Emerging Controversy? Popular Church Growth Secrets

Excerpt From The Book, Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing

3 Monumental Secrets Foster False Prophets

False Prophets: They Give Us A Man To Follow

I will never forget the day my dream died.

I had just completed my seminary master’s degree in Church ministry. My prior business experiences led me to the church growth movement. Fascinated with its similarities to business, I read the latest research on the successes of the movement. I had found my niche.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A strange dilemma developed as I attempted to harmonize my discoveries with Scripture. The more I tried to merge them, the farther they moved apart.

At last I realized that rather than improve the Church, the church growth beliefs fostered false prophets in the Church. In fact, they reminded me of the Old Testament Judge/Prophet Samuel.

His life began with his miraculous birth. His mother, Hannah, could not bear children. She prayed earnestly for a son, and God gave her Samuel. At a very early, tender age, she took him to the Temple. He grew up in the Temple under Eli the High Priest and became a worthy prophet of God.

Eli, the High Priest, and his sons died in shame. In time, Samuel’s sons shamed their father, too. (1)

Popular Church Growth Secrets That Foster False Prophets: Give Us a King

With an absence of leadership, the people of Israel cried for a king. Their circumstances provided a legitimate time to look for another leader. But the comments of the people offer a glimpse into their real desires: they wanted a king.

They did not ask for another prophet. They did not ask for a Godly man. Instead, they desired someone to go out and fight their battles. They wanted a leader who would wear a crown and dress in purple robes. They wanted a champion that would lead them as other pagan kings in their day.

Throughout their history, God had sent Israel godly leaders. When they lived in Egypt, He sent them Moses, who led them out of Egypt though the wilderness to the brink of the Promised Land. Then, God replaced Moses with another godly man, Joshua.

The time of the judges came after the death of Joshua. During that era, God raised judges to rule and defend the Israelites. The book of Judges records numerous times that God lifted up judges, giving them unique abilities and strengths for the welfare and direction for Israel. He used them to bring the Children of Israel back to Him.

Then Samuel came to lead God’s people. Samuel warned them that a king would burden them and bring them grief (and a long line of ungodly kings proved him right). Samuel rehearsed to them what would happen, if they raised up for themselves a king. (2)

But, they turned aside from his warnings:

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us.” (3)

These events describe the professing Christian Church today, which follows a similar pattern. As in the days of the fledgling nation of Israel, the Church desires a man to lead them. In place of a godly man, it wants a “king” to fight its battles. The choice of a man brings sorrow and spiritual decline. Man does not rule by grace, mercy, or justice.

As the Church has turned aside from seeking godly leaders, it substitutes pizzazz and personality. A new list of characteristics for leaders demands a counselor, conciliator, a good businessman. These marks identify the kind of leaders that the Church wants. The Church no longer desires a man who communes with God. Like the Children of Israel, the Church today disregards godly men for its leaders.

Popular Church Growth Secrets That Foster False Prophets: Give the Majority What They Want

Israel made its decision based upon popularity. As you read the whole passage, mark the frequent references to “the people.” En masse, the people came to Samuel and demanded a king. All of the elders demanded a king. They represented the desires of the people.

The people rejected the counsel that God gave them through Samuel. The popularity of their demands justified their actions in their cry for a king. (4)

Again, like Israel, the professing Christian Church believes that popularity equals God’s way. A vote with a high percentage confirms the determination of God’s will.

A church that I attended a number of years ago had a practice that describes this custom. When it came time to select candidates for various church leaders, they sought candidates from each of the Sunday School classes and groups within the church.

They wanted to make sure that they had representatives from every group of people in the church. Rather than selecting leaders based upon the godliness of the candidates, they wanted to placate every church group, hoping to secure cooperation among the people.

Such practices produce wolves in sheep’s clothing who lead the sheep astray. They give the people what they desire. The people are pleased with such leaders and encourage them to assume positions of leadership in the Church.

That is not how Jesus the King governs His Body, the Church. The Church is an organism, not an organization. We do not need a CEO, a champion, or a powerful persuasive personality. Christ’s Church is not a democracy. His way is not decided by majority vote or by a committee gathered from of the various groups within a congregation.

The Christian Church has a King in charge, Jesus. He rules as Head of the Church, His body. We need to discern what King Jesus wants to do, not what the people want to do.

The Church needs leaders filled with the Holy Spirit, ones who spend time calling upon God and seeking the face of Christ. When that kind of leader stands before the church and says, “This is the way. Walk ye in it,” the congregation can trust their godly leaders.

Popular Church Growth Secrets That Foster False Prophets: Give Us Modern Methods

The Children of Israel cried, “We want a king.” Where did they get that idea?

They wanted to imitate the world around them. They wanted a king just like all the nations around them. They sought someone who would fight their battles and solve their problems. The Israelites saw how the world managed their affairs, and preferred it to God’s way. (5)

At the risk of repetition, that describes the Christian Church today. Its leaders try to exceed one another in their pursuit of discovering the world’s latest methods and incorporating them into the activities of the Church. They want to follow the world’s practices.

