I love Jesus’ church and because of that I’m concerned with much of what I see in the church today. Many local churches have adopted a business and entertainment approach to the way they “do church.” There is an unceasing urge to dazzle church attenders with a smooth flowing show and the impression that we are “growing” and “moving forward.” Pastors who have abused power or who have caved into moral failure are quickly restored to their high positions of influence. Why? Because they meet the character requirements of 1 Timothy 3 or because they are talented and dynamic leaders who have what it takes to draw crowds and build momentum? Many church buildings are filled with individuals who crave a “worship experience” that in all reality is more about them and making them feel good than it is about the God whom they claim to be worshiping. There are many others who simply like to tag God onto their lives as a sort of good luck charm, soaking up self-help, prosperity-driven, inspirational sermons, while having very little understanding of what it truly means to live as followers of Jesus in the everyday stuff of life together with other brothers and sisters laying down their lives for the glory of God and the joy of others.


I am persuaded that these issues are symptoms of a much deeper problem. They are the fruit of embracing a fundamentally man-centered approach to the gospel. A.W. Tozer described two aspects of this man-centered Christianity: first, it is presenting Jesus in such a way that ultimately makes “man the star of the show”, fitting right in with the consumerism and the “it’s all about me” attitude of our culture. In addition to this, Tozer noted that God is often portrayed as waiting “on the whims of men… struggling in heartbroken desperation to get people to accept a Savior of whom they feel no need and in whom they have very little interest.”  So in essence, a man-centered theology not only makes Jesus all about our personal fulfillment but also robs Him of His sovereign power to save, leaving us to come up with “whatever works” to get people to join our churches. Many leaders and churches no longer believe that the gospel of Christ is truly sufficient for building the church. This leads them to depend primarily on human means to get “salvation decisions” and higher attendance forgetting that God is mighty to save and that the undiluted preaching of the gospel is the powerful means that He has established to bring sinners to genuine repentance and faith. The all-too-accepted norm that church growth depends on our professionalism, our gifted leaders, our ability to create a “worship experience”, and our delivery of entertaining sermons, is evidence that we are no longer trusting in God but in man. Do we believe, as the Scriptures state, that “salvation belongs to the Lord” or do we think it depends on our skill and ingenuity to manipulate people into making decisions and giving their money? Sadly, many of these decisions prove to be false in time, having been the result of mere emotional appeal or of an attraction to something (or someone) other than the true Jesus. Notice how different Paul’s approach is in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Tragically, a man-centered view of the gospel leads people away from real hope in God. Paul preaches Christ, in dependence upon the Spirit, so that their faith will not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. The one leads to the other. The authentic gospel leads to genuine confidence in God, while the performances of eloquent teachers lead only to a confidence in men. Those who (perhaps even ignorantly) teach a man-centered gospel are in real danger because they are leading people to ultimately rely on them rather than on Christ. In the end, these leaders will have very little accountability because the majority of their church will have come to believe that they need the giftedness of their leader in order to grow and thrive. They will put up with the pastor having a hot temper, a love for money, out of control children, and even marital infidelity (ignoring the clear qualifications for leaders given in Scripture) because they have been deceived into thinking that God needs this man to build his church. Let us be reminded that God doesn’t need any of us. In His kindness, he delights in using us but He doesn’t need us. Jesus will build His church. Now, lest we start blaming church leadership entirely we need to be reminded that it is both teachers as well as hearers who are responsible for this departure from the biblical gospel. As Paul warned in 2 Timothy 4:3-4:

"3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

We all need to examine our beliefs in light of the Bible and repent where necessary, If we truly love Christ, His church, and long for the salvation of the lost world around us.


How do we see God glorified through real transformation in the lives of people around us? First, by embracing and proclaiming the true gospel of which Jesus is the hero. The gospel in which He is not only the path to our happiness but is Himself our happiness. The Scriptures make it clear that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (Romans 1:16), and that God is ultimately sovereign in saving sinners by His grace through the preaching of that gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). To proclaim the biblical gospel means to be real with people about their sinful rebellion against a holy and just God, helping them see their desperate need of a Savior. It means pointing them to Jesus as the ultimate source of joy apart from any prosperity in this life. It means relying on the Spirit to work in hearts, not watering down the truth but have the courage and love to give it to them straight. We are responsible before God as those who have received grace and forgiveness to bring the message of grace and forgiveness to others. And when we acknowledge that salvation is ultimately God’s work it helps us maintain our dependence on Him to do His work through us. In other words, recognizing that God is the one that changes hearts, opens blind eyes, and sets the captives free, keeps us faithful to the biblical gospel, dependent on the Spirit, and fervent in prayer.

Secondly, not only to we need to proclaim this good news about Jesus we need to live in light of what He has done. We are called to live a life of love, that is worthy of the calling that we have received (Ephesians 4:1, 5:2) What should set us apart as followers of Jesus? What should we be known for as the church? For the attractive atmosphere of our buildings or our carefully crafted performances? No! It is not a smoothly executed Sunday service that is to be what distinguishes us as believers but our sacrificial love for each other, for the people around us, and even for our enemies. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). No one can just look out and see God but if we love each other, his love is brought to full expression among us (1 John 4:12). The very presence of God is made known among the people of God who have been empowered by the Spirit to love as Jesus loved. So we have the great privilege of speaking the truth of the gospel and of living a life of radical love towards others that demands dependence on the Holy Spirit and will lead others to ask the reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for organization, conversion growth, and vision for the future. I believe whole heartedly in forgiveness, and in showing grace to the fallen and seeing them restored in a healthy and God-honoring way. I believe there is joy in worshiping God through song, and I appreciate singing along with talented musicians. I believe that Scripture does apply to our individual struggles in life and that preachers should seek to communicate clearly and engagingly. I think that creativity and ingenuity have a place in the gathering and mission of the church. However, the moment we start depending on our skills, or the giftedness of a leader (regardless of his character), or the talent of musicians, or in our creativity, we have begun to slide down a slippery slope away from faithfulness to the gospel, away from dependence upon the Spirit, away from fervency in prayer, and toward the sinking sand of confidence in ourselves.

I have certainly fallen into aspects of this man-centered theology in the past. The temptation to embrace it is always there, and for anyone reading this (church leaders especially) who have slipped into that way of thinking or who have known nothing else, I can’t think of a better way to close than with the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:1-3 and in 1 Timothy 4:16 (NLT)

"I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: 2 Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching."

"16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you."

Nathan Cedarland is a servant-leader of Kaleo Community, a gospel-centered church in Aberdeen, WA. He is passionate about God, his family (his wife Julissa and their five kids), his church family, equipping the Spanish-speaking church throughout the Americas, and film-making.


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