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Church Leadership

Dear Megachurch: Adam’s list…

Part 1

Last week, NorthPoint young adult pastor Sammy Adebiyi wrote an article that was published on ChurchLeaders.com which offended some people. In fairness, he was very gracious as comments flowed in pointing out the many flaws in his post. In radio, I’d call this post “shock jock material.” He called a bunch of people names in the headlines of the post and then quickly backed off when the nasty calls for his head came in. (A legit engagement strategy if you ask me.)

If his post had merely been confessional about why HE used to make fun of megachurches before he worked at one, I could have read the post, shared a laugh, and moved along. Instead, he used inclusive language… “WE“…  to make it seem like he represented all small church voices.

Here’s Sammy’s list of reasons for why he used to make fun of megachurches:

  1. We don’t know you
  2. We are sitting on the sidelines
  3. We are jealous
  4. We are hypocrites
  5. We are arrogant
Read Sammy’s explanations for each item here.

I completely agree with point #1. It is easy to make fun of people you don’t know. I’ve spent most of my life in smallish churches, places with fewer than 500 people. In my mind, people who worked at monster American churches were unknown to me and unknowable. What I found in getting to know a pile of these folks, including ones who work at Sammy’s church, is that they are essentially the same types of people who work in small churches. They work hard, love their work, love the people in their ministry, have problems, have doubts, etc. But at the end of the day I don’t find many differences between a megachurch middle school pastor and an associate at a small PCUSA church who oversees birth-college ministries. People are people. 

Maybe I’m just sensitive? But it sure felt like the next 4 points were Sammy exhibiting that he doesn’t really know many people who go to or work at small churches. I read those and thought… “Actually, I don’t know anyone who thinks this way!” In fact, by the time I was done reading his points I actually hurt for the hard-working, God-honoring, Jesus loving brothers and sisters I know who give their lives to their ministries.

Part 2

But I’m willing to put that all that aside. I’m not really mad at Sammy for saying what he said. Again, had he written the same thing from his perspective instead of “we” than all would have been easily forgotten.

The real shame here is that Sammy’s post wasted a perfectly good blog title without having any fun! I mean, there really are good things worth poking fun at, tongue-in-cheek-style.

So I made a little list, which I’m sure will get me in trouble, but why not?

So, why do I make fun of people who think their megachurch is the reason a cat meows?

  1. You think 20,000 people is big and makes you a big deal. I mean seriously– 35,000 people go to Qualcomm Stadium on a Saturday to watch no-name San Diego State football. 20,000 is a decent crowd for an NBA game. Compared to the relative population of our country, none of us are that big of a deal.
  2. You think it’s cool to have a lion in your services. No seriously, a church in Texas had a live lion and lamb in a recent sermon series. It’s stuff like this that makes me shake my head. Yeah, you have too many resources for your preaching when you think… “You know what would make that illustration better? Let’s bring a flipping lion right into the building!” Jesus could have done this easily– but he choose to cast out demons and heal people instead. Just sayin’.
  3. You think it’s OK to have a security detail, personal assistants, and “people.” The Washington Post ran a story yesterday joking about Newt Gingrich’s Secret Service detail. The candidates campaign is so derailed that he had to take the train from Washington D.C. to New York for an event yet he still has 4 Secret Service agents watching him 24 hours per day. Jesus didn’t walk around with a group of homies watching his back and running his schedule. In fact, I seem to remember him rebuking a disciple for cutting a dude’s ear off in the Garden. If you need people, my assumption is that you might need to spend more time with your people. But I am probably wrong in that assumption.
  4. You think Jesus’ idea of multiplication was a bigger building or a helicopter to get from one campus to another. I’ve had 4-5 conversations with church staff about the lengths their teaching pastor goes through to speak at multiple campuses on a Sunday morning. I know of 2 churches who employ a helicopter for this purpose. A helicopter. Paul only left Timothy in Ephesus because his chopper was in the shop. (Not naming names intentionally on this one.)
  5. You think you created a big organization. My observation is that most of these big churches don’t really know how they grew from a staff of 5 to 50 to 250 or from 200 people to 15,000 people. It kind of happened gradually and because you knowingly or unknowingly made a whole lot of great decisions. It just cracks me up how fast they think they’ve invented an organizational or reporting structure or decision-making processes. In reality, it’s the same thing that happened to every major denomination and non-profit organization.

Part 3

All jokes aside, in a post-modern, post-Christian society– it’s going to take all types of churches to make a significant impact. Sure, we can poke fun at one another and have a good time with that. But in the end, we’re all on the same team. The bottom line is we need more churches and all kinds of them. Big ones, little ones, crazy ones, practical ones, missional one, unintentional ones, house ones, prison ones, neighborhood ones, institutional ones… and a whole bunch of churches who don’t call themselves churches!

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Church Leadership

Megachurches canceling services today?

Last night my friend Gavin Richardson posted an interesting quandary on Twitter. To paraphrase, “Why is it that in some parts of the world people die trying to go to church while here in the states megachurches are canceling services because they did a big service Christmas eve?

Here was my response, “Easy. It’s a different Gospel. The Gospel of convenience/comfort bears no resemblance to one of suffering.

