I don’t write as much as I used to, but I still read dozens of blogs every week…for encouragement, as well as staying current with what’s going on in the world. It’s part of my daily routine.
A lot of what I read has to do with trends in church ministry and organization, written by some of the biggest of the big dogs in church leadership…book authors, consultants, mega pastors, theologians, church growth “experts”, academics.
Anymore, most days I’m growing a little weary of some of the stuff I’m reading.
Specifically, I’m really getting tired of hearing about what’s wrong with the church I serve. I’m tired of reading about what needs to get fixed. I’m tired of being told about the five reasons we’re not growing and the seven steps to breaking the 250 barrier and the nine characteristics of successful church leaders.
Unfortunately, these teachings (and so many others like them) assume some things I don’t necessarily believe to be universally true.
They write as if getting bigger is the goal. I know of no Kingdom-centered person who denies the priority of spreading the message of hope in Jesus to as many people as possible. I share a common understanding and commitment to introducing Jesus to the nations. However, I just don’t believe following that mandate and growing large churches means the same thing.
They write as if getting bigger is better. No model of church size, style, organization, or practice is perfect, or even preferable. Some people are drawn to crowds. Some people are repelled by them. Both of those groups should be affirmed and encouraged. Sadly, in our modern church world, only one of those groups is treated with dignity and respect. The other is consistently devalued. Sometimes blatantly. Sometimes with subtlety. Sometimes with a condescending “pat on the head”…
They write as if growth can be reduced to a formula. My master’s degree is in church growth. I studied under some of the premier teachers of this school of thought and practice. I was taught the practices of successful, growing churches could be imitated and that, in time, our growth would be also. Today, this teaching has been re-packaged and sold at dozens of yearly church leadership conferences around the country (plus cool bands) for a tidy $2k a pop… or marketed online to small church leaders for a mere $249. Sheesh. What kind of small church has that kind of dough laying around? We’ve got toilets to unplug and signs to fix. I haven’t believed what I was taught about church growth in graduate school for decades. Don’t tell anybody.
They write as if everybody would want to be part of a megachurch. The truth is, everybody doesn’t want to be part of a megachurch. I am part of a church family full of people who prefer to worship, study, and serve in a smaller environment. Their reasons for being drawn to smaller are as diverse as those who are drawn to large crowds. And their reasons can be just as godly, just as purposeful (or missional, if you’re hip), just as healthy, and just as valid, as reasons that draw others to something big. Both have equal value. Both are needed. I’m just growing weary of the self-promoting of big, at the expense of the continual disrespecting of smaller, just because big has a larger platform.
They write as if they know my church family. Even though these writers and promoters and conference creators are really, really smart, they are unfamiliar with the flow and character of my church family. They don’t know what makes us tick. They don’t fully understand why many tried the megachurch and found it lacking. It seems like they don’t understand how this can feel like “home” to many. They make unfounded assumptions that there is something inherently flawed in a smaller church and, therefore, something flawed with somebody who would choose smaller over bigger. It’s reflected in the way they write and speak. Although I don’t think it reflects their true heart and motive, I’m still offended by their judgment. I feel like I want to take some of them behind the woodshed…
They write as if my leadership giftedness and philosophy of ministry is deficient. If I would just follow their “best practices”. If only I would let them identify my leadership weaknesses. If only I would ruthlessly evaluate my ministry strategy and organizational structure and adopt their recommendations…I, too, could become a large church…or maybe even a megachurch…pastor. Well, they are making some assumptions about me, about my experience, about my education and preparation for ministry, about my theology, and about my character that are untrue and unfair. I am not deficient. My worth as a pastor has never been nor will it ever be connected to expansion.
I could probably go on, but I’ll stop. These are not sour grapes. This is not the rant of a pastor who fell short and is deflecting. It’s simply my reality. I served for years in the megachurch world. I know it well. I’ve served in the smaller church world for years. I know it well, also. Both can be unhealthy. Both can be effective. Both can connect with people the other can’t.
It’s time both got equally affirmed.
There. I think I feel better now.