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.