So I have a mentor who's been priceless in this weird ministry journey I'm on. He's smart, in love with God, has a heart for people, & a killer skill set. Given all these "props" I'm sending his way, you might be as surprised as I was by my mixed reaction to a recent email he sent me. It went like this ...
... In regards to your church, I see options ... one of which is for us to put a campus pastor at your church and add the resources and leadership to take it from 50 to 500 in no time, reaching tons for Christ ... I can easily see this working ... on Easter we had 1015 people at that off-campus launch we started with 125 people just eighteen months ago ... Of course, the best part of that growth isn't the numbers, but the hundreds of changed lives that are behind them ... I could see that happening there too!
Wow... add the resources and leadership to take it from 50 to 500 in no time.
For the rest of that evening, I couldn't shake the violent whitewater in my head that churned between the appeal of rapid growth, creating a powerful new ministry presence in Montgomery, IL and something else that was whispering things like, What about the community that's here? Do they have a future or are they expendable? Other voices spoke too. Growth is good. If they can't catch the vision, that's their problem! ... But what kind of church would we end up being if this megachurch takes over? Is that who God is calling us to become? Did I mention that I almost candidated for a pastoral position at that off-campus site he mentioned? Yah. Lot's of weird reactions & feelings cranking in my meager mind as all this percolated.
Then I began to realize that we're not just growing ministries or programs or even transformed individuals here at Park Place Baptist Church. We're growing a whole new culture... a new way of doing life. So, can new cultures be created by big resources & takeover formulas? (Uuuh... how well is that plan working in Iraq? Yeeaaaah...) I wonder if 50 to 500 would do little more than suck hundreds of dissatisfied Christians from their existing churches & maybe bring a well-packaged gospel to middle-class, caucasion, consumeristic people who "like what they see." Maybe I'm way off-base on that. I'm just making generalizations based on the other two megachurches I've run with for a combined total of around 20 years.
In all fairness, my friend had other ideas too ... even some wonderful ones! But I'm still reeling from the notion: 50 to 500 ... no time flat! Why am I reacting so strongly against those words? And if we're building something different in the "Emergent Church" then what is it? Are we repackaging the same old glitz & glamor in alternative music & artsy symbols carried by college students in shredded jeans who donate more money to Bono's One Campaign in a month than they do to their local church in an entire year? I wonder if anyone else thinks like me on this. These thoughts have helped me feel thoroughly stuck between Modernity & Postmodernity... between church-growth-formulas & emergent-incense-induced-headaches ... Is that all there is? If so... then how lame are we?
If we're not going to just be about numbers anymore ... then what are going to be we about? Ecumenical social justice? That's not new ... that's liberation theology! So what is our emphasis? Does it flow out of Christ's mission? Does it honor His priorities?