website and blog of Dr. Kevin D Glenn

your church, my church-big church small church

December 17, 2015

UPDATE – March 5, 2016: There’s been a recent flurry of activity over comments made by Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, GA. You can listen to those comments here. Andy has since apologized in a tweet and is likely to expand that apology along with clarification via his expansive communication resources.

I like Andy. He’s a great communicator and leader. There are aspects of his comments that I understand, but would not have communicated the way he did. Unfortunately, the fallout has brought to the surface a lingering debate about church size. Both sides speaking of the other in caricatures and generalizations. It’s sad, really, since I believe we need churches large and small.

Below is a blog post from December 2015. I think it can offer a better way to frame the conversation…

December 17, 2015: I love the church. Like Bill Hybels, I believe the local church is the hope of the world. The church is the movement, entity, community, outpost, Body, place and people that Jesus called to reach the nations. Since there are so many different people, in so many different nations (including our own), one would think that while there is unity in Christ and his message of grace; a diversity in style, approach, emphasis, and size among churches would be a given.

One might also assume that the greatness of our commission would inspire those who make up the church to embrace such diversity as we labor to reach our world through churches big and small.

But …

When published an article on why large churches continue to grow, the comments thread reminded me that my assumptions about diversity and encouragement might not be “givens” at all.

People in large churches assumed small churches weren’t doing outreach. People in small churches assumed churches only grew large because they watered down preaching and went to a business model … on and on the arguments went. It was sad.

So which church is best-small or large? I’ve served in small churches and mega-churches, and I’ve found they each have the same best and worst parts.

You know what’s right with both? Jesus.

You know what’s wrong with both? People.

There are pros and cons to churches large and small, and problems that are exclusive to churches large and small.

Large churches can lose sight of the importance of community if they neglect to think “small” regarding the development and deepening of community, providing opportunities for ministry, and holding to sound scriptural teaching. It can also be easy for mega-churches to become insensitive if they value efficiency over empathy.

Small churches that fail to think “big” can easily create an isolationist culture if they neglect Christ’s call to share the gospel with others not already like them. Those in small churches can become power-hungry as fewer numbers of people control larger numbers of ministry areas, committees, and boards. This can create a situation where there is an incentive to keep the church small in order to retain power; keeping new folks out of the leadership loop.

As far as preaching is concerned, there’s bad doctrine in mega and mini churches (snake handlers anyone?) It’s simply foolish to suggest that churches become large because the gospel is being watered down.

This is not an either/or issue (either big or small), but a both/and issue. The “Body” needs churches of all sorts and sizes. We do nothing but hurt ourselves and help the enemy when we tear down one another.


both compassion and caution … a better way forward

December 9, 2015

I was at home recently, when the doorbell rang. I was not expecting a visitor, so I looked out the window to see who was there. Two young men were at my door. Was I concerned? Yes. Was I curious? Yes. Was I cautious? Absolutely.

Before opening the door, I looked both young men up and down, checked to see where their hands were, what was in their hands, how they were standing, and looked for signs of aggression in their countenance. There are tell-tale signs of aggression in one’s facial expression, body language, and clothing.

Seeing nothing to alarm me, I opened the door slightly, maintaining  forward leverage on the door. My foot was planted behind the door as well – both actions preparing me to close the door should they try to rush. Why was I thinking they may rush the door? Because I am aware of situations where unexpected visitors rushed the door and invaded the home. Having that in mind, I was cautious.

The young men said they were from the Cross-Country Team of a local High School and were selling raffle tickets to raise money for travel to the State championships. I asked to see the tickets, asked about their coach, and about the dates of the State meet. Since I know students in the school and on the Cross Country Team, I asked about them and their events, all the while looking and listening for hesitations, conflicts in their story, or other signs of deception. In other, similar scenarios, I have asked to see to see a business card, letterhead, or some other type of credentials.

It turns out one of the young men was the boyfriend of a student I knew quite well. All was well at that point, my caution was satisfied and I invited the guys inside. I had my son, an aspiring cross-country runner, come out to meet them. We all chatted and I purchased several raffle tickets, after which the boys went on their way. Sadly, I didn’t win the PS4 offered in the raffle.

Was I afraid? No. Was I cautious? Yes. Was I compassionate? Yes. Would I do all that again? Absolutely.

BOTH compassion AND caution need not be mutually exclusive practices. Any sensible parent of a teenager is keenly aware of what it means to “trust, but verify.” We hope for, strive for, and even pray for the best from people, but we should also be prepared to respond to the worst in people.

To ignore caution is reckless and naive, but to forfeit sensible compassion is cruel and inhumane. BOTH caution AND compassion are possible.

In the aftermath of the shooting in San Bernardino, and from the still smoldering embers of concerns over the arrival of Syrian refugees, Donald Trump’s suggestion Muslims be banned from traveling to and from the US has served as rhetorical lighter fluid, igniting a firestorm of response from  condemnation to commendation. The span of response demonstrates how complex these issues have become, and how vital it is for wisdom to prevail. I think such a path is possible if we all can approach these issues with a humility recognizing that no single party, person, or platform alone has the capacity to fully engage these issues. We need each other. Together, we can do better than the base mob-mentality to which Donald Trump is appealing.

I will concede that as a follower of Jesus, it can be hard to walk the line between Christ-like compassion and sensible security. However, closing the border based on religious affiliation violates the very religious freedom (among other freedoms ) upon which our nation was founded. It also sets a precedent that could just as easily be applied to Christians. As Russell Moore wrote in his Op-Ed for the Washington Post, “Make no mistake. A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians.”

 In addition, to punish all Muslims because of the actions of radical jihadists will only serve to confirm the worst radicalization propaganda and swell the ranks of jihadists – making the problem even worse. The Muslims I know personally are just as disgusted with the actions of radical Islamic Jihadists as my fellow Baptists are at the actions of Westboro “baptist church.”

I do think a better plan for screening and vetting refugees is essential. I see no conflict between being BOTH compassionate AND being cautious. If there is already a good plan in place, it needs to be better communicated to the American people with verification of its effectiveness.

These are important times we live in! The best advice I can give is to be vigilant in our watchfulness and faithful in our witness; striving to be BOTH cautious AND compassionate.

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