Let’s unpack this

In Iraq, Christians gathered for Christmas Eve services in defiance of people who threatened their lives. (And had proven the threat just 60 days ago!)

Throughout Iraq, churches canceled or toned down Christmas observances this year, both in response to threats of violence and in honor of the nearly 60 Christians killed in October, when militants stormed a Syrian Catholic church and blew themselves up. Since the massacre, more than 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad for the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, with others going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey. Though the exact size of Iraq’s Christian population is unclear, by some estimates it has fallen to about 500,000 from a high of 1.4 million before the American-led invasion of 2003. Iraq’s total population is about 30 million.

Read the rest at the New York Times (Here’s the article Gavin linked to in his tweet)

Unfortunately, Iraqi’s aren’t alone. There are Christians killed for worshiping Jesus every day. Throughout the world believers in Jesus suffer daily. If you’d like to hear their stories and understand their struggles more, I’d recommend subscribing to the Persecution Podcast published by Voice of the Martyrs.

For a large part of the world loving Jesus is tied closely to suffering. Many are expelled from their families for following Jesus. Some are sold as slaves. Some are imprisoned. Some experience economic inequity. Many are breaking the law by meeting– even in private. Many are left as outcasts. Many go hungry while their neighbors do not.

In the United States, some Christians won’t gather for services the day after Christmas because their leaders want to give everyone a day off. Their Bible apparently includes an out-clause in Exodus 20:8-11. Their Bible reads, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, except after Christmas when we give everyone the day off so they can spend time with family.

After gearing up for Christmas services throughout this week, several megachurches will wind down by canceling Sunday worship on Dec. 26th.

Pastors and church leaders say taking that day off allows the staff and volunteers more time to spend with their family during a traditionally busy season.

Read the rest at Christian Post

For a large part of the United States loving Jesus is tied closely to convenience. We do things when it works for us. But when it is more convenient to not do something, we pretend like we don’t even see it.

To summarize: In some parts of the world people risk death threats to worship while in other places in the world we’re taking the Sabbath off so we can spend time with family.

Two different worlds

We, in the United States, dishonor those in the persecuted church when we decide not to meet because it’d be more convenient. Any time you hear a pastor justify something like this by saying “we are putting families first,” you need to call them out. We are called to put God first. Period. 52 Sunday’s per year. 365 days per year. 24 hours per day.

Why?

The church is our real family. Coming to church, small group, or other forms of community is real family time. Partnering with those who suffer for the sake of Christ by continuing to worship no matter what is a real family expression of love. Healthy families get together. We suffer together. It is what we do. It is who we are. More importantly, it is who Jesus told us we need to be.

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:26-30

Taking the Sunday after Christmas off to spend time with family? What a slap in the face to the concept that the church is your family! This is the churches way of telling its congregant… “You aren’t my real family.

This is what happens when church becomes staff-driven and about programs as opposed to the simple expressions described in the New Testament. (Where one person, maybe, was employed… per city!) Church becomes about doing what is best for the staff and what is convenient to the programs. Staff and programs aren’t bad– they are good. But the organization isn’t and shouldn’t ever be about them. They are there purely to serve the family.

We are to be real family to those without family. We are to be about the business of loving neighbors. We are to take care of widows and orphans. We are to feed the poor. We are to be about suffering alongside our brothers and sisters. We are to be about sacrificing for their sake.

Be reminded that the early church spread fastest, furthest, and had the deepest impact when we had no paid staff, no property, and met in homes or borrowed spaces.

Instead, they depended on one another as equal. Paul paints the picture again and again that the church is a body. We are inter-dependent. When one part suffers we all suffer. And when another part rejoices we all rejoice. Let no one in the church be more important than the other!

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? James 2:1-6a

In the end, the megachurches who take today off (and the myriad of churches who follow their lead, since they are “church growth experts“) are exhibiting the hole in their Gospel. Not to vilify them– but to expose the places we need to help them repair. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time but they got it wrong.

No more groupthink in church leadership. Instead, let’s move forward by compassionately living out what God has clearly told us to do in the Bible.

Categories
Church Leadership

Medium-sized church crisis


I guess this diagram is rather self-explanatory, eh? Over the last 4-5 months I’ve had several conversations in which the discussion centered on this diagram. So I submit it to you to chew on.

Thoughts?

If you are seeing the same thing, what are the plusses and minuses of this trend?

If you think I’m nuts, let me know!

Categories
Church Leadership

3 common responses to Megachurches

There are a lot of responses to megachurches. You know, these are the really big churches in our country… some of them with more than 10,000 weekly attendees.

One thing I’ve noticed is that Christians have a fascination with these places. Willow Creek, Saddleback, North Point,  Lakewood, etc. It seems as though everyone has an opinion about successful churches. I think we can shorten these responses to 3 categories:

  1. Ignore completely.  Nothing interesting to look at or think about.
  2. Accuse of wrong-doing. To be that successful they must have made a deal with the devil like the old movie Crossroads.
  3. Principlize all that they do.  To get results like they do, we have to make principles out of all that they do.

What do you think? Are there more responses to this that I’m missing?