Does humble describe your church?
From shootings to COVID-19, our thinking about large gatherings is recalibrating. Do we really want to attend a church with thousands of strangers (especially with kids)? Will large gatherings ever be embraced?
Watching at home is the new reality. Is giving actually needed for online production, or should I give it to my relatives or community of neighbors without jobs? What qualities in a church are important for my growth as a Christian, even from home?
Humble is not exactly a word that incites longing in a person. Who can be successful and be humble? Who can speak and not need to fill the room with their voice and persona? Only the humble, who do not crave applause.
After shocking reveals in the media and blogs about my megachurch of 40 yrs, I recalled things I saw and my personal experience of trauma that proved this coverage true! I began searching through several churches to find one that drew me into God’s goodness in humanity. One moved me, heart and soul. The call is subtle, but worth sharing. Let’s compare the observations, old church to new.
- Old Church
- A 45 yr old megachurch.
- Everyone seems inviting and pleasant.
- Music, stage, production, building, and atmosphere is beautifully perfect and exciting!
- Announcements seem a bit exaggerated– “the best ever, most amazing, incredible, everyone needs this!”
- Sermons are topical using a few Bible verses for support.
- Illustrations are from the speaker’s personal experience.
- Applications are general and quick.
- Principles are trendy and relevant, but hard to recall.
- The Bible is rarely referenced in attender’s conversations as the manual for life.
- Pastor has an honorary degree. Some staff have Bible degrees.
- The pastor and stage guards are excessive. They stop people, reroute them away, listen to private conversations with the pastors, and intimidate people of concern.
- Most leaders are very talented, attractive, polished, and well paid. Some are inaccessible to, intolerant of and even shun the congregation.
- Pastors don’t accept calls or return emails, perhaps for shear volume, or more important things to do.
- Church governance: Elders stay in their lane (make policies), staff stays in theirs (implement them).
- The tithing flock is massive and does not have a voice (vote) in church operations. They’re taught to faithfully tithe, volunteer, applaud, and leave decisions to those in charge. A large tithing flock is a commodity worth saving.
- Staff trumps Elder decisions for care of the flock, discipline issues, and more. Elders are chosen from the compliant flock.
- Staff leaders tend to run in families or friendships, versus Bible credentials.
- Lead Elder is not equipped to teach sermons.
- To meet with Elders takes 4-6 weeks.
- Biblical wisdom is lacking in top leadership, and their counsel. They show more milky than meaty.
- Serving guidelines seem reckless. Some are lax with no age, knowledge, commitment, or Christian maturity requirements. Others have clothing mandates, and require pledged allegiance to the leaders.
- Insurance companies control specific policies due to church size and fear of more lawsuits. Lawyers are well placed on staff.
- No outside supervision is in place to ensure biblical principles are met.
- Information is strategically given out on an as-needed basis only (budget, attendance, pastoral search, and RSO policy). Some are kept secret for years.
- Publications are copyrighted and sold.
- Discrimination is kept secret. Groups of people (lepers) are forbidden access to the church grounds: RSOs (after being invited in prison packs), and volunteers “not on board with the ministry.” Opposing political opinions are disciplined. Other members are mistreated to help them leave.
- 1st Issue: the abuse. Media coverage reports Elders and staff have abused people with sexual intimidation, and leader-protection.
- 2nd Issue: the response. Media shows staff and Elders ignore and silence uncomfortable and abusive situations, with an eye toward their legal duty only (Proverbs 18:17).
- The church is known for decades of inappropriateness.
- Leadership is untrained in biblical repentance, restorative justice, authentic reconciliation, and #MeToo. This shortfall has resulted in chaos.
- The church has been blessed with numbers, not graciousness.
- Today, the church flock is shrinking due to size, blurry navigation through issues, and a reputation as unethical, unresponsive, and even … abusive.
- New Church
- A 60 yr old church in my community.
- Everyone seems inclusive, as if neighbors, sitting together for coffee.
- Music, stage and all is lovely, spontaneous, and modest. God’s Word and presence is restful and soothing.
- Announcements are simple invitations, no hype or sales pitch.
- Sermons covers blocks of scripture, supported with more verses, and memorization encouraged.
- Illustrations are from scholars as poignant examples.
- Applications are well developed.
- Principles from the text are easy to recall.
- The Bible is often quoted in casual conversation as answers for doing life.
- Pastor has higher degrees in Bible and Theology.
- The pastor is in the foyer greeting all, answering Bible questions, giving counsel, and laughing with people. People of concern are listened to.
- There is no space distinction between the up-front stage and the flock on the floor. Everyone seems welcome in all spaces. No intimidation is present.
- The worship team leaders are gifted, committed volunteers.
- Pastors and elders talk freely in the foyer. Few emails are needed.
- Church governance: Elder Directed, Congregation Led. The tithing sheep lead the church.
- The sheep vote, speak, teach, search for pastors (vote on them), and implement ideas.
- Elders are in church services and available to answer questions and interact.
- Pastor is accountable to Elder board, Deacons, and Deaconesses. They all have authority over staff.
