Dr. Francis Bola John is the President, Church Growth International Ministries. In this brief interview, he ex-rays some of the diseases facing the church. He notes that any church that keeps harbouring these diseases can’t stay for long.
Akin John whose ministry is embarking on ten year project targeted at promoting church health and addressing some of the debilitating diseases; told Church Times that the time has come for the church to wake up from its slumber.
You are an advocate of church health. In what way can the church of Jesus be sick?
Church can get sick because the church is likened to human body and it is called the body of Christ. And as the body of Christ it is subject to vagaries of sickness and diseases.
So what in essence are these diseases?
In church growth, a number of diseases have been identified. One of them is Ethicaities’… That is when the membership of a church is higher educationally, societally than the pastor. When for instance those who attend a particular church are more exposed than the pastor, they are more knowledgeable and more experienced than the pastor there will be problem in that church. It is like posting a primary six certificate holder to a church where there are university graduates, such pastor may not be able to measure up. He will do his best but his best may never be enough.
The second disease is the Sheperdia disease. This is the disease that has to do with the incompetence and the ungodly lifestyle of the pastor. It will always affect the church. Grow the pastor grow the church. That is the simple principle to church growth. Research has confirmed that the church health is determined by the health of the pastor. If the pastor is weak the church will be weak. The church can never rise higher than its pastor. If members of a church are in number 8 and the pastor is in number 2 spiritually, such pastor will drag them down. The church is sinful because the pastor is sinful. The church is lukewarm because the pastor is lukewarm. So it is normal that the shepherd will determine the state of the sheep and the sheep will always follow the shephered like what Jesus said in John chapter 10. Most of the diseases plaguing the church today are shepherdia diseases. When pastors are not saved, when pastors are backsliding the church will bear the brunt. There are pastors that are business minded, some are occultic, some are immoral. All these lifestyles reflect on the church.
We have what we call St. John’s syndrome. That is the church that has become lukewarm. They have lost their first love. That is what Jesus told the church of Ephesus in Revelation chapter 1. The church of new generation don’t know the work that God had done in their midst in the past.
There is also the disease called sociological strangulation: that is the church that the building is too small to contain people. Church growth says, once your building is 85 percent full many people drop off. You can’t pack 200 people in a 100 size auditorium.
Are you saying churches can have 3million seater auditorium as we are presently experiencing in the church?
But that does not mean churches should expand endlessly. It is true there are churches that are expanding their auditorium and accommodating thousands of people in a particular service. I call such expansion Genesis Chapter 11 expansion. It is synonymous with building the tower of babel.
So what kind of expansion is ideal?
The kind of expansion we are talking about is not building in that sense. It has to do with releasing people to do exploit for God instead of holding them down. The pastor may not have the vision of church planting but he can plant men, raise people up and let them discover their gifts and graces. Let them pursue what God has them to do. We should bring people in, win them, fortify them and release them. You can as well plant churches if God is leading you to plant churches. But the idea of having thousands of people in a place is not to healthy.
The key word is for the pastor to release people. There is a church in Ibadan that pays salary to about 400 missionaries. But they are not too big. That is the kind of expansion I am talking about. Research confirm that the church in Jerusalem was already about 100,000 people when God allowed persecution in their midst so they could spread the gospel. There are so many ministries doing great things for the Lord. There are churches that encourage people to blossom in their area of calling. That should be encouraged. People should not be tied down to church for too long.
So what other disease plagues the church?
There so many others. But for the purpose of this interview let me mention the Spectator disease. This is a church where the pastor is involved in a show every service time. He is the one handling virtually all activities in the church and he is always at the centre of event in the church. Without him nothing works. He is like a dramatist who entertains the worshippers every Sunday. In a matter of time such church will die.
But I have heard people say it is not possible for the body of Christ to be sick. Since it is the body of Christ?
Why is Jesus coming for a glorious church? Because he knows that the church is not where it should be. The future of the church is like that of a golden candle stick. God is working on the church to bring it to a state of perfection. Out of seven churches in Revelations 1, Jesus had something against six of them. It is a sign of sickness. So it is not true to say the Body of Christ can’t be sick. Those seven churches were actual churches they are also a symbol of the church age and every generation of church. Some of these diseases are terminal disease because those churches that have them will die eventually.
You mean if they are not checked?
Yes, if they are not addressed in time. But there are some that may be difficult to address. There is the disease of old age. In a church where people are moving away from the town to the city and leaving behind old men there is nothing that can be done about such church. The church will eventually die. But the way out is to do what is called gentorology where you take an old pastor to the church of old people. When you are transferring pastors it is good to take old pastors to them rather send young people there. Such pastor will understand the language of old people and relate with them very well. If in the long the town continues to be depopulated, the church may die
Is that the only terminal disease?
Most of the diseases I mentioned are terminal circumstances may make it difficult for it to be addressed. But if the authorizes concerned are willing to address them something can still be done. For instance there is the disease called Koinonitics. It is a disease of too much fellowship. Such church enjoys too much fellowship of themselves. They are so close to each other to the extent that a new comer is a threat. There is no how such church can grow if such attitude remains in the church.
So what will you suggest given all these diseases?
It takes a leader to grow a church not a pastor. The pastor does not believe in releasing people. A shepherd is like a mother chicken. If a mother chicken hatches his hen she protects them jealously. But the leader is like an eagle who releases his offsprings and trains to them to fly. If a pastor must grow his church, he must be a leader and act like the eagle.