Sunday, April 10, 2016

Size matters???

Pastor Andy Stanley issued an apology on social media for a recent sermon in which he said that people who go to a small church "are so stinkin' selfish."  The senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, one of the largest churches in the U.S., posted on Twitter on Thursday expressing remorse for his remarks last weekend.  "The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend's message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize," tweeted Stanley.  On the last Sunday of February, Stanley delivered a message to his large congregation arguing that large churches were better for a child's Christian development than smaller churches.

"This is one reason why we build big churches. People say 'why do you have to make them so big?' Let me tell you why," reasoned Stanley.  "We want churches to be large enough so that there are enough middle schoolers and high schoolers, that we don't have one youth group with middle school and high school together. We want there to be so many adults that there will be so many middle school and high school kids that we can have two separate environments."

Stanley then went on to criticize adults who prefer to go to a congregation that only has a couple hundred members, calling them "selfish."   "When I hear adults say 'well I don't like a big church. I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody' I say you are so stinking selfish," argued Stanley.  "You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don't care about your kids, anybody else's kids."  

Ironically, weeks before Stanley argued that smaller churches were bad for Christian youth development, a study was released indicating that smaller churches tend to have more involved membership than large ones.

Not being one who hears much about Andy Stanley or his dad, Charles Stanley, or any one of a host of mega church pastors and TV personalities, I missed this when it first happened.  Somebody drew my attention to it.  So we have Trump saying size matters about one thing and Stanley saying it matters about another.  In both cases the claims mask real insecurities.  Trump loves to be loved and admired so he must defend himself lest he be found to have any chinks in his armor.  Stanley needs to justify his mega church and borrow credibility for himself from the size of his operation.  While I fear Trump may have deceived many folks into thinking that billionaire businessmen are always smarter and more effective than anyone else running for President, I fear that Stanley has done a pretty effective job of making pastors of smaller churches feel somewhat inadequate.

Truth be told all pastors want to be equals with the Andy Stanleys and Joel Osteens of this world.  We have bought into the Wal-Mart mentality for church -- provide all they need in a one stop religious shopping experience in which cost is low, choice is high, entertainment is good, and size is success.  The only problem is that of all the promises Jesus made about the Church, I do not recall one of them being dominance over the world.  I seem to remember Him saying that the Church will be persecuted, her members falsely accused, and her people martyred but do not fear -- the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.

Yes, I want my congregation to be big and I struggle like all pastors not to gain comfort, assurance, and confidence from statistics.  But the Lord is not impressed with size like we are.  He is impressed with faithfulness.  Where the mega church faithful in preaching the Word (the whole counsel of God), in teaching the catholic doctrine that does not change, in confessing creedally the truth of God before the world, in bring people to the baptismal water to die and be made alive again, and to feed them upon the flesh and blood of Christ -- all so that they may undertake their vocation of worship, witness, prayer, and service -- then I would have nothing to say and my envy might be justified.  But it is not because they are not.

Mega churches have anonymity as part of their appeal, an unholy distance in which they are unknown to their pastors and their fellow members, and an ability to watch from afar with impunity.  A congregation and the pastoral ministry are messy things.  They are inefficient.  They appear to be antiquated.  Sort of like the family.  But this is the Church God appointed, established through the blood of Christ and in which He works through office and means of grace, relationship and accountability. 


Ted Badje said...

I support most of what you're saying, Pastor. Small churches desperately need our support. Church schools, however, should avoid multi-grade classes at all costs. Classes for single grades are much better developmentally for children.

Kirk Skeptic said...

If only small churches were as Pr P said; ie familial and with no anonymity; I guess the good minister has only experienced a select few small churches.

aletheist said...

The lost sheep in the parable was one of 100; would the shepherd have noticed its absence at all if there were 1,000 in his flock?

Why is Rev. Stanley so certain that youth groups are essential to a healthy congregation, rather than integrating confirmed teenagers with the adults?

What is the Biblical basis for creating "separate environments" for middle school and high school kids? Doesn't this simply validate their natural self-centeredness?