Monday, April 30, 2012

Big Church vs. Small Church--what does the Bible say?

Currently, our church is small in number. Most of the house churches I know applaud us for being small. Smaller church is better church, they say.

But I can't support that. The Bible doesn't say that smaller churches are better and I'm not willing to take a stand on something the Bible doesn't take a position on (see my recent POST for more than that). So we moved from our home, where we started meeting, and now rent a space in a strip mall. We are also praying for God to bring more people to join our church. (If you're in the southwest Atlanta metro area, we'd love to have you stop by on a Sunday afternoon!)

Before you start judging house churches and feeling good about how large your church is, I should say that pursuing becoming bigger isn't necessarily biblical, either. I can't count the books and workshops and consultants--the tremendous amount of money and effort spent--focused totally on how to make your church as big as possible.

Who says bigger is better? Not the Bible.

There's way too much judging in the church about size--both big looking down on small and vice versa.

Small churches have some advantages over big churches, like easier relationship building and the ability to tailor services to specific member needs. But big churches have some advantages over small churches, too. There are a lot more resources (money, people, etc.) to spread around so each ministry can be more robust and further reaching.

However, both small and large churches can drop the ball. Just because thousands (or thirty) come on Sunday doesn't mean you're doing a good job with them. Last night, my wife and I just went to Les Miserables, the musical (amazing show!) in downtown Atlanta. The Fox Theater in Atlanta was packed--a sold out show. But while that story is laced with gospel-esque themes, it was pure entertainment and would have made for a poor church service.  Entertainment draws huge crowds, but fails to grows deep disciples.

Assuming that larger churches are more spiritually effective than smaller churches--that they're doing something better purely because more people are coming--is naïve at best. Assuming that smaller churches are deeper is equally wrong.

I think the number of attendees at the meeting is far less important than what happens during that meeting. The Bible says nothing about the size God prefers, but plenty about how to run mature spiritual gatherings. Small churches and large churches both can offer profound or poor services. So no matter your size, the real question is: Are you being a good steward of the people you do have coming? Are you running great services that really develop your members?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Do You Really Want God To Give You Wealth?

Here's what God requires of a wealthy man or woman: Glory in your humiliation.

James 1:9-11 says, "Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business." NASB

Want to be rich? Do you dream of your big break? Do you pray for God to bless you with wealth and influence?

Before God decides to answer that prayer, He may be asking a question of you: Are you the kind of person who can glory in your humiliation? If not, God probably shouldn't make you rich, then. It would imperil your soul.

If you prefer to take pride in your high position--to take comfort in the fact that whatever it looks like on the outside, God loves you and you are a child of the King of Kings--then it's probably best for your soul that you don't become too rich.

See, we're all eternal beings made in the image of God housed in dying bodies amidst a fallen world. We can focus on the glory within us, or on how our ephemeral lives flicker so briefly like candles in the wind. If the world says you are only grand or pathetic, it's probably good for you to spend energy reminding yourself that you're also the other.

Oh, and if you're American, you might want to look past your suburban neighbor for your definition of "rich" and start focusing on how low you really are. Compared to most of the world, middle class Americans are stinking rich.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Importance of What the Bible Doesn't Say

While it's crucial to know what the Bible says about life, church, etc., it's also important to be clear on what the Bible doesn't say. If God chose not to speak on a particular issue, it wasn't because He didn't know it would be important to us. It wasn't an oversight.

I'm not saying if God is silent on a topic we have to be silent. He did give us brains and (even better) the Holy Spirit. He does speak to us personally. And I do think we can and should use general biblical principles to think about a variety of specific situations.

But I am saying that we should speak with different authority and insistence on those topics the Bible establishes clear rules for and those topics it doesn't. Where God has chosen not to speak, be cautious what you say.

It is a sign of prideful immaturity to declaim with great certainty on a topic God chose not to establish a rule for. Be mature and restrained in your rule-making where God has chosen silence. He may be okay with a variety of approaches in an area you'd prefer to limit to only the way you think is best.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My "List of 30" - a lesson from Mensa Mind Games

I'm sitting in the airport, heading home from Mensa Mind Games 2012, a national event where Mensans evaluate newly released board/card games and select five to give a Mensa Seal of Approval. While it was fun (the best way to  understand a game is to play it, after all), reflecting on how they organized the weekend reveals a powerful way to improve our thinking on any topic.

Each "judge" (i.e. me and 313 others) was given a "List of 30" games to play--I mean, evaluate--in less than 2 days. Yes, that's a lot. And at first I resisted. Couldn't I just play the ones I liked the most--that looked most interesting to me? But they stressed playing your entire list of 30, though. And now, having done it, I understand why.