They assume that if it works for big business, it must work for the Church. In its practices, the Christian Church incorporates the methods of the world as its formulas for church growth. In fact, the Church emulates the world to such an extent it looks and acts just like the world.

Like the Children of Israel, the Church of today wants to fit in and appease the world. We have believed the error that to win the world we must look and act like the world.

God does not work that way. The Scriptures tell us to come out from among the world and be separate. (6) Scripture never encourages believers to copy the world to find out how we to live as Christians.

Further, Scripture never encourages believers to compromise with the world in order to win the world. The Church stands against the world and exposes its darkness. Believers should walk as children of light, not as children of darkness.

Popular Church Growth Secrets That Foster False Prophets: Summary

These truths, demonstrated in Israel’s cry for a king, suggest serious implications for the Christian Church today. The Apostle John issued a serious comment regarding the relationship between God and the world. He said, 

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (7)

Church leaders and pastors ignore this warning by pursuing the world’s methods and manners while at the same time attempting to receive God’s blessing over their plans. To love the world’s methods and practices, and to continue to pursue them and their adoption, casts doubt upon the activities of these leaders. It calls into question the true nature and existence of their love for God.

Jesus warned that you cannot serve two masters. He will have no competitors in the operation of His Church. Scripture warns us of the true nature of the world:

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (8)

James in his epistle described the distinction between earthly, sensual, devilish wisdom and God’s wisdom. He began the passage with these words:

“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” (9)

He then described worldly wisdom, after which he concluded:

“This wisdom (worldly wisdom) descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (10)

James listed the qualities of the wisdom that God sends. At the very top of the list, he identified purity, which literally means that purity is the number one characteristic of God’s wisdom. Purity does not deceive. Purity does not a lie, nor conflict with Scripture. Purity is truthful, and honest.

The world’s wisdom differs from God’s wisdom. We need to recognize and pursue God’s wisdom. The Christian Church must heed God’s wisdom. By so doing, we will reject the plans and purposes of the false prophets today, who pursue and promote the world’s methods and wisdom.

Scripture tells us that God will not share his glory with another. As you read Scripture, you will find repeatedly that God always does things in such a way that only one person will receive the honor and the glory, God.

In Zechariah 4, we read God’s message to Zerubbabel, who faced a difficult challenge. God assured him,

“This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” (11)

When Jesus the Head of the Church wants to accomplish something, including church growth, He will do it by the power of His Holy Spirit

This example of the Children of Israel provides sobering insight into the circumstances that foster the rise of false prophets and leaders. We erroneously think the crowd must be right. We imagine that so many people cannot be wrong. Yet, might does not necessarily make right. The paths that seem right lead to destruction.

The Scriptures say that God perfects His strength in human weakness. (12) His strength does not come alongside man’s strength. We experience the fullness of God’s strength, power, and ability in utter helplessness and weakness. The state of the Christian Church requires this kind of Godly leaders.

I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to see the truth, draw you into the truth, and encourage and strengthen you with it. I pray that you will walk as a child of light and not as a child of darkness.

Questions For Review

  • What “kingly” attributes does the Church see in a new pastor?
  • What kinds of activities lead us to love the world?
  • How does the world’s wisdom differ from God’s wisdom?
    1. In Education?
    2. In Marriage?
    3. In Politics?
    4. In the Church?
  • How does the Church receive the message from Jesus, the Head of the Church, regarding His wisdom?
  • How does Christ communicate His will to His Church?
  • List warning signs that a church has acquired a king instead of a shepherd as pastor?

Father, thank You for this setting of the people crying to Samuel for a king because it so clearly illustrates to us the forces that we see at work within those who profess to be followers of Christ today. They serve to us as a clear warning: That is not Your way. That is not how You do things.

Therefore, we can eliminate and reject those temptations, urgings, and promptings that we may have and pursue after You and permit You to reign over us as king.

Teach us, Father, by Your Spirit, how to follow the King, how to hear His voice through Your Spirit, how to tell the difference, how to discern the truth. There are so many voices today. Help us to hear Your voice and to follow it.

Father, we want to honor and glorify Your name in all that we do. We will give You praise, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for what You accomplish in our lives to the glory of the Father and of his Son and of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.


  1. 1 Samuel 8.1-9.
  2. 1 Samuel 8.10-18.
  3. 1 Samuel 8:19.
  4. 1 Samuel 8.1-22.
  5. 1 Samuel 8.19-20.
  6. 2 Corinthians 6.17.
  7. I John 2:15.
  8. 1 John 2:16-17.
  9. James 3:13.
  10. James 3:16.
  11. Zechariah 4:6.
  12. 2 Corinthians 12.9.

© Thomas P Hill. Website: www.masterministries.org.

Personal Information: Thomas P. Hill, M. A. in Ministry, Luther Rice Seminary; author of 3 books: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing; Homosexuality, Christians, and the Church; and Keys To A Revolutionary Life (available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Tom’s web site). To invite Tom to speak at your college, church, or group, contact him by email at hill_tom@att.net.

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