« The Lord's Prayer | Main | Hershael York and Paul Harvey: One Thing in Common »

2008.04.14

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Chris

In all the attempts at kingdom building is it possible we have subtly devoured the deceitful delicacy of building our own? I think our identity must be found in Christ, not the size of the ministry or the coalition of such. To define one's self as “small” or “big” is to limit the Christ in us. Maybe it is the time the “Jeroboams” take the place of “Solomons” but one must take care he does not take the golden calf too, all in the name of self identification and preservation and not Christ dependence.

Bill

I have a difficult time thinking of a pastor who does not know his flock by name. I have often said that if our church ever grows beyond our capacity, I hope we have the courage to start another church, rather than tearing our down and building a bigger one.

Just my opinion.

Byroniac

Personally, I have always had misgivings about large churches, having come from small (some would even say tiny) churches my whole life. Churches do not always grow big because God did a big work there or particularly blessed the ministry, though that does happen apparently. Sometimes churches simply grow big for reasons that have nothing to do with God's wishes or blessings, but simply because the pastor attracts a large following, or preaches what congregations want to hear, or the church has acquired and actively uses resources many in the community find attractive. Perhaps I'm being unfair, but I always catch myself asking, what is the preacher not preaching out of the Word or doing that would be seen as offensive to a congregation in order for them to stay? Actually, upon writing that, I realize the overall unfairness of that statement, but it is not always untrue. I believe there are false converts in every church, and a good pastor must remain aware and responsible to preach the Gospel without hindrance or apology.

John D

There has always been big church bashing - its just gotten more vocal here lately.

I grew up in a smaller rural church, and like most people, I believed in the supposed "evils" of the big church.

"They sell out the gospel to attact a crowd."

"The church is built on the pastor's personality."

"The church grew by taking members from small churches."

They're all lies. As I went to college and then seminary, I went to bigger and bigger churches, finally finding myself as a member in a bona-fide mega church (attendance of 3500). And I found that these mega churches are VERY gospel centered. Big churches just belive Jesus when he said that he would draw all people to himself if he is lifted up. And for people in small churches to think that the gospel can't grow a church tells us quite a bit about what they believe when it comes to the power of the gospel, don't you think?

Now I'm back pastoring in a small church, and I'm finding that these things we believe about big churches are actually more true in a small church than a large one.

If a small church loses even one family, the budget is in jeopardy. As a result, I've found that many of my small church brethren are willing to accept almost any degree of theolgical crazyness - as long as it keeps the family in the church.

In small churches, the pastor can, and often has to do just about everything. Meaning that his ability and personality is the driving factor in all that the small church does. Making small churches much more personality driven than the large church that has many paid and unpaid leaders.

Like you Peter, I am not anti small church, nor am I pro big church. It just kills me when I see spiritual light weights throwing stones at a big church, simply because it is big enough that they can't miss.

Why don't we try to fix our own churches instead of try to tear others down to make ourselves feel good. That would be a novel thought, don't you think?

Bill

Ditto what Byroniac said. I don't think we can assume that a big church is a blessed church. I think it could also be fair to say that even if God blesses a person with a following, that it still might not be wise to build bigger and bigger buildings to hold the masses. We really are in the realm of opinion however because we don't have a clear teaching on this from scripture. I do think the (under)shepherd ought to know his sheep by name. As far as SBC politics go, I think it is pretty clear that there is a cult of personality that dominates, whether that is intentional on the part of the person seeking office or not. Big churches are good churches and big church pastors are the ones we seek. I think Peter is right that even (many) small church pastors are still thinking big church. That is natural, but I don't think it necessarily follows that it is right.

Byroniac

John D:

I can agree with several things in your comment.

However, you said, "And for people in small churches to think that the gospel can't grow a church tells us quite a bit about what they believe when it comes to the power of the gospel, don't you think?"

Are you suggesting that I insinuate this? If so, you are fortunately mistaken. I do believe in the power of the Gospel, and I believe that God-fearing, Gospel-preaching churches can and do grow (and apparently, can grow quite large). However, this growth does not come all at once, and sometimes growth occurs sporadically in between dry spells. It all depends on the operation of the Holy Spirit, who convicts the hearts of people and adds them to the church (Acts 2:41). I think it is the vanity of our flesh that attaches too much significance to numbers and tries to directly correlate that to the operation and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, which is not always so (but I have been guilty of assuming it several times in the past). As an aside, so you will know where I am coming from, I come from a Baptist Sovereign Grace perspective (Calvinist, or Reformed Baptist), and such churches are typically small for good reason, because such theology is not widely appealing. That makes it difficult for me to be objective and fair in my comments, but I am trying to do so.

peter

Thanks to all for your thoughts.

First, I do not believe that all big churches must be a place where God is working in a big way. I see nothing wrong, however, in viewing such a safe assumption--until it is demonstrated otherwise.

Secondly, it is well reflected in John D's words that the small church possesses its own set of problems not at all unlike a big church in many respects.

Thirdly, I need to be careful here, but I must register my suspicion that bashing Big Churches stems not infrequently from jealously and covetousness. I have experienced this 1st hand and even, in my earlier days, participated in it myself to my own shame. I felt myself as worthy a preacher, just as hard a worker, as committed a guy as any of them. Why did I never get an invitation to preach at the Pastor's Conference or nominated to office, etc.?