Playing such a large number of games equips you to think and talk about games at a whole other level. Rather than discuss whether you like a particular rule, you end up talking about the overall purpose and structure of the game. It gives you a much broader perspective.

It makes me think of the quote, "He who knows only one culture understands not even his own culture." Those of you who've traveled internationally (or even to a radically different culture in your own country) know what I mean. Seeing a totally different way of living uncovers insights into your own way of life you'll never see from within it.

I know my understanding about what it was like to live in America really began when I took my first mission trip to another country (Nicaragua). And again when I took another trip, and another--each time expanding my understanding further.
And it's the same for thinking about church. In fact, I think one of the main reasons that I grasped this member-driven church thing (after accounting for God's revelation & grace) is that I had the chance to attend an unusually wide variety of churches growing up.  My family changed churches a few times when we moved and chose very different denominations. And I also got to be a part of a boys choir that sang in a wide variety of churches. I've experienced Charismatic Catholic Mass, African-American Baptist Preaching, and Korean Presbyterian After-the-Service-Kimchee, in addition to the "usual" denominations in the States.

In fact, it was so good for me that when my kids get older (my oldest is only six), I plan to take them with me to totally different churches a few times each year and discuss what they just experienced.

So the big idea is this: if you want to really think well about a topic, then you the more variations on that topic that you can experience the more you truly understand that topic. And to do this well, the more different the topic the better. I wanted to only play the military or empire building strategy games. But playing the make-your-partner-laugh party game, the ocean-themed puzzle book, and the 3D Tetris Tower (one of the overall winners this year) stretched me further and taught me more than playing only the game types I already knew well.

Want to make your church better? Visit 30 radically different churches this year.

Interested in improving your organization? Visit and interview 30 leaders in totally different industries.

What's the topic you want to think better on? And what's your accompanying "List of 30" mind-stretching experiences?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How do you know if you're doing it well?

Why do we gather together to do "church"? If you don't know the reason why you're doing something, how can you know whether you're doing it well or not?

Typical Answer: To glorify God and worship Him together.

Problem: True and biblical--but also vague. While not incorrect, this answer is insufficient.

Maybe a more helpful way of asking this question is: How will you know if you've been successful?

Typical Answer: When we are making disciples of Jesus Christ (see the Great Commission - Matthew 28.18-20).

Problem: Biblical and awesome--accurate but still ambiguous.  It's an outcome that says nothing about what a successful gathering looks like.

The gospel by itself is powerful and fruitful. But that doesn't absolve us from the responsibility of designing and pulling off meaningful experiences. Jesus told a story about some seed returning from thirtyfold up to a hundredfold (Matthew 13.18-23). All fruitfulness isn't equally fruitful.

Until you can define the purpose of your gathering in more specific, measurable ways than grand spiritual outcomes, you remain confined to guessing whether you could be more fruitful.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Video--Not Everything We Do In Church Comes From A Biblical Command

Not everything we do in church comes from a biblical command--not in your church and not in our church.

And there's great danger when we treat all the elements of our church with equal importance.

This 3 min clip explains further...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kids & Parents Together?

Some churches have become passionate about including kids in the entire service. But there are problems with this (we tried it in the first member-driven church we started). You basically have two options. 1: train your kids to be quiet (much easier for some personality types than others) while running an adult-oriented service; or 2: alter at least of portion of the service so kids can learn something.

Bottom line: kids don't learn the same way adults do. There's so much research and evidence supporting this that no one questions this. It's not just that adults are more disciplined, they literally have different brain structures. Teaching kids and adults like they're the same is at best naiveté and at worst indifference to the spiritual growth of children.

I even know some families that have had to stop attending their church because their kids were too rambunctious to sit in the service. They didn't have bad kids and they weren't bad parents. They simply had kids with very extroverted personalities (who think by talking) who probably also have a kinesthetic learning style (learning best by doing, not hearing or seeing). Oh, and by the way, I was totally that kid. I still can't sit quiet and still for more than a few minutes!

But, proponents say, kids benefit greatly from seeing their parents exercise their faith. (I'll refrain from going off about how typical church services leave little room for regular members to exercise their faith.) Doing church separately, they argue, doesn't build the family and can even promote an isolating spiritual mentality.

And they're right.

So we include our kids in the meal--the whole family together. We sometimes include kids when we have a worship music set (more on how we do music in other posts). But when it's time for the bible study or open ministry, we give the kids a separate space and a customized lesson to help them learn more about God and practice interacting with Him.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. And we certainly don't include our kids only to make them sit still. We don't want to teach them that good Christianity is being quiet and motionless. We show them a church engaging each other and God--a church in motion.

Oh, and the Bible doesn't say anything about how kids are supposed to be organized (together/separate). This is a practical strategy matter--not a spiritual rule. There's great danger in making a "spiritual rule" out of something the Bible is silent on.