Author: R. Scott Clark

Charles Finney Does Not Live Here

This is a really important consideration for our friends from the broader evangelical world as they come into contact with confessional Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) worship. There is a high likelihood that those emerging from the broad evangelical traditions are addicted to a regular, even programmed release of dopamine and/or norepinephrine. It is not your fault. You are part of a tradition that dates to the mid-19th century. That tradition (represented and perfected by Charles Finney) discovered ways of manipulating people in public worship in order to move them from point A (the pew) to point B (the anxious bench).

Millennial Perfectionism and the Social Media Covenant of Works

If you are a Millennial, relax. This is not another critique. I do spend a fair bit of time with Millennials, however, and I have observed some interesting trends. One of these observations was reinforced recently in an article by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill, “How Perfectionism Became a Hidden Epidemic Among Young People.” They define perfectionism thus: Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections. They explain, “perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes…”. As a teacher I have noticed this. To be sure, this tendency is not unique to Millennials. However, according to the authors it does occur more frequently among Millennials. “[L]evels of perfectionism have risen significantly among young people since 1989.” Their explanation of the cause strikes me as strained—they blame it on the “neoliberalism” of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Brian …

Ministry is Not Mastery

There are myriad temptations in ministry. One persistent temptation is to stop ministering and start mastering. There are many reasons mastering is tempting. All congregations are non-profit organizations. Most are under-funded and understaffed or staffed with volunteers. Often the pastor is the only paid employee. Congregations are not usually very efficient organizations. Pastors face pressures to be “successful” and efficient. It comes from members, elders, and deacons who implicitly or explicitly add the pressure that many ministers already feel to have a growing church. It comes externally from so-called “church growth experts.” Like those home rehabilitation shows on cable television, the church-growth experts tell “success” stories about pastors who turned (flipped) their average little congregation into a fast-growing “dynamic” congregation. Typically, these narratives include a portion detailing how the pastor put his foot down and exercised strong leadership in chasing off discontent members and even elders. The message is clear: real leaders tell their people to get with the program or get out of Dodge. Then there is the internal desire to reach the lost. …

Church Growth and the Cross

When I entered the evangelical world in the mid-70s there was much talk and teaching (and guilt manipulation) about personal evangelism, but not much talk of church growth. A decade later, however, when I went to seminary, church growth was all the rage. I expected to study Scripture, to learn Hebrew (I did Greek in university), systematic theology, church history, homiletics, and pastoral theology. I was completely unaware of the so-called “church growth” movement. My earliest experience in a Reformed church was in a small German-Reformed congregation from the wrong side of the tracks. The “successful” and “influential” churches in my hometown tended to be on what was, temporarily, “church row” on the east end of town. Meanwhile, my little German Reformed congregation moved toward the center of town where it has been ever since. There we talked about Scripture, doctrine, the Christian life, and outreach to the community, but there was no expectation that we should become a large, influential presence in our heavily churched city. In a couple of my pastoral theology courses …