerned we’ve started talking past each other.
There may be churches that actually behave as you’ve described. But are there churches that deliberately avoid preaching on certain passages or topics because it might offend attendees or give a bad impression to “seekers”? Or that structure their worship music or other service elements to manipulate emotional responses (or even decisions for Jesus)? Which version of the error (for both are rooted in sin of elevating tradition to the level of Scriptural authority) do you think is more widespread, and thus probably needs to be fought more stridently?
Point 2: “Does it work?” is fundamentally a man-centered question, and it will inevitably shape the message to be more man-centered, regardless of the methods used. And a man-centered Gospel is another gospel; it is not the good news.