Mega-Church Conundrum 34

First, note the new signature. On a few occasions now, readers have mixed up James Duncan and myself.  While this is much more damaging to his reputation than to mine, a little clarity never hurt.

Now, I’d like to open a discussion about mega-churches. Let me make it clear that I have never heard James Duncan speak against mega-churches. These views are mine and mine alone.  He is certainly capable of agreeing or disagreeing with any of these thoughts, as are each of you.  I will attempt to put forward a scriptural view of what Church is, and how it should look. However, admitting that some of this is grey area, I am open to correction.

Two straw-men that must be burnt before we can engage in any authentic discussion on this matter:

  1. There is no concrete cut-off number where a church has become too large.  It would be impossible to pinpoint such a number. Thus, forcing me to do so would effectively change the point of this discussion and kill any other argument that I may be able to make.
  2. To insinuate that large attendance of a particular church is necessary for the sake of thousands of salvations, is to completely misunderstand the nature of salvation, the purpose of church, and the power of the Almighty God. If God can save souls at a certain mega-church, he can also do so at a small rural congregation, or even in some open field in China where there is no established church of any size in sight.

For the sake of this discussion, we’ll use Hartford Institute’s definition for a mega-church, which it gives in it’s simplest terms as a Protestant congregation of two thousand or more regular attenders. Again, don’t get caught up in a specific number, but it will help if we all work from the same definition.

With all this in mind, I will now try to answer:

What is Wrong With a Mega-Church?

  • It usurps the shepherd/sheep relationship that a pastor is to have with his congregation. We’ve seen here where some pastors have been down-right scornful with members of their flock who would hope for their pastor to care about them specifically. True, one man cannot faithfully minister to 10,000 people, but a pastor’s heart should be to care for his sheep. Here’s what Andy Stanley said in a 2006 interview with Leadership Journal: “Should we stop talking about pastors as “shepherds”?

    Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, “Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,” no. I’ve never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant any more.

    Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a face of church ministry, but that’s not leadership.

    I think most of us understand that you can’t just throw out biblical terms because they are problematic to our methodology, but that’s exactly what Stanley has done, as have hundreds of other “pastors” who see him as a mentor. We must change our methodology to fit scripture, even if that means not packing thousands of seats with people you have no intention of ministering to. It only makes sense that a pastor should not be over a congregation that is too large for him to meet their needs. Of course, some of this physical work is delegated to deacons, but if a pastor is to be held accountable for all the sheep entrusted to him, he needs to have a relationship with them. Some pastors may be able to faithfully attend to 1000 or more members. Some may only be able to care for 20 or 30, but if a person is going to church and not being ministered to, they are actually just attending a performance.

  • It fuels the cult-of-personality, celebrity pastor driven congregation. The majority of these mega-churches are headed by charismatic, purpose-driven leaders. These guys are very driven towards their goals. I would assume that most of these guys could be just as successful running any business as they have been in running a church. That leads me to ask, is this why thousands of people are showing up on Sunday morning? I don’t recall Paul, when giving instructions to the churches he planted, asking, “Who among you has the most charismatic personalty? Who is the most fashionably dressed? Who has the most clever wit?”. No, the things he looked for in church leaders (listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 ) all dealt with character and righteousness.
  • It raises questions about the motivation for a pastor to have such a church. As in, why do you need 12,000 people in your church, 11, 500 of whom you will never have any contact whatsoever? Are you the only minister in your town capable of delivering the Gospel? Isn’t it possible that a large majority of these peoples could be more effective elsewhere, where there attendance will be much more noticeable? Is it a pride issue? Does it make you feel powerful to know their are thousands of souls hanging on your every word? One could assume that a congregation of 12,000 probably pays better than a congregation of 500. Is that an issue?
  • It makes it impossible for all attendees to be involved in worship in any meaningful way. The real worship will have to be performed by those on stage, while thousands of others watch from the seats. 1 Corinthians 14:26 paints a picture of all members being vitally involved in a worship service. This is completely impossible at a mega-church. The ministry is then left to the professionals, while the normal people sit and watch.  This is also in contrast with Ephesians 5:19. I could also argue that this is against the Priesthood of Believers described in 1 Peter 2:9.

