I have recently been reflecting on some things in our society, especially in the church, that seem so out of kilter. There are a couple of questions that have been rattling around in my head that have to do with what we are willing to sacrifice to achieve what our society has determined to be success. You know, “success” in the old “bigger means better” mantra popularized by Peter Drucker and the hordes of church grown entrepreneurs that have tried to merge secular management philosophy and Spirit-filled living. Uh, try again. Bad fit. Simply can’t be done.
Question: Why is the larger church deemed more desirable than the smaller church? Who made that call? Or, to put it another way, why are the Rick Warrens and the Bill Hybels and the Joel Osteens the mainstay of the “How to Do Church” conference circuit and the Robert Settles aren’t even allowed in the building? Oh, never heard of Robert Settle? I didn’t think so. He is just a Baptist pastor that recently retired after 50 plus years of faithful ministry. He never was at the helm of a large church, but he stood strong and finished the race well.
But obviously, that kind of legacy doesn’t attract a crowd, does it? Most mega-church wannabes are not interested in learning how to stay faithful over the long haul, but only about the latest tricks for quick, superficial growth.
“What kind of music really packs them in? Tomlin or Crowder?”
“What kind of movie clip do I use to illustrate my theme this week?”
“How can I give them what they want and still be out in under 55 minutes?”
“Aw heck, just tell me how to pack the house!”
Who said that mega-churches are more blessed by God than smaller ones? After all, it’s God’s blessing that really matters, right? “Well, mega-churches offer more programs to the people that go there. They have bigger facilities and their services are much better than the smaller church. You know, they have a better band and sound production.” In a word, correct. But is that what church is all about? More programs, bigger facilities and a better Sunday show?
It’s like the difference between Wal-Mart and your neighborhood grocery store. Wal-Mart offers almost an unlimited selection of stuff and it offers it at a better price. Joe the butcher on the corner of Fifth and Main simply can’t compete. He doesn’t have the room for all the stuff Wal-Mart can carry and he has to pay more wholesale than Wal-Mart does for the products that he does carry. Let’s face it, if price and selection is all you’re interested in, then Wal-Mart’s your best bet.
But for me, I love community. I like to know that Joe the butcher is, in fact, Joe the butcher. I like the fact that I know about his family and where he goes to church on Sunday. I like the fact that I can wave at him when our paths cross at our son’s Little League game and that he can wave back. I like knowing that Joe lives in the same town as I live in and that we are, by that fact alone, somewhat connected. Actually, we’re neighbors. And hopefully, someday, friends.
Can’t get that from Wal-Mart, can you. And you certainly can’t get that in a wannabe mega-church either.
Oh yea, bigger facilities, a Broadway style Sunday production with theme generated props, and a tight, well-rehearsed, “I really wanna be on the radio” worship band singing all the latest covers…
But community? No. You’ll not find community at Wal-Mart. And you’ll not find it at the local wannabe mega-church either. You’re just another number, another customer, another consumer of their religious wares. Herd ’em in, and herd ’em out. Everybody serving the machine.
I don’t know about you, but I want more out of church than that? Don’t you? I want to know the people I worship with? I want to know about their families, I want to have them over to my house, I want their kids to be friends with my kids. In other words, I want to live in community. Just like they did in the book of Acts.
On April 13th, 1832 George Muller received a letter from Henry Craik, his friend and co-laborer in ministry, to come to Bristol to join him in the work there. One week later, on April 20th, George Muller left for Bristol encouraged by the preaching, teaching, witnessing… you know, all the ministry stuff— that he was soon to be engulfed in. The air was full of excitement and anticipation, much like we are as we plan for a two week summer mission trip.
“Boy, when we get to the mission field, we’re going to win the area to Christ!” Right.
Question: But what about now? What about your preparation for that mission outreach? How are you preparing today for the harvest tomorrow?
Answer: Oh I know, it’s the classic “bloom where you are planted” thing. “I’m looking for every opportunity to tell people about Jesus right where I live.”
Good. Excellent, in fact. But what about your private time with the Lord? What about your personal accountability and relationship with Him? Are you too enamored, too giddy with the “doing” that you have neglected the “abiding”? And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?
Be encouraged, for this is exactly the lesson that our friend, Mr. Muller, learned on his way to Bristol. In fact, Arthur Pierson, Muller’s biographer, reflects on this very lesson the young man of God learned and, so it seems, never forgot.
