A Cautionary Warning

There’s a proliferation of authors, bloggers, speakers, e-magazines, online courses and websites telling us how to “be the church” – or promoting this or that aspect of healthy church form and function.

At first, years ago, I was very much enticed by all they had to say.

Then I started noticing a glaring lack of actual stories by them, involving real people and real churches.

Their stuff was inspirational, but consistently provided only vague generalities – rather than concrete accounts – of their concepts actually working in the real world, with real people and real churches.

Instead, they were always promoting their ideals and concepts in terms of “should”, “could” and “ought” – and trying to inspire others to do what they said – without the evidence of actual success in their own lives, and in their own church, through specific stories.

At first, this really confused me. After all, wouldn’t they want to tell specific stories from their own lives, and tell specific stories of how their concepts actually changed the lives of others and were working in real churches?

I then started realizing that many of them had fallen into the trap of thinking that aspirations alone – without first being proven in real life – should be a model for everyone else!

I suspect they started out in good faith, but eventually were reduced to making misleading biographical claims (or hiding their true history) and forming mutual promotion networks with other writers and speakers who also had no real, sustained history of actual successful application.


Since then, I’ve learned to be much more discerning about those those who promote books, blogs and other resources on how to be the church:

•  Do they have an ongoing, successful history of being part of – and are they currently rooted in and accountable to – a functioning local church that is actually applying what they are now promoting?

•  If so, have their concepts, as applied to their own local church, exhibited actual sustained health – with tangible outward evidence?

•  Do they provide that evidence, in the form of specific stories involving real people and real churches, in their books, blogs, conference engagements, DVDs and e-magazines?

If they don’t routinely provide concrete accounts of their ideas and concepts actually working in their own life, and in their own church, then move on.

Some do it, others write about it. Some live it, others want to tell you how you ought to live it. Modern Day Pauls?

Some do it, others write about it. Some live it, others want to tell you how you ought to live it.
Modern Day Pauls?

~ Jim Wright


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7 responses

  1. I believe you are right Jim. This may be one of the reasons why in certain organic circles the bible is totally undervalued and pissed away. This has gone way beyond; “I was abused by leadership using the bible; therefore I need a break from the scriptures”. I understand that decision for a period of time but I object to such a lifestyle. Don’t blame the gun; hold the shooter responsible.

    It’s all too easy to rip out everything we don’t like or don’t understand about the scriptures and (self-righteously) declare; “that is not God”. And keep the stuff we do like since it is pleasurable to our flesh.

    One of the reasons I do not write; although I have multiple ideas, about practical church-life is because I have little to no historical fruit; never mind writing an organic bestseller based on an idea that has never been tried or tested.


      • While I understand your cautionary statements, and agree with the general premise of your article, there’s a danger to it. On one hand, you’re very dogmatic about the your criteria in determining the validity of one’s claims, calling, or teaching. You write with an authority which creates the perception that you’re writing as an oracle for God. But you claim that you’re an elder, and as such should know if you’re sharing such stringent criteria in a way that’s pleasing to The Lord or if you might have been a little too dogmatic in sharing your own personal opinions? If you’re sharing personal opinions a little too forcefully without acknowledging that there are many exceptions, that’s one thing. But if you’re standing by your words as written with such authority, that’s another. Shouldnt an elder recognize he difference?


  2. Brother Jim,

    As someone who appreciates the wisdom I have read in your posts, I find myself both in agreement with what you share here, and concerned that it might apply to me more than I might like. I feel that I have nothing to offer His body in terms of techniques or specific strategies. On the other hand I think I have evidence that He has allowed me to see Biblical truths that have been in large measure overlooked. I would like to think that as theoretical scientists inspire engineers, that others might confirm what I share and find practical application for it.

    My fear is that I have little or no real “rubber-meets-the-road” Church experience. For what-ever reason the leadership of churches that I have attended over the last 30 years have dismissed or demeaned the things I have tried to share. I have been barred from teaching and sidelined because my understandings of scripture do not line up with that of the leaders.

    As you know I recently started a blog to share my insights (and thank you for your gracious plug) but I wonder to what extent I am speaking out of turn. Dare I teach what I have not put into practice? Is there any place for a voice crying in the wilderness saying this is what the Bible means by ekklesia, and what you call “church” does not fit the bill?

    I am troubled because I agree with what you say in this post, and fear that it applies to me. I am after all promoting a blog and a book and yet have “no specific stories.” I am very open to your thoughts on this. Again thank you for your ministry–you remain in my prayers.


  3. William and Chris: Thanks for your thoughts.

    This blog is raising a warning specifically about those who make it their business (pun intended) to “tell us how” to be this or that regarding the church, without real evidence of their ideas or concepts working in their own lives or churches.

    My experience with such authors and speakers is that they are certainly inspirational, but ultimately do more harm than good in the life of a local church.

    In contrast, I encourage those engaged in scholarship, kicking around ideas, or sharing thoughts on things that God is prompting in them – so long as the context makes it clear that they are not insisting that they have a proven model to actually emulate.

    Likewise, those who have no specific experience certainly can toss out ideas and contribute to the open dialog over ideas, but should not project a false persona which implies expertise and success beyond their actual history.

    Only then can we get beyond the trap of viewing a book, blog or conference platform as legitimate credentials for leadership in the Body of Christ.


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