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preaching article Are You an Aquarium-Keeping Leader?

Are You an Aquarium-Keeping Leader?

based on 14 ratings
Dec 13, 2011

People ask me all the time how we’ve been able to see so many people come to Christ in five years.

Outside of the favor of God, I could give you a lot of specifics. Tell you a lot of things that we’ve done. But none of it will help you until you make a decision we made in the early days of our church.

And that was the decision to be more focused on the people we’re trying to reach than on the people we’re trying to keep. As others have said, to be fishers of men, not just keepers of the aquarium.

We’re not going to cater to the personal preferences of the few in our pursuit of the salvation of the many.

And that includes if the few is 10 people when we’re pursuing 100.

Or 5,000 when we’re pursuing 10,000.

Or 10,000 when we’re pursuing 20,000.

Most people and churches aren’t willing to do that. They’re keepers of the aquarium. They say they want to reach people, but in reality they’re more focused on preservation than expansion. On keeping people rather than reaching them.

They let saved people dictate style. Saved people dictate focus. Saved people dictate vision.

The result is a room full of saved people. Not people getting saved. Why? Because the people you’re trying to reach aren’t interested in the church that has been created by the people you’re trying to keep. If they were, they’d be coming. But they’re not.

For some reason, right here is where people usually play the discipleship card. They’re trying to disciple the people they’re trying to keep. They accuse you of pitting evangelism against discipleship.

But that isn’t the case. I just believe true disciples should care more about making disciples than freeze-framing the church the way it was when they became one. Or wanting 26 programs customized to their liking. If the mark of Christian maturity is a bunch of people who want to create a museum glorifying and preserving their personal preferences and then sanctify it by calling it a church, count me out.

Some people say, why can’t we have both? You can. Focus on the people you want to reach and you’ll keep the people you want to keep. Let the rest walk. They’ll find a church elsewhere to graze. The way I see it is they’re just occupying the space of a person who needs to hear the gospel. You’ll fill their seat. And it will be with the person who needs it the most.

Pastor Steven Furtick is the lead pastor of Elevation Church. He and his wife, Holly, founded Elevation in 2006 with seven other families. The church has been listed by Outreach Magazine as one of the fastest growing and largest churches in America. 

Pastor Steven holds a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the New York Times Best Selling author of Crash the ChatterboxGreater, and Sun Stand Still.

Pastor Steven and Holly live in the Charlotte area with their two sons, Elijah and Graham, and daughter, Abbey.

Talk about it...

