Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reflections In A Big Church

I don't like crowds, to me a crowd is just an angry mob waiting to happen. To me little good comes from huge crowds, huge good comes from little crowds. Where do you think you could find justice: a jury of 12 or a mob of 12,000?

And when you take a huge crowd and put them in a church many things can happen, some of them good: my 'bible study partner',  John MacArthur, is in a big church. Raul Reis, whom I truly admire and firmly believe God is guiding, is in a big church. Greg Laurie, huge church. Chuck Smith started a HUGE church, he started by preaching the Word of God to hippies and surfers and even facing death continues with the same fervor he had during the Jesus movement. 

On the other hand, big churches, really big churches, contain people I don't trust so much at all: Tony Campolo, Joel Osteen, Rodney Howard-Brown, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyers, C. Peter Wagner, T.D. Jakes, Steven Furtic...  None of these people I would follow to a free buffet. However I've met pastors glowing with the love of God in small churches I'd follow into a mine field to retrieve a live grenade. 

There's a lot of problems with little churches and to me the most annoying are cliques and squabbles, but these are the things that make people people. It's what makes family family. People complain that one of the biggest problems with small churches is the lack of money, but to me that's a blessing because a shortage of money exposes irresponsibility immediately and it necessitates proper stewardship of God's resources.

My bride will say that I'm prejudice against mega-churches because I hate crowds. She knows me so well. In a mega-church I must sit in the front row and not turn around so I won't see the monstrous crowd. I don't like crowds because the Good Lord has blessed me with discernment and I know that crowds are not the proper human condition. The only time I enjoy big churches is during worship, when 4000 voices are lifted in song to praise the lord it's a moving experience. However most worship music I've heard in big churches has little to do with praising the lord and  In my eyes there's three huge problems with huge churches that can't be overcome by their positives: Size, Pride, and $

Size is a huge downfall, in a mega-church it's not realistic to believe that the pastor even knows your name, and it's beyond expectation to think that the average pastor in the average mega-church would stop by your house for coffee and a chat after service just because you asked him. In a small church if Sven Torvoldsen fell in the parking lot and broke his hip this would send a shock wave through the church, I've seen it happen. When it was announced at service a collective gasp went through the congregation. Immediately the women's ministry would be mobilized to provide food to his shocked family. The prayer chain would be activated and prayers for his recovery fervently and faithfully offered. Pastor Lovejoy and Deacon Bleu (along with Mrs. Lovejoy and Mrs. Bleu) would be at the emergency room comforting the Torvoldsen clan (of course Pastor Lovejoy and Deacon Bleu would be there, they were the ones that provided first aid to Sven when he fell. They even used the church secretary's favorite shawl to cover him when they treated him for shock, because she offered it). In a mega-church the primary response would be "Sven who?" And who would be called first? The prayer warriors or the legal team? The level of deep personal caring is so much less in a crowd of thousands than it is in a small close knit family. 

You members of a massive mega-church, when was the last time you were able to go up to Pastor Bighair after service and say "When you said Jesus refused to recognize the authority of the pharisees what chapter and verse were you using?" Chances are real good Pastor Bighair is not available, but Pastor Lovejoy in the small church is standing by the door to answer these questions, and if he doesn't have his notes handy, you can bet that you will get an email. 

A huge church doesn't have time for the little person, and if you don't show up your absence won't be noticed. Children in a big church are under guard to protect them from strangers. Children in a small church have dozens of adopted aunts and uncles who will watch out for their welfare along with whomever is on Nursery Duty. New believers in a mega church are brought forward for an emotional prayer with Pastor Bighair then released to the congregation to find their way, while in a small church the congregation knows them and is happy to help and mentor them. 

Another serious drawback to a big church is the fact that the laity is not involved. In a small church a much larger percentage of the congregation is involved in the activities of the church, from cleanup day to the pastor selection committee. Involvement promotes ownership. A parishioner can go to a mega church their entire life and never be asked to do anything, which does nothing for the overall sense of community in the church. They're not members, they're observers. Meanwhile in a church of less than 200 the average parishioner gets involved, helps in the kitchen, hands out bulletins, maybe even reads announcements, this involvement draws them closer into the church family.