- Elders, even congregants, are biblically qualified to teach from the pulpit, and do so with skill.
- The church is thriving with sheep, diverse thinking, and giftedness. Unique sheep are the highest value.
- The sheep are taught to minister: hearing and seeing individuals, and loving them. They show fully invested in serving the church as Christ’s Body.
- There are no obvious contradictions. Church operations are congruent with biblical principles.
- The church is accountable to an over-shepherd (outside) team who guides, trains, and gives biblical counsel as needed.
- People are far more valued and desired than policies.
- The tithe goes to the church, as well as to helping neighbors.
- Information is openly provided with announcements or in person. Open policies and discussion is welcome since they are voted on by members.
- Publications are freely given to all and anyone outside the church.
- No discrimination. No one is invited then harmed.
- All individuals are included, listened to, understood, and cared for individually.
- Discussion and varying opinions are encouraged, respected, and weighed against God’s word.
- Members have solid Bible knowledge and teach classes.
- Visitors are recognized and warmly welcomed by all.
- Congregational repentance is provided periodically. Thorough submission to the LORD is the highest value and modeled.
- Active resolution is pursued with issues of conflict: repentance, restorative justice, and reconciliation. All is well.
- Gathering together with everyone is a high value. Food is freely provided and enjoyed by all.
- This church is blessed, as God blesses the humble: with wisdom and grace.
- This local church flock is thriving. It has a reputation for being kind, patient, and responsive.
He has shown you, O mankind, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? But to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
We can learn life-giving lessons when comparing these distinct churches. The reveal is enormous.
The old church appears overwhelmed with a surplus of people that bring with them added complications and security guards. A primary concern is handling numbers of people, not necessarily individuals. Policies are institutional or corporate (caring for themselves: Ezekiel 34:8) instead of shepherd-like family warmth (leading them to rest (Ez 34:15).
A top priority is maintaining a perfect public image so that more people are attracted (even from other churches) and a secure tithe is reaped to support the kingdom/empire. Pride (God is making me big!) inevitably takes a front row seat.
One potential core problem with this mega church is that Elders are trained as congregants for years. They’ve been voiceless faces in submission to institutional policies and leadership. That submission carries over into unthinking, voiceless, submissive leaders, afraid to question the status quo. They may not even see the need to protect the kingdom from themselves (accountability).
Here, meaty sheep become targeted if they speak up. Discrimination, damage control (security and protection teams), church membership issues, and skirting scripture are a natural resulting erosion. The church structure creates the culture. Over decades, God becomes mocked by His enemy’s successes. It’s no wonder chaos has resulted.
The new church appears settled, peaceful, and simple. They live on higher ground overall. The Bible gives great wisdom and this church bathes in it.
The personal ownership taken by members is admirable, albeit understandable, because they all run the church. It seems they would fight for it to the death (like the early Christians). The church is fearless. All people are ministered to and listened to, for Jesus’ sake.
The budget is at a surplus, maintenance is moderate, programs are genuine and personal. Grace and peace prevail. A walk in the door brings an immediate descriptive to mind: humble.
Scott Robley, Master Trainer for Vital Smarts says, “In weak organizations, no one is held accountable. In mediocre organizations, accountability is fostered by managers. In great organizations, everyone holds each other accountable.” You tell me where the above churches fit.
My new church is the highest biblical accomplishment. Through sound structure and its resulting culture, this church brings great Glory to God in the Highest. To attend is a humbling, God-filled experience. Its size and authenticity greatly benefit the attender’s personal growth. It is a contagious, humble, empowered church.
Churches have the Bible to guide them into humility. A humble culture is hard to achieve, perhaps impossible, as a megachurch. God guides the humble in justice and right living, and teaches the humble His ways (Psalm 25:9). Those exalting themselves God humbles; the humble, God exalts (Matthew 23:12). The big become small.
What stands out to you? What do you long for in a church? What your church values, you will value and become like them, as will your children. Do you want to look good or be humble, love people well or lead selfishly, and become like Jesus or the dragon? How would your life change if you were responsible to take the Church forward? You are.
Seek a church that treats all people with human dignity by giving them a voice that is heard, understood, responded to, and appreciated. Jesus condemned the Pharisees (brood of vipers) because they loved being more important than everyone else, even God. They could not possibly hear His promptings due to the culture they’d created, perhaps like this old church. Even Jesus violently turning over tables didn’t awaken the Pharisees. Listening is not for sissies.
The tables are turned in heaven when it comes to humility. The first today will be last then (Mt 19:30 NLT). The ones who seem important today will serve the lowly then. The lowly today have been divinely blessed with a faith unmatched (James 2:5), to shame the important (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Those verses humble us all. Listen well to God’s heart in His Word, and see the face of Jesus in its pages. Soak it in. We shall soon see Him, face to face, and give an account of our faithfulness.
A caution to church leadership, — listen to the flock and serve them well. They are God’s highest concern. God surely makes mishandled flocks small (Ezekiel 34). May this serve to call you heavenward, in Christ Jesus.
Choose your church carefully.
Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.—Psalm 138:6