Fourthly, many attempt, as I above, to flatten out any ability or skill inequities by appeal to the spiritual nature of the occasion. We sometimes argue as if we are all equally effective, equally skilled, equally capable, equally successful as leaders all because we are equally called to ministry. Yet not many of us really adhere to such an assumption.

The very guys yahooing for a small church Pastor to be President of the SBC while bashing the reign of Big Churches constantly sing the praises of Big Church fat cats. Just not the "fats cats" of the traditional SBC. Rather, it's Erwin McManus or another nontraditional church growth guru they're known to drool about.

Nor does it remotely follow that just because we are all called to ministry, that my gifts/abilities should function on the same size or scale that my brother's do. To insist on such either from God or myself is the perfect formula for failure in effective ministry.

I guess more later. Grace. With that, I am...

Peter

Byroniac

Peter, you bring out some good points. And John D did too, in total fairness. I personally tend to distrust big churches based on my very limited personal experience and particular theological positions. But the Lord does give gifts to men as He pleases, and places them into ministry and position as He chooses. I prefer the smaller church, personally, but like Bill said, we do not have a clear teaching from Scripture on church size to the best of my knowledge.

Bill

I guess the point is, the only things we can say for sure about a big church or a small church, is that they are big or small. They might be so for any number of reasons. I have my own opinions that the big church model is not the best model, but John raises some good points about very small churches like the one I have attended all my Christian life.

Perhaps a good rubric by which to judge a church would be the ratio of members to attenders. That takes big vs small right out of the equation and provides, in my opinion, a better gauge of the health of the church and its leadership.

John D

Byroniac -
To argue that preaching the gospel will result in smaller churches does reveal a pessimistic outlook to the power of the gospel, no matter what confession we might sign. Whether or not that is what you meant is up to you I suppose. As a reformed SBCer myself, I am perfectly content in the fact that large churches are finding more of God's elect in their communities. Given that most are found in urban areas, it really doesn't surpirse me that there would be a large number of Christians, given population densities. Let us not forget that after Pentecost, the gospel was presented, the Spirit worked, and 3,000 were added to the church. So the church in Jerusalem went from under 100 to over 3,000 in about 5 minutes.


Peter -
I think you are on to something when you say that jealousy & covetness play some part in big church bashing. At least it has in my experiences.

I think Bill (above) has made a quite insightful comment. The only thing we can say about big churches is that they are big. And the only thing that we can say about small churches is that they are small.
We really can't judge the worth of a church by numbers, attendance, number of baptisms, ratio of attenders to members or anything like that.
The worth of the church is how faithful they are to the word of God, and nothing more.

Byroniac

John D:

You said, "To argue that preaching the gospel will result in smaller churches does reveal a pessimistic outlook to the power of the gospel, no matter what confession we might sign."

I disagree, but I am probably not following you here. The question is not, how powerful is the Gospel, but instead, how many are truly regenerated and brought to conversion? Arguing strictly from within a Calvinist viewpoint, God will redeem only the elect, and then only as many as are present. Whatever that finite number is, it is known to God and made manifest over time. It is not known to us, so we preach the Gospel to all without distinction. I'm certainly not pessimistic about the power of the Gospel in any shape, fashion, or form. However, it's very possible I'm too pessimistic about how many are genuinely born again by the Spirit, but again, I can only base this on my personal experience (often a flawed indicator, I realize).

Bill

I'm pretty sure a large number of the converts at Pentecost were pilgrims, so they would have eventually returned to their own communities and hopefully begun churches there. I've no doubt that there is some envy of big churches but I can say with confidence that isn't the case with me. I would not join a megachurch unless I had no other choice. As I have said a number of times, the pastor should know his flock by name. I don't know what that translates into, numbers wise, but I'm pretty sure it isn't 5000.

I don't say that a members to attenders ratio is a perfect measure but it sure beats the member roll as a measure.

Let's not bash big churches, but if it takes being a pastor of a mega-church to have a significant voice within the SBC, isn't it fair to say there might be a problem?

Chris Johnson

Brother Peter,

For some 30+ years in ministry I think I have always heard clamoring about the big church compared to the small church…It is unfortunate, but a fact of counting noses and dollars within the SBC. If it’s not the total dollars, it’s the percentages….it seems to be part of the game.

Consequently, the SBC needs a man of God to lead it….whether he be a Pastor or Layman Leader, he must… “above all” be a man of God…a man that understands the Word of God, ….not simply a great emotion magnet or appealing orator (we have enough pretenders and showman). It matters little to me whether he worships with a small group of folks or whether he worships with thousands….he should be a man dedicated to prayer and dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ in word and in deed.

May that man become known this year….

Blessings,
Chris

cb scott

Peter,

I can appreciate this post greatly and if you heard my sermon at the Small Church Conference you would have to admit I am being truthful.

I will take one exception to your post though.

You said; "....big churches are big because God's doing something big or has done something big there."

Peter, that is not necessarily the "rule." It is also not necessarily the rule that some churches are small because God is doing nothing there.

It is a "rule" that in a church where the shepherd models after THE GOOD SHEPHERD and the flock hungers to be a New Testament church God is doing something there no matter the size of the church.

It is God who determines the size of a true NT church because it is Him who will add to it whom He will.

The faithful pastor will be blessed by God. The unfaithful pastor will not. The faithful church will be blessed of God. The unfaithful church will not.

The size of a faithful church is in the hands of Holy God. It is our calling to be faithful to plant and water. It is God who will give the increase.

God blesses faithful pastors and churches. That is the "rule."

cb

The comments to this entry are closed.