In today’s society, the church has become it’s own industry, constantly cross-promoting each other’s “products.”
A mega-church that I recently attended (I’m not going to say what church it was, but you all would know the pastor and name of the church) had about 6000 people attending church each Sunday. My wife and I attended the Sunday evening service. The way the music was arranged made me feel like we were singing the hymns in a jazz lounge. Being a musician, this drove me nuts. But I let it go, as Queen Elsa likes to say.
But here’s what really drove me nuts. I really respected the pastor. He’s considered by many to be one of the greatest expositors (or THE best, depending on who you talk to… *cough* Justin Peters *cough*). I grew up reading all of his books, have his Bible commentaries and even have a copy of each version of his Study Bible.
However, because of his following, he’s become a celebrity within the church. What does that mean? He’s their gimmick. He’s the one who brings in the money that supports the rest of the staff. So each and every week, you would not believe how many times his name was mentioned in church… just in case you forgot who their great pastor “so and so” is.
For example, during the announcements right before the sermon, we’d hear: “Welcome to ***** ********* Church. We are so glad you’re here. We are so blessed to sit under the teaching of Pastor **** *********. Before we get to our Pastor **** *********’s in depth study of God’s Word, if you are new, can you raise your hand and we’ll hand you a FREE copy of our Pastor **** *********’s new book? You will be just as blessed by our Pastor **** *********’s teaching as we are, I can assure you.” And on and on and on they went. It was kind of a cult following.
So there’s this celebrity side of things, where a pastor builds a name for himself, and instead of training up leaders to plant local churches to minister to the local people, these churches hoard their resources and keep everything in house. By doing so, the church will have more resources, more power and more money. However, what is sacrificed in the process? The church goers.
A branch of the mega-church mentality is the Conference Circuit. Rent an arena that seats 20,000 people, get the biggest names you can get to speak, charge $200 a person, sell merchandise to the attendees, and you have yourself a lucrative business. Everyone wins! Why? Everyone gets to promote their brand or product. Whether it’s books, albums, Bibles, conferences, seminary, etc, everyone is using their celebrity status (or someone else’s celebrity status) to sell something.
Everything is getting bigger and bigger. People are planting churches these days with the goal of building a mega-church, or a series of mega-churches. The small, local churches are suffering and losing membership because they can’t compete with the entertainment value and celebrity status of the mega-church. And again, who suffers? The church goer. Additionally, this leads to compromise in the small, local churches as they try to compete for attendance.
What should be happening is that we have local churches that are ministering to the believers in that area. Then, once that group of believers grows and you have enough people to plant a church in a local area, the pastors should go ahead and plant that smaller, local church. This would allow the pastors to walk life with the congregation, not just preach AT them.
Remember that church that I said that I attended? Yeah, the large staff of pastors would all walk into the service together as a group, dressed to the nines, wearing their suit and ties.
They’d walk in about 5-10 minutes before the service started, stand in a group talking amongst themselves, and then sit in first 2-3 rows of pews. The rest of the congregation was not dressed to the nines like they were, and everyone seemed to know their place. I never saw anyone try to sit in one of those pews. Then, after the service was over, they’d stand up and march right out the same door they came in.
I’m sorry, but that’s not ministry. This is part of the problem with churches when they get too big. There becomes a disconnect between the congregation and the staff. The focus becomes more on the programs, the service and the status instead of walking through life with your church family.
For all of you pastors out there with small church families: I commend you! You are doing the Lord’s work, the way that the Apostles did it in Acts. It’s definitely not easy, but you are in the trenches with your people, helping them to understand God’s Word and being a day-to-day example of how to glorify God.
For the rest of us, let’s keep praying for the church as a whole. I’m very concerned at the current status of the church. We’re getting to that point where we’re going to need another Reformation. The whole system is simply setup wrong. But look for ways that you can minister to people on a small, personal level. Walk through life with each other. Encourage one another. Don’t always look for the big, grandiose program that will get you recognition. Look for the small, minute act of kindness or encouragement that you can give to someone in your church family.