The Church You've Always Wanted


Safe pasture.

It sounds so inviting--and it is, for ordinary Christians and church leaders alike. If you're a pastor, safe pasture is what your sheep long for more than anything. And if you're a Christian whose church involvements and experiences have left you feeling curiously empty, you know how gladly you'd trade it all for a place where the grass really is greener . . .

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Safe pasture.

It sounds so inviting--and it is, for ordinary Christians and church leaders alike. If you're a pastor, safe pasture is what your sheep long for more than anything. And if you're a Christian whose church involvements and experiences have left you feeling curiously empty, you know how gladly you'd trade it all for a place where the grass really is greener . . .
where relationships with fellow believers are deep and restorative . . .
where worship flows not from techniques, but from hearts communing with God . . .
where the gospel's promises aren't carrots on a stick, but experienced realities . . .
where Jesus, the Great Shepherd, shows up in transformative ways that the corporation-CEO approach to church just can't produce.

Sound too good to hope for? Glenn Wagner has wonderful news: Safe pasture isn't just your desire--it's God's. It is, and has always been, his vision for the church. Somewhere in our obsession with the big and impressive, with results-driven infrastructures and top-to-bottom ministries, we seem to have lost sight of this. But God wants to help us reclaim the kind of church where sheep aren't merely produced, but thrive in every way.

The Church You've Always Wanted doesn't tell you how to "do church" more effectively--you've already been there and done that. Rather, this profound book will reorient your whole concept of church: the things that really matter and the things that really build hearts and lives.

In part one, you'll go in search of safe pasture and examine what church really is.

In part two, you'll take a long look at what happens in safe pasture, where people exhausted by the religious fast lane find rest, wheregrace and growth replace sin-management, and where God's presence energizes true, rich Christian community.

In part three, you'll gain insights for the central, burning question: How can we create safe pasture?

Filled with true-life illustrations and ringing with passion, this book is destined to become a spiritual polestar for pastors, leaders, and everyone with a heart for God's church. Cutting through conventional wisdom and traditional assumptions, it points the way home to the church all of us so deeply desire.

Author Biography: E. Glenn Wagner is pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has served as vice president for Promise Keepers. His books include Escape from Church, Inc., Your Pastor's Heart, Strategies for a Successful Marriage, Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, The Awesome Power of Shared Beliefs, and The Heart of a Godly Man. He and his wife, Susan, have two children.
Steve Halliday is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780310239369
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Publication date: 6/1/1902
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Read an Excerpt

What I s Church?

...God's household, which is the

church of the living God, the pillar

and foundation of the truth.

1 TIMOTHY 3: 15

While at home one evening in Colorado, I received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a member of the pastoral search committee for Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. After a few years with a para-church ministry, I had been praying about returning to the pastorate--it's both my calling and my passion--but I felt unsure about God's timing. After a brief conversation, I agreed to look over some material that he promised to send, then chat further about possible interest.

In a few days I found myself looking at a sixty-page, professionally printed book that covered everything you'd ever want to know about a church. While I had been aware of Calvary Church and its ministry for several years, this book filled in some gaps in my knowledge. After reading the book, for reasons both personal and pastoral, I wasn't too sure I was their guy. One phrase in particular stuck out: "We are a megachurch." I had to talk about that. You see, I believe the megachurch model cannot help but build competition, pride, and arrogance. Such pride grows both internally (within the church) and externally (toward other churches). It can show up internally between various ministries vying for volunteers and limited budgetary dollars. Even the media often describe a church by stating its attendance or membership figures, often implying that the validity of what a ministry says or does comes in direct proportion to its size or rate of growth. While those who have adopted the megachurch model have intended none of this, it almost can't help but take place. Ultimately, the model hurts people. I agree with author Stephen Macchia, who writes, "We are convinced that when we set up models for churches to follow, they are doomed to fail or at best be successful for a short time. It's time we move away from trying to be carbon copies of our superheroes (and their respective churches)."

