I’ve seen the concept many times outside of church life when it comes to innovative techniques to get various goals accomplished in business, but I have also seen this phrase used often within the church as well, and it is this: “There are 100 ways to skin a cat!” There are several ways that this might be expressed in the ministry world. You might say, “If it doesn’t work one way, then we’ll try it another way.” The most popular way this is expressed in ministry, I think, is in the following statement: “The methods change, but the message doesn’t” or “The outer package may change, but the gift never does.” These statements are saying this: “As long as the message [the gospel, Christ, cross, Resurrection, faith in Christ, etc.] doesn’t change, then we can use whatever means are necessary to get that message across and to accomplish ministry goals.” Basically, the means are justified by the ends.
All of this sounds good, on the surface. I’ve certainly made statements like this throughout the years, but we must ask ourselves one crucial question when we are speaking of doing church ministry: “Is the “latest and greatest” innovative method promising “rapid church growth” biblical or not?” Is it prescribed anywhere in the Bible that we can use whatever means are necessary as long as the end goals are accomplished? And I believe that our compromise is not just in a flurry of innovative activities that are not necessary for spiritual development, but also in the various ways that we conduct our worship services as well.
The text that is used most often to support using “any means” to reach anyone is 1 Corinthians 9:22 which states, ““I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” I do not plan on doing a full examination of this passage (See John MacArthur’s posts on 1 Corinthians 9:22 here), but simply some observations and critiques about this concept.
The Regulative Principle of Worship
I think that one neglected principle in response to the “100 ways to skin a cat” method is a forgotten principle called “The Regulative Principle of Worship.” Derek Thomas defines the Regulative Principle in this way: “…the regulative principle of worship states that the corporate worship of God is to be founded upon specific directions of Scripture” (source).
Here is a list of some elements that the Bible explicitly prescribes for a worship gathering: “…reading the Bible (1 Tim. 4:13); preaching the Bible (2 Tim. 4:2); singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) — the Psalms as well as Scripture songs that reflect the development of redemptive history in the birth-life-death-resurrection- ascension of Jesus; praying the Bible — the Father’s house is ‘a house of prayer’ (Matt. 21:13); and seeing the Bible in the two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38–39….” (source). Here we have a list of elements that inform us as to how worship services should be done. Why is it that we feel the need to improve upon the means given to us in Scripture to worship God properly and grow spiritually?
The Sufficiency of Scripture
Related to the idea of the Regulative Principle of Worship is the teaching of the Sufficiency of Scripture. Whenever we are endeavoring in practices that are not prescribed in Scripture, especially as it relates to doctrine and to the elements of worship services, we are showing that we disbelieve in the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture (see Carl Trueman’s article here). When we say that Scripture is “sufficient,” we are saying that it is “enough” and that it is all we need for spiritual growth and Christian worship in the church. For what is Scripture sufficient? Trueman says, “…to speak of scriptural sufficiency is one way of speaking about the unique authority of Scripture in the life of the church and the believer as the authoritative and sufficient source for the principles of faith and practice.” When we add elements to our worship service or to our faith and practice that are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, then we are revealing that we do not believe that Scripture is sufficient to make “the of God…complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17b). If we are trying 15 ways to “skin a cat” (ministry work, figuratively speaking), and Scripture has only prescribed 6 ways to skin that cat, then we are taking God’s work into our own hands and saying that we know what’s best for His Church instead of what He’s prescribed in His Word.Why do we feel the need to improve upon the means given to us in Scripture to worship God properly? Click To Tweet
Only 6ish(?) Ways to “Skin a Cat” in Ministry Work
Instead of thinking that there are 100 (or more!) ways to skin a cat, what if there are only around 6 ways to skin a cat, biblically speaking? In other words, instead of thinking that there around 100+ means to “grow a church” or 100+ means to “do church,” why not look at the Bible and see how many means it prescribes to “do church”? While this list could be tinkered with and refined, we can find at least these 6 in Scripture: Discipleship, Worship, Evangelism, Prayer, Preaching, & Christian community (all of these are either stated or implied in Trueman’s list above). I think that we feel the need to improve upon what God has said because we do not actually believe that what God has said is sufficient. We feel the need to improve or enhance the means of grace within Scripture and that simply shows that we do not fully trust in those means of grace. In our attempt to “skin a cat” 100+ ways, we’ve not yet poured our heart into practicing those explicitly prescribed means to fulfill His purposes in the church. What if, in attempting to skin the cat 100 ways, that we’ve actually ignored, overlooked, or have totally lost faith in God’s prescribed ways to do Kingdom work? Would God’s Kingdom be healthier and shine brighter if we trusted in and practiced His prescribed ways in Scripture rather than trusting in and practicing the ways that we think are best?
John Newton referred to this sufficiency found in the gospel:
“So long as the gospel of Christ is maintained without adulteration, it is found sufficient for every valuable purpose; but when the wisdom of man is permitted to add to the perfect work of God, a wide door is opened for innumerable mischiefs” (from “John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace” pg 203).
Starving for a Better Church Model
One of the best articles I’ve read on this subject of church innovation going “overboard” is from Owen Strachan. A quote from him, as well as reference to his article, follows:
“Management philosophies and business methods have left a generation of ministers hungry, even starving, for a better ecclesial model” (Owen Strachan article)
The model of seeking consistent innovation is a weary one. Some ministers feel an underlying pressure to read every new “Church Growth” book that comes out and to attend every conference that has a “New and Inspiring Plan to Grow Your church and Multiply your members, Guaranteed, within the next year!” Instead of chasing the latest church growth fad or trend, why don’t we pour our efforts into preaching, prayer, worship, and Christian community instead?
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