The following is from Pierson’s book, George Muller of Bristol:
On April 20th, Mr. Muller left for Bristol. On the journey he was dumb, having no liberty in speaking for Christ or even in giving away tracts, and this led him to reflect. He saw that the so-called ‘work of the Lord’ had tempted him to substitute action for meditation and communion. He had neglected that ‘still hour’ with God which supplies to spiritual life alike its breath and its bread. No lesson is more important for us to learn, yet how slow are we to learn it: that for the lack of habitual seasons set apart for devout meditation upon the word of God and for prayer, nothing else will compensate.
We are prone to think, for example, that converse with Christian brethren, and the general round of Christian activity, especially when we are busied with preaching the Word and visits to inquiring or needy souls, make up for the loss of aloneness with God in the secret place. We hurry to a public service with but a few minutes of private prayer, allowing precious time to be absorbed in social pleasures, restrained from withdrawing from others by a false delicacy, when to excuse ourselves for needful communion with God and his Word would have been perhaps the best witness possible to those whose company was holding us unduly! How often we rush from one public engagement to another without any proper interval for renewing our strength in waiting on the Lord, as though God cared more about the quantity than the quality of our service! *
Wow. Point blank, slam-dunk, “slap-ya-up-side-da-head” for me. How about you? I am guilty of this very act— continually. So much so that I’m beginning to realize that I must crave the pleasure and acceptance of men, mere humans like myself, more than the pleasure of God. I must be a card-carrying man-pleaser and not a God-pleaser. Ugh. Like how stupid is that!
Resolution #1 for 2014 – actually for the rest of my life.
I will strive to keep the good subordinate to the best. Let’s flesh that out. It means that ministry, being good, will always take second place to intimacy with the Lord, which is, obviously— best. I will seek His face first, and allow ministry to follow as an after effect or a result of that intimate relationship. I will place abiding where it should be in my spiritual life and try to live the years I have left as a Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and not as a Martha, working in the kitchen too concerned about putting Cheese Wiz on Wheat Thins.
After all, as an old preacher once counseled me years ago, “Son, you take care of the depth of your ministry (intimacy with God) and let the Lord worry about its breadth.” Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better.
* George Muller of Bristol by Arthur T. Pierson, page 90. Proverbs 29:7,18,23.
Proverb for Today:
The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern.
Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.
A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor. *
The entire message of Haggai can be summed up in these three words: Consider your ways.
After all, consider this warning given five times in Haggai:
Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!” – Haggai 1:5
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!” – 1:7
“And now, carefully consider from this day forward.” – 2:15
And again, “And now, carefully consider from this day forward.” – 2:17
There is something – something important – the Lord is trying to tell us through the words of Haggai. Keep listening to find out more.
The following is a study of Haggai 2:1-23.
Download this episode (right click and save)
After 14 years of doing nothing the Lord finally sent the prophet Haggai to confront the apathy and laziness of His remnant. First, the Lord rebukes them for their excuse.
Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying: “This people says, ‘The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.'”
Really? But the Lord responds to their excuse this way.
“Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?”
In other words, you can’t find the time to build My house but you have plenty of time to build your own house.
Sound familiar? I thought so. Keep listening for more of Haggai’s message to us today.
The following is a study of Haggai 1:1-15.
Download this episode (right click and save)
In the midst of the current onslaught, the hostile takeover of mainline churches by the seeker-sensitive hoard of mega-church devotees, the following quote rings clear and true. It stands as one of the many unheeded warnings from those a generation ago who looked into their crystal ball and saw the logical outcome of a church who has lost its bearings – a church swimming in the sea of cultural acceptance.
A church living large in the land of Laodicea.
“The world today is laughing at the church, laughing at her attempts to be nice and to make people feel at home. My friends, if you feel at home in any church without believing in Christ as your personal Savior, then that church is no church at all, but a place of entertainment or a social club. For the truth of Christianity and the preaching of the gospel should make a church intolerable and uncomfortable to all except those who believe, and even they should go away feeling chastened and humble.”
– Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Christian entrepreneurship has infected our seminaries to such an extent that we now mass produce, in assembly line fashion, an army of current and wannabe church CEOs and not Spirit-led men of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us of just how far we have fallen. For me, it’s sobering to see what we, as the salt and light of the world, will do to prostitute ourselves for the prize of worldly acceptance and cultural relevance. “After all,” we say to the laughing world, “we just want to be loved.”
Pray that you will be different.
Note: This quote is from The First Forty Years 1899-1939; Banner of Truth, p. 142