I’m going to stop here for now. If there is sufficient discussion, I may do a series on this, but this should be plenty to get us started.

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34 thoughts on “Mega-Church Conundrum

  1. Tommy F Sep 13, 2009 12:56 pm

    JT,

    You wrote: “Yes, a minister should love and care for those who listen to his teaching.” On this we agree. Except that all your comments seem to undermine this very point. You seem to disagree with yourself.

    You didn’t reply to my question, though, did you? I’ll ask again: do you think shepherd has outlived its usefulness to describe a pastoral role?

    Of course, they are “His” sheep. But here you are splitting hairs. The pastor-teacher is a shepherd (see Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2; Jude 1:12), designated to feed the sheep.

    Ultimately, there is a difference of opinion on the role of a pastor. So, I’ll conclude with one final question that shows where our disagreement stems from: Why do you insist on diminishing the role of the pastor to something Perry promotes (for his own betterment) rather than Paul?

  2. Barbara Sep 13, 2009 5:16 pm

    Matt Chandler did a fine treatment on the matter, in a pastors conference talk on the matter of “A Shepherd and His Unregenerate Sheep.” Powerful, powerful discussion and exposition of 1 Timothy 4. You may have seen a couple clips from it on youtube, you can look up “Jesus wants the rose” and “Irrelevant, silly myths”. Fresh, living water there. Good stuff – and the itty bitty church he took over insisting on doing it Biblically? Now covers three campuses, they do home groups and have a plurality of elders, and are building a large auditorium so that they won’t have to turn people away due to being over-capacity. “Preaching the Gospel to the De-Churched” came through the recent Advance09 conference and it was solid, too. Both are available on the desiringgod.org site.

    One thing he notes in “Shepherd/Unregenerate Sheep” talk is that “no one unpacked for me that my being a pastor was going to be a lifelong process of my own sanctification.” and “I had a professor tell me once that five years in, what’s wrong with your congregation is what’s wrong with you. My sarcastic wit had so seeped into the Village that while we were on our way to a dark place in the mission field, the other van was crying out to God and the people of the Village were telling knock-knock jokes.” He spent the night on his face in repentance toward God for that, and concludes that portion with an honest statement, “I’m still trying to learn how to be me, but a sanctified version of me.”

    You don’t have to agree with everything the guy says, but he’s got the basics right and the Lord has graciously grown his church as he runs it on a soundly biblical basis. And a lot of those testimonies on his church site are so filled with the grace of God through Christ, absolutely touching and encouraging.

  3. JT Sep 13, 2009 11:48 pm

    >>Tommy: “You didn’t reply to my question, though, did you? I’ll ask again: do you think shepherd has outlived its usefulness to describe a pastoral role?”

    I didn’t answer for the simple reason that you never asked. Here is your original quote, “He called them to feed his sheep, which implies they function as shepherds (no doubt you’ll think this is an archaic term – you’re wrong).”

    I don’t see a question there, just an assumption.

    Now you’ve asked a different question altogether. At first you made reference to shepherd as an “archaic term.” It most certainly is archaic. By definition, any metaphor from the 1st century is going to be archaic. But now you are asking if I think “shepherd has outlived its usefulness to describe a pastoral role?” To which I can only say, of course not!

    >>Tommy: “Of course, they are “His” sheep. But here you are splitting hairs.”

    Aren’t you the ones who keep reminding us that words are important?

  4. keitho Sep 15, 2009 8:37 am

    JT,

    You said in response to Duncan,

    “I’d love to read a post here at Pajama Pages outlining the scriptural basis for one pastor-shepherd leading the local church. My understanding of the early Church is that the local bodies of believers were led by groups of elders and deacons. Almost all modern churches (including NewSpring) have decided that they need a senior pastor to lead them. I do not think this is the Biblical model. But that’s another whole can of worms, isn’t it?”

    Thanks for making my point. However, I now believe I know why this model in not used in many places (NS included): shared power with a visionary pastor is a dangerous thing, from the pastors point of view at least.

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