Thursday, November 05, 2009


I used to think that bigger was better. Over the years, the Lord has taught me just the opposite; that better is bigger. Actually, there have been three shifts in my thinking:

1. It's about church health instead of church growth. When I first start out as a pastor (22 years ago) I was enamored with "church growth." I remember asking a "successful" pastor of a large church about how his church had grown, and he told me bluntly, "Church growth principles." At the time, I did not have the experience to filter that comment. I just thought "OK" and then proceeded to buy every book I could, and attend every conference I could, on the subject of church growth. What I found is that there is a science to getting people to come to and stay in your church. Many churches have utilitized certain approaches that have resulted in increased attendance. Whether or not these people are committed to Christ and "on mission" is another question. With greater spiritual maturity I've come to appreciate church health more than church growth. Am I still interested in seeing large numbers of people come to Christ? Absolutely. I am praying for another Great Awakening. But I see this coming as the outgrowth of a vibrant, healthy, Spirit-filled church, not the result of any human efficacy.

2. It's about being the church instead of going to church. I used to see church as a place you went to. In the last several years I've come to see it as a place you go from. The real work, it has become clear to me, needs to be done in our neighborhoods, and schools, and workplaces. I get more and more excited seeing Christians engaging in ministries away from the church building, in their circle of influence. It is becoming less about how many people we can get to come, and more about how many people we can get to go.

3. It's about turning up the clarity, not the volume. Years ago I thought "If we could just find a bull horn loud enough, we could let everyone know what we know." I was a much bigger proponent, back then, of banners, crusades, billboards and mailers. All of this has its place. But there's a fine line between turning up the volume and crossing over into distortion. Nowadays I appreciate more those who have the ability to take eternal truths and make them lucid to the lost. As Jesus said, the light needs to be set on a hill, the salt needs to be salty. Instead of trying to cram truth down the throat of the culture, I think it's about sending a clearer signal, and whetting the appetite of the culture for the things of God.

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