Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Big Church-Little Church Blues, part 2

In my previous post, Theophilus, I may have come off as a little too hard on big churches. That wasn't my intent. I was actually trying to come off as a little too hard on big churches AND small churches. It was just jump started by what I consider extravagance in a large church. I guess it's just easier to see the questionable funding items in a big church. Let's face it, they stand out like a pimple on a supermodel. But I didn't mean to leave the small church out of the scrutiny. Re-reading, this was my only real criticism of the small church:
"I can even find waste in my own small church that would be better served building church walls in Central America."
Not hard-hitting, I realize. So in the interest of equal time, I am posting a segment from an email discussing the whole post. The author is Mike from Life on the River. Here is his example of small church waste:
For example. Small churches (and this is coming from a small church pastor) spend almost all our funds on two items. Salary and building. Most often we are paying a large percentage of our income to maintain an outdated and under utilized facilities when there are a dozen other similar facilities with like-size congregations that believe almost identically, worship almost identically, live in the same communities and attend the same schools, root for the the same sports teams, and in general have most things in common as a culture and community, but stubbornly desire a separate pastor, building and opportunity to compete and control. We treat our "churches" as personal opportunities and personal kingdoms to express personal power and opinions.
Is this really the body of Christ? Is there anywhere in scripture justification for this? Does this reflect all believers having everything in common? Does this reflect the apparent unity of identity all believers had in each community (a single church entity meeting large and small groups in a given city)?
Likewise with staff. Our small congregations then want to staff our building and organization with a pastor, preferably full time. To do so we often provide sub-par salaries and require that the pastor live in a church owned house, which may or may not be well maintained, so that we can save even more money. The salary and the housing is often something few or any in the congregation would be willing to accept, unless very desperate, and even then might not. We then view this pastor as our "leader" who must follow our instructions, meet conflicting expectations, make us healthy without changing anything, and act as the congregational referee between small church gossip and criticism and power struggles. Pastors are to lead a pseudo family unit, but only with the blessing of the true patriarch or matriarch of the congregation. In reality, most of our small church pastors end as employees charged to do all the teaching, all the administration, the marrying, burying, and visitation.

Mike has a couple of very good points. Little churches, like our larger counterparts, have our own way of wasting money in order to remain as lords of our own lives. C'mon, we can admit it... that's what it's about. Sure we do ministry in our little church. Of course the coffee shop at the mega church houses many an evangelical discussion. But how efficiently? Mostly we find ways to remain in control and glorify ourselves.

Two similar small churches employ two pastors, pay two heating bills, and maintain two buildings which sit empty 160 of 168 hours each week. And they may actually see a new convert every few years. A large church with a couple of thousand in attendance every weekend make better use of a building, but spend money on features and ministries which bring in only a few more people. Yet I'll go back to my point about the churches in Central America which are built for less than a week's offering in most large churches.

So why is it that we put our money where our bodies are and not where it can do the most ministry? Most people will drive around town to save an extra penny a gallon on a tankful of gas. Shouldn't we be as thrifty with ministry money?

But we're not. We prefer to spend the money where we can see it spent. Where we can use it. Where we can show others how well off our church is -- whether it's the huge new auditorium or the small church which can afford it's own pastor. We may see people come to Christ, or we may not. We may see a number of lives changed, or maybe just a couple. We may help a group deepen a relationship with Jesus, or we may sit happy in our little clubhouse -- but what a nice looking clubhouse it is.

Yet a week's offering builds an entire church building in many countries. Another week's collection will take care of a pastor and his family for months. But we can't see that in person, and we can't show it off to others, so... well... what's the point?

What a sad mindset! Do we truly consider the lives of two people in our own town to be worth that much more than the salvation of a few hundred who live in a third world nation? Do we honestly believe that an American or a Canadian or someone in our own town is more important to God than a Nigerian, an Afghani or a Honduran? If you look at our actions, you'd be hard pressed to claim otherwise.

I've rambled for two long posts about all of this and I think I can sum up this way: Our actions indicate that we care more for our own comfort, our own control, and our own ego than we do about most anything else. Our motives are impure. Our effectiveness is limited. We may be preaching all the right words to the community around us, but our actions speak louder than those words. We should show people that they matter to God, but not by buying them off with cushy chairs and half-price latte. We must communicate God's love, not exercise our control of our own little church family. We need to use what God has given us to reach the world, not just to entice the people around the corner who need a bribe to show up. There's got to be more to it than having a church building on every corner, some of which with lobbies the size of mini-malls. We must die to self-serving and live for self-sacrifice. We have to take it seriously. Or our worship will continue to be tainted by a desire to glorify ourselves or our church or our denomination instead of glorifying the One who truly deserves it.

God help us all.

See Part 3 here.

No comments: