How Much is Too Much?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the growing extravagances of the American church.  For certain, this is not something that pervades all churches since many barely have the means to hang on but it seems to me that more and more, we read of churches, mostly the mega-church variety who have the money to do so, that are adding greater extravagances to their ministries and it is portrayed as a “huge act of faith”.

Most recently, I read about a church whose leadership just received city approval to construct and build a helicopter pad on their property so that the pastors could travel more efficiently between their campuses.  Neighbors are up in arms about this and plan to fight it but it appears as if the church will have it’s own helicopter service.  In other cases, hockey and basketball arenas have been purchased and converted into worship centers, a local church in my area has its own private plane, and mega churches are now taking over smaller congregations in cities far from their base and sending satellite preaching there because the “gifted” communicators need to be the only ones speaking.

I fear that in our quest to be culturally relevant we’ve lost the essence of what the “church” is supposed to be.

In his well written book “O Shepherd, Where Art Thou?”, Calvin Miller paints a brilliant satirization of the “Big Box” mentality of many American churches as he chronicles the life of “Pastor Sam” who longs to be like the mega-church pastor he eats breakfast with each week.  Of course, there’s another pastor in the story who leads a much smaller congregation than Sam’s and seems quite content to do so.  Miller adds commentary along the way as he tells the story of Sam’s desire to “zonify” the church and grow it to huge numbers.  The crux of the story centers around the pastor’s role in working with and leading people.  It is there that the calling of a pastor is found.  This is much different than the “serving” of tables that the disciples worried about in Acts 6:2 when they appointed deacons to help the Hellenist widows and thus, grew the church.  Several pastors that I talk to use this passage to highlight the idea that small group leaders and others in the church should be empowered to do this work and in so doing, multiply the churches outreach.  This frees the pastor to do other things such as “cast” vision, and participate in umpteen meetings to prepare for the weekend worship.

While the thought sounds good in its presentation, it’s not practical in its application.  Yes it’s good to empower others to connect with and help others.  There’s no possible way a pastor can personally visit every member of his congregation each week.  Small group leaders help to connect with absentees, making sure spiritual needs are met, and when something serious is involved, get with the pastor to make sure he personally does something.  Still, the pastor must find times to connect with his congregation.  In my own experience, I’ve found that spending time with my people builds relationships, helps the congregation, and fuels loyalty in good times and bad.  Yes, I make mistakes but if my congregation knows it’s because I love them and am concerned for them, then they are quite forgiving.  A great quote from Miller’s book is found near the end when Sam is making a hospital visit to an elderly lady who has long been his biggest critic.  From her hospital bed, she tells Sam: “When a pastor is a sermon, he will live in the center of his community and love God.”  I’m not sure the big-box pastors can do that.  I know they cannot when they have multiple congregations in many states.  It’s impossible to know the people you are preaching to and supposedly serving when you can’t see them and they can only see you on a plasma screen.

More on this tomorrow.

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How Much is Too Much?

7 thoughts on “How Much is Too Much?

  1. Hey Scott — we’ve talked about this in person before, but I’ll throw in my 2 cents. I refuse to submit to inflation and throw in the whole nickel…

    For me the whole video venue thing comes down to the idea that in a society where people are increasingly becoming more community oriented (suburban flight is in full effect!), it doesn’t make sense to me that someone would want to be taught by someone who doesn’t live in their world – doesn’t walk the same streets, deal with the same struggles. Maybe from an intellectual perspective that’s OK, but from a spiritual perspective, teaching is so much deeper than just a theological seminar. You’re helping people understand what it means to be Jesus to their community, day to day in their own sphere of influence. It’s not about the exalted gifted communicator, it’s about walking through a spiritual journey together.
    They way I see it, if a church doesn’t have enough teachers to send one out, then the answer is not to video in a teacher and create a culture of dependence and celebrity, but rather to get busy raising up teachers!

    That’s a quick shot at what I think re: video venues. If I get a few minutes I’ll try to address some of the other things in this post… good stuff here.
    –j.

  2. Stacy J Ross says:

    I don’t know Scott, I’m sorta torn. On the one hand I agree with this,

    “Several pastors that I talk to use this passage to highlight the idea that small group leaders and others in the church should be empowered to do this work and in so doing, multiply the churches outreach.”

    On the other hand I firmly believe in ‘doing life’ with my church.

    I think it may come down to the personality and gifting of the pastor. Personally, I don’t want to just be the preacher. If I’m going to spend my life somewhere I want to be involved in the lives of those around me.

    At the same time I would hate to limit the number of people the church can reach. If the church can reach more lost folks through VV’s and satellite campuses and effectively make disciples then it’s probably worth my losing that involvement with the church at large.

  3. In regards to the pastor not being able to spend time with his congregation. The video venue does pose a different issue. Can a pastor fulfill the duties prescribed of him as listed in Timothy if he has no idea who is in his church?

    On the other hand, nowhere does it say that a church has to have only one pastor. That’s the thing with the VV churches. Someone who is very gifted in speaking can fulfill their duties, while others who have other gifts of ministry can do other “pastoral duties.”

    Not sure where we get the idea that the pastor is supposed to be the one who preaches every Sunday and who does all of the “pastoral” duties throughout the week.

    The thing I would be most concerned about with the VV is that it would be hard not to portray the pastor as a celebrity. Also, you can’t underestimate the impact of anonymity. There’s a great book called “On the Internet” by Dreyfus that talks a lot about this.

  4. Jacob – ‘pastoral care’, as it’s often called, should not be sole duty of the one paid pastor. absolutely not! but in the case you describe in your second paragraph, I guess I wouldn’t really call the guy a pastor, I’d call him a preacher.

    There’s a distinct difference.

    And I think your last paragraph really addresses the second. We are a culture bent toward celebrity. We make celebrity where it doesn’t exist. People live to name-drop. There is such a thing as a “local celebrity” — which is ridiculous, if you think about it.

    The ‘teaching pastor’, whose only contact with the community is 30-ish minutes on the stage Sunday morning, whether in person or via video screen, naturally becomes a sort of internal celebrity. How do you combat that? Time with people. Relationships. I don’t care if your baby brother is the biggest movie star in Hollywood, to you, he’s still your baby brother and not a celebrity. And relationships leads to pastoring– shepherding. Then we’re back to the pastor who isn’t “fulfilling pastorly duties” so much as living out the calling God has placed on his life.

    And to be honest – I’d rather my preacher be my pastor. I’d like to know we can together live out that which he’s teaching on Sunday morning. And as a pastor, I couldn’t teach on Sunday morning without knowing I’d be held accountable to live it Monday-Saturday by those under my teaching.

  5. j.t. says:

    It is very easy for me to say what I would do with other peoples’ resources, influence, opportunities, etc., because it is all hypothetical and requires no action on my part. Trying to make the most of my own opportunities, influence and resources is a real lifelong struggle.

    I remember the born again Balwin brother lamenting the usage of Bono’s influence. Mr. Balwin made mention of how much good Bono, as the lead singer of U2, could accomplish for Christ if only Bono would use his opportunities and influence more effectively.

    I am tempted to do the same thing and look at wasted talent or resources, as I see it, of other people instead of looking in the mirror and trying to change myself for the better.

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