Thursday, October 11, 2007

Coming Soon: and Willow Creek Fellowship

God really spoke to me (careful now) today about the heart of ministry and about spiritual leadership. It started when I opened up this month's Outreach magazine, which features the 100 largest and fastest growing churches in America. I figured Lakewood church in Houston would be the largest (twice as large as Willow Creek, the second largest), but I was looking for some trends in which churches were growing the fastest--especially in our area. Surprisingly, Mars Hill is not the fastest growing church in our area--Champions Center in Tacoma is. I've never heard of it.

One of the things that I noticed in the list of fastest growing churches was the absence of denominations. Most of the fastest growing churches were either non-denominational or Southern Baptist. Hardly any of the other denominations had a major presence on the list. However, the list also had a category for "# of sites" as most megachurches have planted multiple sites to better suit the volume of traffic trying to get to their campuses.

It's interesting that most of these megachurches are hesitant to align with a denomination, but they are eager to plant satellite campuses. Its almost as if they are starting their own denominations. Instead of having First Baptist Church of South Barrington and First Baptist Church of Chicago, now we have Willow Creek South Barrington and Willow Creek Chicago. It's essentially the same thing, except that the unifying factors are style, philosophy of ministry, and (often) a dynamic leader, instead of common beliefs and practices. It's almst as if we like the feeling of having several churches working together, but we don't like the idea of having to submit to the rules and beliefs of some denomination.

Prediction: Soon there will only be a handful of megachurches with campuses all over the country. They will drown out all of the independant churches much in the way that Walmart puts independant stores out of business. (Maybe we will even see some ecclesial mergers, so that some day we will have to choose from two church and Willow Creek Fellowship.)

I am reading a collection of Deitrich Bonhoeffer's works, and today I read a portion from Life Together. Bonhoeffer wrote, "Nobody is too good for the lowest service. Those who worry about the loss of time entailed by such small, external acts of helpfulness are usually taking their own work too seriously." (Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, in A Testament to Freedom, edited by Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson [San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995], 338.) God kind of reminded me today what spiritual leadership is all about--it's about serving people.

I don't have a problem with the megachurches or with their satellite campuses, but I wonder if in all of that there is evidence that we have lost the focus as Christian leaders. Perhaps we are taking our own work too seriously--as if God can't use other churches in other neighborhoods to reach other people. We feel the need to plant another version of our church in that neighborhood so that the people there can be reached "more effectively." Maybe we've forgotten that ministry is about serving people, not expanding our influence.

I can't speak for others, and I don't mean to question the motives of people I don't know. But I feel that God spoke to me today--that He doesn't want me to be a part of that culture. I want to be a part of a community that cares for me. I want to figure out what it means to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. I want to do a good job of leading the people around me. I want to be a servant. I want to know God--and to help others know Him, too. As for the rest of the pomp and circumstance? Eh, I don't think I'm interested.

"Father, thank you for reminding me today why I do what I do. I thank you for the community in which You have placed me. I pray that you would watch over me--that you would surround me with a community of people who will hold me accountable to godly priorities. I pray that I would use my gifts with reckless abandon, that I would not get lazy or content with the status quo. But at the same time I pray that I would I would not lose track of people in the process--that innovation, change, relevance, buzz, or growth would never become my gods. I thank you for the models of my ancient spiritual mentors--for Jesus, who hid Himself when the spotlight was turned on him; for Paul, who learned to trust others to continue the ministries that he himself started; for John, who learned to love people rather than be adored by them. I thank you also for the godly men and women with whom you have surrounded me today who show me how to live like you intended. I ask that you never let me get in the way of Your doing something great. Amen."

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