I have been getting some feedback about past posts regarding my thoughts on mega-churches. So it’s time to come clean and let you know where I am on this topic. I am going to post about mega-churches over a number of weeks.
To get the ball rolling I am going to give you a few basic assumptions and thoughts that I have about mega-churches.
All forms of the church are okay by me
First, I do not think that there is any one form of the church that is “biblical” or somehow more accurate scripturally than another. I would define a local church very simply:
- The people see themselves as a church and they meet together in some regular way
- They have recognized leadership
- They observe the sacraments (Communion and Baptism – you may include others)
- They do their best to follow Christ together
That, my friends, is a very broad definition. It also fits pretty much everywhere in the world I have seen the church at work.
You might have many other things to add to your definition. Whatever. That’s fine, but I don’t think you can substantiate too many more things. For example, some suggest that a local church “Practices discipline.” Well, if that’s true, there are many church in the US that aren’t churches.
There is a lot of sloppy ecclesiology out there
One of the tragedies of the English language is the word “church.” It’s like the word love, which means everything from sacrificial love given toward a son or a daughter to the act of sex. The word “church” means both the local representations of the body (what we call “local churches”) and the church universal. Most of the time that there is chest thumping about what rightly “belongs” to the church, people are talking about the local church. For example, a pastor recently said to me, “Parachurches aren’t the church!” What he meant, of course, was that they aren’t the local church. Of course they are a part of the body of Christ (the church universal). The fact is… most New Testament references to the church are not focused on single local churches. They more often refer to the Kingdom of God or the church universal (which, in my view, have great overlap but that’s for another blog post).
This point is important to me because I think that many local churches assume the role of the universal church. An outcome of this is the idea that the church is at the center of all God is doing. Well… yeah, but not YOUR LOCAL CHURCH. You are just one small slice of the pie.
Forms have consequences
If we like to have huge mega-churches with $38 million dollar buildings we can. But that will effect the end result of how we do ministry, how the world sees us, who is attracted, who is repelled, etc. The mega-church form has big implications for what the gospel representation in a community might look like.
Forms shape meaning. They are important.
The mega-churches are God’s churches
I remember a time when I was a young missionary recruit, fresh on the field. I was being critical of the few churches in the place where I was living. My mentor (and boss) said to me, “You had better be careful about criticizing the church. It’s the church that God has placed here.” Wow. That set me back a bit; and it was true.
What is happening in American evangelicalism is that the largest churches and the smallest churches seem to be where there is growth and vitality. The number of large churches is growing. This is a movement and significant change in how we do church in the United States. We must accept and recognize this movement as from the Lord.
How we do leadership matters more than just about anything else in ecclesiology. As a missionary in a foreign country one of my primary jobs was to understand the leadership dynamic in that culture so that I could plant a church that would be effective in that culture. Of course, one can choose to change culture as well. It might be best to abrogate the cultural norms if they don’t reflect the Kingdom of God.
In a future post, I will flesh out what concerns me about the leadership paradigm of the mega-church movement. Let me “seed” the topic by asking you to reflect on this question: “How many people would it take to lead a spiritual movement in the United States that transforms our country of over 300 million people?”
Bigger is not always better
Many of us will agree this statement. However, our culture tells us that successful churches are big churches. When pastors meet, the first question that gets asked is, “How big is your church?” I think it is very difficult for us to separate size and success when it comes to churches.
An assumption we have is that a pastor of a large and growing church is a successful pastor. It is hard to escape the vortex that says, “a big church means ministry success.” I disagree with this. Perhaps large size is an indicator of something wrong in the “eccliosystem.”
Missionary work is about getting people to change their worldview from a non-Christian view, to a Christian one
The word “missions” means just about anything in the church today. For this discussion, I am going to agree with Rodney Stark’s view that missionaries are about getting people to become Christians. Feeding the poor is great, but it’s not missionary work. Doing community development is great, but it’s not missionary work. Supporting the local pro-life center is super, but it’s not missionary work. I could go on.
I know that Francis of Assisi has said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” I say bunk to that view of mission. When a church categorizes something as the responsibility of the missions team that doesn’t mean that it becomes missionary work. Missionaries are supposed to convert people.
Whew – that was a lot. Please give me your thoughts by commenting if you would like!