Over the next couple of phone conversations and later in a face-to-face interview, I explained to the good folks from Calvary that I believed the "megachurch" as defined by the church-growth movement to be a harmful concept, too often filled with ego, pride, and programs. While it was launched with good intentions and pure hearts, the model's inherent flaws made me consider it just another dead horse trying to be ridden.

I watched the eyes of my interviewers, looking for a sign that I would be written off as some kind of radical nut who clearly had no clue what it took to pastor a large church. But instead, I began to hear the real story of Calvary--this time not via the details, facts, figures, and numbers of the book, but from the heart of God's hurting and broken people.

Watch the Foundation!

Calvary Church was founded in May 1939 and enjoyed steady growth over the years. Then, in the early 1970s and on into the 1980s, things exploded. Growth skyrocketed, and Calvary Church became "the place to be" in Charlotte. At the same time, it became the place to criticize in both secular and sacred circles (i.e., "they must be doing something wrong if it's growing that fast").

Calvary Church set the pace for the churches of the city with a list of "firsts" a mile long. It was the largest with the biggest programs, most ministries, and so on. Strong, biblical preaching and stirring evangelistic messages enabled all of this to come about.

"From 1973 to 1980 was a time when many people came to Christ or recommitted their lives to Christ," recalls a long-time elder at Calvary. "Our pastor's preaching filled a vacuum of soul dissatisfaction, both within and outside of the church in Charlotte. Leadership did not seek growth for growth's sake. We really were in a reactionary mode rather than a proactive mode. Our focus was containment of rapid growth. As a result, we focused on programs more than people. We did typical church things and used typical church measures such as dollars, numbers, and programs to judge effectiveness. The intentions were good; the measures were wrong, which led to wrong methods to achieve them. At the same time, self-absorption in the success of the church did lead to a certain pride and arrogance. Good intentions do not necessarily guarantee godly results." In the midst of tremendous excitement, the church made a decision to relocate and build a major campus. Enthusiasm ran high . . . but soon tensions ran even higher. The relocation and building project took more than four years, ballooning in cost to more than thirty-nine million dollars. Hurting and disillusioned people began to seep away from the church. The local newspaper, wrongly supposing it had another "PTL" fiasco on its hands, had a field day, and the church began to lose much of its credibility and effectiveness. While the core of the church remained intact, the broader congregation began to struggle. Individualistic perspectives explaining the church's dilemma multiplied beyond counting. After I arrived, some folks took it upon themselves to send me lengthy letters filled with years of complaints and questions. Someone sent me a library full of every article written about Calvary in the local paper. A flood of unsigned notes of "helpful information" also poured onto my desk. If any of these folks saw me as some sort of ecclesiastical savior, they would soon learn they were dead wrong. From my perspective, most had missed the point. Few seemed to be asking why the house was starting to come down.

Remember the parable Jesus told about two houses that had been built on differing foundations? One builder chose sand, the other rock. From the outside, both houses looked sound. Both builders used quality materials. They both employed reputable contractors, excellent carpenters, choice wood, and so forth. Both wanted to build the best homes possible. The difference in their respective facilities could be traced to their dissimilar foundations. When a fierce storm hit both structures, only the house built on rock withstood the howling winds and driving rain. The other fell flat.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9
Introduction: Time to Dismount? . 11
PART ONE: In Search of Safe Pasture . . . 19
1. What Is Church? . 21
2. Being Before Doing . . . . 45
3. Chicken Soup . . . for the Flesh? . . . . 61
PART TWO: What Happens in Safe Pasture? . . . 77
4. Lambs at Rest . . . . 79
5. That My Heart May Sing 91
6. A Buffer of Love and Grace . . 105
7. Invisible No Longer . . . 117
8. More Than Sin Management . 127
9. The Purpose of It All . . 141
10. A Powerfully Attractive Force . 152
PART THREE: How Can We Create Safe Pasture? . . . 163
11. A Place Rooted in the Person of God 165
12. A Body Focused on the Real Jesus . . 183
13. A Fellowship Celebrating God in Authentic Worship . . 198
14. A Community of Ever-Deepening
Relationships . . . 214
15. The Formula for Growth . . . . 232
Epilogue: Joy in the Journey 249
Notes . . . 252
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