The biggest drawback to a big church is that a Big church needs Big attendance to maintain it's Big budget. Pastor Bighair can't afford to upset his audience, so he leaves out a few things from his sermons. Like sin, and repentance, and judgement, and damnation. Pastor Lovejoy knows his flock, he knows that if he's been teaching the bible properly when he mentions sin, and repentance, and judgement, and damnation, he's not relating foreign concepts. His flock become Bereans properly armed with knowledge of their wretched nature, faith in their Savior, and non-bleed-thru highlighters.

Pride. This is God's most hated sin, pride is the root of all sins which is probably why God hates it so much. Personally I know I don't have the humility to do what Raul Reis does every Sunday, to stand before thousands upon thousands of people, to be the focus of their admiring gazes, to preach the Word of God in such a way that it fills their hearts. The sheer adulation he must receive! The constant fawning of his fans, the praise and adoration that gets directed toward a mega church pastor (when it should ALL be directed toward God) is bad for a human psyche. Like any other substance in this life, a little can be good, but a lot is poison. In my opinion this is partially why Rob Bell suffered a theological melt-down. (He's becoming famous for telling Christians to repent for opposing sin) And once pride enters the soul, it's a slippery slope leading toward heresy

Watch Hollywood stars and musical performers, as their adulation grows so does their errant behavior. We've seen Britney Spears melt-down, Lindsay Lohan melt-down, we're watching Justin Beiber's behavior fall far below accepted levels. Former self professed believers like Katy Perry and Whitney Houston get throngs of adoring fans and suddenly God becomes their enemy. I personally don't know how people like John MacArthur and stand up under such pressure. The Holy Spirit must truly be guarding him.

Pride causes pastors to say things like "We had 4,000 warm bodies in the seats last Sunday!" Attendance is to be worshiped, and high numbers are an idol. Oh I wish I could ask Pastor Bighair How many of those 4,000 are truly saved? How many are struggling? How many said the sinners prayer and went right back to their sins? Did you even bother mention sin last Sunday?

$. Unless you're ministering to those in the Alaskan wilderness or African bush NO CHURCH NEEDS A PRIVATE JET OR PRIVATE HELICOPTER. If your campus is so big that you need to heli-commute, get an assistant. There's probably not a lot of church owned helicopters and private jets, and I'll bet that the total number of church owned helicopters and private jets that are being used as air ambulances for the needy when not hauling Pastor Bighair to his next appointment is hovering around 0. (Which, coincidentally, is the same number of charismatic faith healers that donate their gifts of healing to childrens' hospitals)

Big money is a burden, tithes and donations coming in from thousands of adoring observers, a mega-church is awash in money. It seems that the mega-church puts more effort into creatively spending the bushels of cash than it does in assuring the salvation of its members. Airplanes, helicopters, a campus, a huge paid staff, electronic devices rivaling NASA's flight control center. When visiting a mega church in Colorado Springs CO I was both shocked and dismayed at the sheer opulence of the 'salvation factory' (I no longer call mega-churches "salvation-factories" as I can't prove any salvation is happening inside a church that refuses to acknowledge our sinful nature being the need for salvation) I left the hollow frippery and tawdry sumptuousness of the Roman Catholic church for the hollow frippery and tawdry sumptuousness of an evangelical shrine to bad rock and roll flavored noise?

Right then and there I realized my number one "No" when it comes to church shopping: Goat Food. The small church has pots of Folgers, day old donuts from Safeway, and a warm family. Meanwhile the megachurch cathedral of earthly delights has Starbucks and baked delicacies that would have Marie Antoinette giggling in giddy delight (for a price). With its food, high end coffee, book store, souvenir stand, and bottomless collection plate the mega church is a paean to the almighty dollar. There's nothing wrong with raising money if you're a good steward of God's resources but the unbelievers see the crystal palaces, the helicopter landing pads, the valet parking and thinks nothing good comes from this. And I have to agree - I worship the stepson of a carpenter. My savior had no place to rest his head, what kind of hypocrisy is it to make a monument to His legacy by erecting a 10 million dollar campus devoted to worshiping a penniless rabbi?

Study after study after study shows the inherent superiority of the small church over the mega church but mega-churches are popping up all over. Why? One reason: $. If Pastor Bighair wants to save a lot of souls the right way to do it would not be to build one massive money machine but to build numerous small interconnected churches that actually care about each and every sheep, rather than try to cram as many goats as possible through the door.