Sunday, December 28, 2008
The Madison Avenue Captivity of the Church - part 3
Bigger... Larger... More... These are the words that have captivated the imagination of the American church as it succumbs to the culture of Madison Avenue. Success is measured in the growth of numbers - bigger budgets... larger buildings... more bodies... We have been trained to believe (in large part through the trumpeting calls of the church growth movement) that bigger is better. We have an insatiable consumer appetite for "more." In my earlier post, I refered to this appetite as an "adulterous infatuation." I think there is good biblical precedent for such a judgment.
So I open this post by quoting one of my favorite verses from "The Message", Psalm 4:6-7:
Why is everyone hungry for more? "More, more," they say.
I have God's more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day
Than they get in all their shopping sprees.
That paraphrase has been massaging my spiritual imagination since I first read it. It announces the kind of alternative that God desires for all of God's children - to live freely and simply in a world that is defined, not by anxious consumerism in a world of limited resources, but by trust in the abiding faithfulness of a God whose creation teems with life, abundance, and joy. It is an orientation toward life that has been reaffirmed to me this week in a wonderful way in a friend's testimony of Christmas 2008. In these times of economic hardship, these friends did what we also did - they downsized their Christmas gift giving and spending. Worried what their teenage daughter would say about a Christmas that was "smaller than last year," they were delighted when their teen announced that this was the best Christmas ever - it's not about the gifts, but spending time together as a family... And a little child shall lead them...
Scripture confesses that God's ways have often been more micro than macro - from the intricate details of creation, to the call of a particular family from Ur of the Chaldeans, to the humble entry of a Savior into the world... God often uses the least and the last to display God's glory and purposes on earth. I love the creed that is recited in Deuteronomy 7:7-8 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you-- for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you...
Now there is no argument that the message of salvation is given for the whole world, and that the commission of the church is to proclaim that message to all peoples, making disciples of all the nations. But that does not necessarily authorize the Madison Avenue mentality that seems to pervade our consumeristic approach to the church - bigger... larger... more...
Bigger is not always better. 250 pounds sits well on a 6'3" NFL tight end (Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts, for example), but is quite unhealthy for a 5'11' 55 year old former pastor. And in my own experience, some of the most unhealthy churches are simply bigger than they need to be. The gains of growth (more ministry money, more staff, more buildings and programs) come at a great expense (loss of intimate relationship, less lay discipleship and involvement in ministry, greater tendencies to gravitate toward personalities, and thus a much greater incidence of division and strife).
Our commission is not simply to preach the gospel and make converts - we are called to make disciples - and as Jesus himself demonstrated in his ministry, discipleship and life change happen most powerfully in small groups that are taught, trained, apprenticed in the Way of the Master.
I am not suggesting churches should be stagnant - it is normal for living things to grow - what I am suggesting is that the organic church movement may have it right... the way into the future for the church is to grow larger by multiplying its cells, planning its own reproduction by spinning off new groups (churches), by focusing on the development of leaders and disciples, and thus, abandoning the Madison Avenue marketing approach that has "megachurch" as its only goal.
Now, there are megachurches who have structured themselves around this model of disciple-making, multiplying cells and leaders, and they are producing mature Christ-followers who are fully engaged in mission, both faithful and fruitful. But there are also small churches (and these days organic style churches) who are not only impacting the Christ-followers who are a part of these churches, but also impacting thier communities and this culture for Christ.
My prayer for the church is that each local expression of the body of Christ discover the size and scope of its God-called ministry that is healthy and right for its context. Let's keep our eye on the ball - fulfilling the Great Commission - to make disciples of all nations - whether small, medium, or large (or is it tall, grande, or venti) and reproduce healthy churches so that the earth may be filled with praise and love - to the glory of God.
Soli Deo gloria