So I'm at this pastor's conference this weekend put on by the Willow Creek Association. For those who don't know, Willow Creek is a gigantic church in the suburbs of Chicago. The pastor spoke, along with Rick Warren, also the pastor of a gigantic church in California (I don't keep track of statistics, but these guys probably have 15-25 THOUSAND people come through their community on any given Sunday).
I was entering this conference against the backdrop of a pretty intense period of teaching on ethics issues, issues which have opened my eyes to just how dark and broken our world is. Somehow, I'd presumed that these big churches didn't get it; that they were only concerned with getting folks into their 'flocks'; that they were giving tacit approval to the upwardly mobile, individualistic lifestyles that are so often hallmarks of modernist Christianity. I had them boxed; politically, spiritually, sociologically, and economically.
What a surprise then, to hear the first speaker share how his heart has been broken by the AIDS pandemic in Africa, and that his church was diverting increasing resources to this issue. And then the 2nd speaker spoke of his work with pastors in Africa and how his church is planning on having every small group adopt a village in the developing world and invest in education, health care, church planting, and economic/public health issues. Then, after lunch, a pastor from South Africa shared about his commitment to changing his neighborhood through education, public health, and preaching Christ.
I was humbled. And encouraged. Can someone please explain to me how this blend of preaching Christ and manifesting His Kingdom is 'clear evidence that the established church is dying'? (as one person has said about large churches)
I watch from the sidelines as emergent pastors criticize movements like Willow Creek. Now I have a high regard for some emerging churches, and think they've seen some things that are lacking and are working to build models without the previous deficiencies. May their tribe increase. But please, can we lay down the weapons? Can we all stop thinking that our way is the only way? Can we stop presuming that bigger is evil? Paul laid this kind of stuff to rest in his word written from jail. He didn't care about the motives of people preaching. He stopped judging that a long time ago. The only thing that mattered was that Christ was preached. In this he rejoiced. And so do I. I rejoice that a big church is making a big difference in the AIDS crisis. I rejoice that a little coffe shop church is reaching people who would never walk through the door of a big church.
Too big? Too small? That is completely irrelevant. The real issue is whether or not Christ is being SEEN through our words and actions. The real issue is whether a church is being challenged to seek the kingdom and step into the work that God is doing to bring hope and healing and redemption and mercy, and clean water, and education, and economic development, and marriage help to those who need it - across the street and around the world.
This is an important issue as we grow. We need to quit worrying about our size, and continue to get on with the work of shining light into this dark world.