Keith  B avatar
Keith B
0 days ago
The bottom line is that Pastor Rock star preaches a feel-good message that tends to attract goats. He's going down the Word of Faith route. How does any Word of Faith preacher grow their church? It's not through sound doctrine and discipleship. Just preach the Word and feed the sheep, Steven. Bigger doesn't necessarily mean God's moving in your gathering.
David Buffaloe avatar
David Buffaloe
0 days ago
In enjoyed the article. I've served in several Churches that stagnated with the "we four no more" mentality. It is refreshing to serve in a Church where every member is a missionary. I hope to be there one day ... by God's Grace ...
Bill Murawski avatar
Bill Murawski
0 days ago
KB- Smaller or stagnant doesn't mean God is moving either. And a heart check might be needed if you have to result in calling a man of God you may disagree with a name like "pastor rock star" and calling the congregation "goats". Not exactly edifying the body with that.
Steve Mack avatar
Steve Mack
0 days ago
Great article Steven...I know you are not put off by the negative comments...or you wouldn't have written the article. From here in post-Christian Europe the importance of reaching the lost as the focus is not an option....it is the only way to move forward in building the local church...and we believe growth in numbers is important...because wherever God is drawing people adding daily to those being saved...there is always growth!
Trevor Payton avatar
Trevor Payton
0 days ago
Amen brother! It was refreshing to read your article. And by the way, in churches where the leadership focuses on the happiness of the members (and not the salvation of the lost), there are also plenty of goats *in the pews and on the membership roster*. Size doesn't matter at all (God can move in a large or a small gathering). But vision does matter. And often, when a congregation's vision is truly focused on the glory of God and seeking the lost, the numbers tend to grow. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a missionary (John 20:21).
John E Miller avatar
John E Miller
0 days ago
Build bigger auditoriums. Fill more seats. Get the praise bands building up to fever pitch. Tell Jokes. Get the congregation swinging from the chandeliers. Despise the simple souls whose desire is to join in the reverent worship of the Eternal God who revealed his wondrous plan of salvation at the cross. (Oh no! That's not enough!) What we need is excitement, inovation, imagination! Jesus left the ninety-nine and went after the one that was lost. Jesus comes to the twos and threes that gather to His name. (Sorry, that's a bit out of date Lord!) "None of the ransomed ever knew, how deep were the waters crossed, or how dark the night that the Lord passed through, to save the ONE that was lost."
Jimmy Jackson avatar
Jimmy Jackson
0 days ago
Good for you young man! I don't know you from Adam, but your message in this case is on the mark. Just don't forget to love the "GOATS" Jesus did.
John E Miller avatar
John E Miller
0 days ago
Thanks Jimmy, you're welcome. I'll be 70 in May 2012, God willing. I take it that you're about 90!!!
Keith  B avatar
Keith B
0 days ago
Bill---do you understand the reference to the goats and sheep? Goats are unsaved people, while sheep are the flock. Pastors are called to shepherd the flock of sheep--not go out and seek more goats. Furtick has stated on a few occasions that his church is geared toward the seekers--the non-Christians, and the moment you trust Christ his church is no longer for you. As for the Rock Star comment? Look at the guy. Everything he does is about his image. From the way he dresses, to his hair, to a promotional video his organization recently put out that praised him and talked about the greatest accomplishment his church has done--to drop 5k easter eggs on Easter Sunday for an egg hunt.
Ryan Donoho avatar
Ryan Donoho
0 days ago
Praise God when people enter into the family of God! But I'm not convinced that the best strategy for multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ in a post-Christendom society is to create an exciting worship service that they can relate to. In areas that still have a stronger Christian presence, like Charlotte, where people have a Christian background to some extent, the attractive Sunday morning thing can still bring them in and help them get ?saved.? But for those who have no church background (which is a growing number of people in our society), less and less are interested in coming, even if it is an entertaining show. Instead we probably need to find ways to go out to them, instead of expecting them to come to us. Or maybe better yet, interact and build relationships with the ?unsaved? who are already all around us. In addition, there are lots of ?unsaved? people who probably are not attracted to the type of attractional worship service you?re creating. So, do you need to have different types of worship services for different groups of people that would be attracted to it and be ?saved?? Or, are you just focusing on the dominant demographic that you can get to come in to your church? And what about those people who are not attracted to institutions and large group meetings? What ways are you going to attract them to meetings to share the gospel with them? Also, if the goal of the church is just to get people ?saved,? then I think we need to take a closer look at the gospel Jesus preached and demonstrated. The gospel of Jesus seems to incorporate a lot more than where we end up when we die. Justification by faith is a part of the gospel, but not the whole.
Sterling Franklin avatar
Sterling Franklin
0 days ago
Each of us will stand or fall before God...stay faithful
Nishantha Silva avatar
Nishantha Silva
0 days ago
Noah preached about the comming wrath. God sent animals in to the ark and Noah had to look after them. Sameway,no body can change the heart of man but Holy Spirit does it. We as christians have to preach the gospel and look after "the saved" whom God added in to the church. Noah did the same.
Stacey  avatar
Stacey
0 days ago
I enjoyed the article for the most part. I believe Christ chose his 12 and poored himself into them and they became fishers of men. Discipleship is as eqaully important as reaching the lost you never give up on anyone. Does Christ give up on us? We need to focus on Christ and following his example of purity and love to all. Inside the church and outside all have an eternity to face...
John Hess avatar
John Hess
0 days ago
I love it when anyone that disagrees with such brashness is asked to check their salvation. How about checking the Bible for the definition of the church. The church is the people. The congregating of the church is for preparing the church to go out and win the lost for Jesus. Furtick confuses evangelism and the church congregating. It is the church's charge, the individual member's, to complete the Great Commission. It is the shepherd, the leader, the pastor (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) that prepares the church to accomplish the mission. Like it or not, the church congregating is not a focus on the Great Commission, although it is a part. Equipping, encouraging, enabling the church is the main reason for congregating. Evangelism, on the other hand, has as its main purpose to evangelize. Crusades and the like meet the definition of Furtick's idea of "church." As he says about church, "count me (Furtick) out." Well, as far as the purposes of the church congregating, you are counted out, Mr Furtick.
Dav Ross avatar
Dav Ross
0 days ago
I don't know Steve F. from a bowl of soup, but I admire his stated desire to go against the norm in order to reach the lost.
Zach Hall avatar
Zach Hall
0 days ago
To all the haters out there - I would love for you to come join us for a worship experience one weekend. I've been attending Elevation Church for almost a year now and have grown more in my faith then the previous 18 years spent at a very good church with a regionally well known pastor. Just because Elevation is seeker-focused doesn't mean discipleship is not important. I have to wonder how many naysayers have actually visited Elevation Church or one of their Extension sites. Or watched/listened to an entire sermon from Pastor Steven instead of judging off sound bytes. Because here's the truth - over 10,000 people have made professions of faith at a Elevation Church worship experience. This summer we baptized over 2,000 people, myself included. We've given millions of dollars to Christian Non-Profit organizations around the world and locally. You say "bigger doesn't necessarily mean God's moving". It also doesn't mean that He isn't. But behind every number is a story of God moving. Even if 1/3 of the salvations were "seed among the thorns", thats still ~7,000 people.
Keith  B avatar
Keith B
0 days ago
Hey, Zach...believe it or not, we can be critical of a pastor that doesn't correctly handle God's word and not be a "hater". We don't hate your pastor...we just wish he'd actually exegete God's Word correctly. I've listened to quite a few of his sermons (wouldn't want to be accused of ignorantly accusing him) and he does stuff like taking the Emmaus Road encounter and alegorizing it to be about you. That's not correct. Sometimes it's not about us--and it's not all about us having audacious enough faith to tell God what to do.

So, what did you think?


Thank you.