Megachurch pastor Matt Chandler told ministry leaders at a conference in North Carolina on Wednesday that churches seeking to be both fruitful and faithful must first and foremost be built upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.
"Ministry begins at the laying of the foundation of Christ Jesus," Chandler told those in attendance and watching live via the Internet during the Advance13 conference in Raleigh. "So all ministry that is faithful and eventually will be fruitful finds its roots in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and where there is ministry built on something other than that, you are not dealing with Christian ministry."
Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas and president of the Acts 29 Network for church planting, based much of his sermon on 1 Corinthians 3, in which the Apostle Paul describes members of the church in Corinth as spiritual "infants" because of their squabble over which man – Paul or Apollos – they followed.
There's nothing wrong with having faith heroes, said Chandler, but "it's foolish and unhealthy to exalt a man beyond where he belongs."
"Oftentimes when you get into this conversation about faithful verses fruitful, what ends up happening is you begin to have a lot of dialogue about what to do with big personalities," he said. Even the most popular ministers are simply servants of God, he said, and ultimately it is Jesus Christ who deserves praise.
"I get nervous when a guy operates in such a way that he puts off the vibe that God should be grateful that God grabbed him," said Chandler. He later added, "There's something about guys that lie low and exalt Christ. I find my heart drawn to them. I'm trying desperately to be one of those men. We are all but servants. We are all but servants of Christ."
Ministers are tools in God's hands and should, like Paul, count others as fellow laborers working toward the same goal, he said. He also discussed "caricatures" of two different church types, the first of which is the kind that sacrifices doctrine for the sake of attracting large crowds.
"They put numeric growth above robust truth in order to see converts," said Chandler. "And so they're not going to touch things that are divisive. They're going to leave really big chunks of scripture alone because those scriptures will offend people."
Churches focused solely on growth are sometimes characterized by their lack of discipleship and mentoring, he said. They draw people in and might see them saved, but they often neglect to foster spiritual maturity in their congregation.
Other churches, in contrast, focus almost exclusively on doctrine at the expense of evangelization.
"I find that in many robust, theological churches that there seems to be a lack of gospel ambition," said Chandler. "And what I mean by that is there's a belief that their smallness somehow validates their faithfulness."
Such doctrine-focused churches also have a tendency to be "unnecessarily harsh" when presenting certain beliefs, he said. The Bible is offensive to some people anyway, but he calls churches that are brazenly offensive "immature."
Chandler began leading The Village Church (then First Baptist Church of Highland Village) in 2002, and it has since grown from 160 people to more than 10,000 people in weekly attendance. Numerical growth is important to him, he said, because it means more people are being saved.
"With the days we have left, with the breath we have left, may we proclaim him and be faithful," Chandler said in his final appeal. "And with angst, and with gut-wrenching prayer and belief in the power of the gospel expect and long to see fruit, fruit in the depth of maturity and fruit in the salvation from those in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our states and to the ends of the earth."
The theme of Advance13, which concludes Thursday, is "Building a Faithful and Effective Church." Although Chandler shared examples of how churches can seem to be either faithful or effective, he said he doubts that it is possible to be one without the other.