Today’s guest blogger is Frank Turk, he of Pyromaniancs fame. He shares what was meant to be a recorded conference message but has instead been relegated (reduced?) to a blog post.
Some of the massive throng of readers for this blog may know that I was nominated to speak at “theNines” this year — which is an on-line event where the speakers record 9 minutes of advice for people in ministry, and the event itself is free of change. Turns out that I have also been selected. Only the rules changed this year: instead of 9 minutes, we only get 6, and the topic has itself also changed significantly. Until there’s a public announcement about that, I’ll leave that to the chaps at Leadership Network and Catalyst to disambiguate the situation.
BUT: the changes leave me with a 9-minute talk that I drafted and now cannot use — until Tim e-mailed me yesterday and asked for a submission to help him keep his blog running for a couple of days while he’s away from his desk. So for all of you, here’s what I would have said if nothing else had changed:
First of all, to sort of throw a rock at my normal constituents, I want to strongly recommend Rick Warren’s video from last year about what the purpose of the local church is. That’s a great nine minutes on what the local church ought to be, and you should go back to the archives to watch that one again and again because he’s right.
There’s another side to what Pastor Warren said in that video, and I wanted to make that the focus of my brief time here: it’s the topic of “bigness”. See: a subtext of Pastor Warren’s talk is that a ministry is not really fruitful unless it’s big – because really: only a big church with big resources can do what Saddleback does on paper and in fact in the real world. You can’t send thousands of missionaries and planters unless you have tens of thousands supporting them – or at least as a base from which to draw all those people.
And I think we have to ask: is that exactly what we’re supposed to be doing? Should we be trying to be as big as possible so we can turn out people in droves to missions and church planting?
Now: here’s the wrong answer. The wrong answer is, “house church is NT church, and everything bigger than a couple dozen is a bloated American drive-thru theology that is both unbiblical and unsavory.” That’s just simply wrong. The first church in the NT had 3000 members after the first day. The churches Paul planted usually met with trouble because they were large enough in ancient Mediterranean cities to cause economic and social changes by changing the way they lived. Big is clearly not bad, or unbiblical.
But in the context of North America, we have a problem the ancient church did not: we are experts at business process, and we are lean thinkers from the top down. We believe that mass production is a brilliant organizational and systematic approach, and we think that we should be able to do more with less – so for example, we think that one guy should be able to run an organization which takes in $5 million a year with relative ease, he should be highly compensated, and he should have an executive staff who runs things for him so he can be the vision guy. We can even cite the book of Acts where the Apostles say they refuse to wait tables for the sake of being the messengers of God’s word — to sanctify our own belief that some kind of executive pyramid is best for the church, and we can achieve more with less, and we can move from good to great – with absolutely no offense or criticism meant by me toward Jim Collins.
The problem is this: we are not marketing a product. We are not making widgets. Seriously: we are not really asking people to make some kind of commercial transaction where they give something and the church or God gives them something back. What we have is a situation in which everyone we want to tell about this Jesus who was crucified thinks they have much to give God – including advice about how to run and fix the world – when in fact we ought to point to the fact that they have nothing to give God, and that is their main problem. What we are here to put in the marketplace, as Paul did in Athens, is a declaration that for all our wealth and culture and religion, we are all now being told by God through Jesus Christ that we have no excuse of ignorance, and that when God comes to judge it will not be enough to say that we offered sacrifices and very solemn and earnest reflection to an unknown god.
We are not marketing a product with benefits which people can buy and therefore use as they please.
If we are the church, and we are concerned about the Gospel, we are telling people that the only hope they have is in disgrace. See: the only thing we have is a man who came and chastised the religious people – the liberals and the conservatives – for thinking they were safe, and for making God someone who owes them something. He said they were leading people not to the gates of heaven but to programs, and activities, and things they called discipleship – but he said this made those people twice as much a child of hell, and they have the gates of Heaven shut in their faces.
And this man chastised his believers for following him around, wanting him to feed and clothe them, and give them a high place in his revolutionary kingdom. And this man was put to death for his trouble, condemned, and disgraced.
The ones who condemned him had big churches, and they wanted a God who liked and in fact wanted big churches. And this guy – the guy we have to offer the world – told them that their big churches were useless, and that in fact he would leave them desolate – empty.
So there’s a tension in Scripture you ought to think about: God has called many people, and is glorified when people are saved by Him in large numbers. But maybe it’s a burden on those of us who want to lead God’s people, and to lead them well, to think about whether God has called us to move from Good to Great and market a product which will draw a crowd, or whether God has in fact called us to declare something which is the opposite of success, and the opposite of human excellence, for the sake of making people glad to be named the scum of the earth for the sake of Christ.
When the 3000 believed and were baptized on that first day of the church, they didn’t then form a mission statement, and then create an org chart, and then set up ministry zones or whatever: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need, And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
That’s the definition of “big church”, y’all. Somehow we should have the teachings of the Apostles in the first place, and it should cause us to be people who want to be in the fellowship of others whom God has saved. It should make us generous, and selfless, as if we were people with nothing to lose – we should be convinced that neither death nor life, not angels or devils, not things present or things to come, not politics or criminals, not any height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, including the things we make for ourselves, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Think about your ministry. Does it lift Christ up so that people want to give up something rather than gain something? We cannot build big churches when they are composed of people with small, unsaved hearts. Is being bigger and greater going to cause your church to be more like the church in Acts 2 – or more like something you can buy from an infomercial that comes with 6 DVDs and a workbook?
Think about that – because the last thing you want when you see Jesus is for him to tell your house is desolate. Who wants their life’s work to look like a cathedral on the outside, but in the end it gets burned up like a house made of straw and sticks?
Let me challenge you, folks, to make churches that are big churches – but not big as the world measures it, as if Jesus came to die so you could be a life coach, or have a famous podcast. Make your church big on Jesus’ death for sin, and big on mortifying our human accomplishments, and big on giving this message and everything else it takes in order that many people will be saved, and many people will hear Jesus say to them, “well done, you good and faithful servant”.
Be that big. Pray about that, and be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day. Grace and peace to you. Amen.
Frank Turk is a guy with a blog who has really amazing friends. He blogs with Phil Johnson and Dan Phillips (and Pecadillo) at teampyro.blogspot.com, and with the army of multi-spectrum evangelicals at firstthings.com‘s Evangel, and at his own personal blog which you can find at iturk.com.
Frank works full time in the renewable energy sector, has a wife and kids, and loves his local church.