Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mini, Middle, and Mega

What would you call a minister who invested 3 years worth of hard labor, who drew record crowds - stadiums-full at his height - but because of some unpopular sermons and the inability to get along with other religious leaders in his area ended up with about 150 remaining members of his group? David Platt in his book Radical calls him a "minichurch" leader and identifies this mystery preacher as Jesus Christ. 

Provocative, no? 

David Platt is leader of one of the largest and most successful megachurches in the south. And he finds that fact very disconcerting because he says he's trying to follow Jesus who regularly did things like winnow down a crowd with hard to understand and hard to swallow teachings.  (See John 6 for a great example).  I picked up the book because it had been recommended to me as being in the same countercultural vein as Francis Chan's Crazy Love which tore my heart out and stomped on it. I kept reading because the will of God regarding mini and mega and middle-sized churches confuses me too.

We attend a pair of house churches.  I say a pair because it's one fluid group of loving people that happen to meet at different times and places. These little groups defy the need for excessive organization.  For example, one of our sisters convinces her husband (who's not even a Christian) that it'd be fun to have everyone over for a roof-top barbecue.  One of the college kids who happens to love her spends the night and helps them get everything ready. They call around; everyone turns up to enjoy the sunshine and fellowship; and spontaneously all kinds of wonderful things happen. Young parents are able to ask for and get answers for problems they've been facing.  The non-christian husband is wrapped in the love that Christians have to offer.  The kids enjoy each other's company and are able to strengthen their bonds.  It's like an organized kind of evangelistic/mentoring/children's ministry program.  Except it wasn't like that at all. There was no advanced planning, no sign-up sheet and no agenda.  It's a picnic on the roof with first-century echoes (Acts 2:46-47).

Not only did our "minichurch" echo the first century, but it reminded me of Platt's discussion of his megachurch's experience with small groups.  It all began with a more honest look at the way spreading the gospel is at the heart of what it means to be a church.  Then as they began to emphasize and experience evangelism and missions, the small groups began to outpace the organizational structures, programs and management of the leadership team.  That's a cross-road moment.  So the leadership did a brave thing.  They turned them loose.  

Yet when placed alongside Jesus's ministry, these two positive examples still lack much. Jesus used a two-pronged approach.  In a "megachurch" way,  his ministry of healing and helping paired with his powerful preaching drew so many people that crowd control became an issue. Vandalism was sometimes required to see him (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26) and at other times he had to withdraw into a boat so as not to be swamped.  The man needed bouncers. These two things, social justice and the preaching of God's word, were the prophesied markers of the Kingdom (Isaiah 61:1-3). In a "minichurch" way, he spent the majority of his time and energy investing in 12 men who lacked in everything but enthusiasm. The gospels record him as a person who picks up little kids, chats away the middle of the night with religious leaders, counsels racial/social outcasts, and touches and is touched by the lowest of the low (Mark 9:36 , John 3, John 4, Luke 5: 12-16, Mark 14:3-9).  

The church is the body of Christ on earth (Romans 12:3-8). So whether it's a big-city church with millions in their budget and thousands in their pews, a small town church of 50 struggling to pay the bills or a house church meeting in a living room with no overhead, we are challenged to deal with these two parts of Jesus's ministry.   How will we make disciples and be the hands of Christ in our church and our community, and how will we reach billions around the world with food and healing (for the body and soul) that the gospel has to offer?  

This is the question that Radical sets out to answer. Unfortunately, although David Platt had set the question out well, he didn't have a complete answer at the end of the book. I don't either, so I wouldn't dare to criticize. He makes it plain that any answer we come up with has to come face to face with sins of complacency, materialism, selfishness and blindness that pervade our American churches.  Although I found much to be discouraged about (many of his points were things I was sadly familiar with) and much to disagree with, the book left me with a new perspective on how the ministry of Jesus informs our understanding of church size. 


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 

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