The environment you grow up in impacts you dramatically. Whenever you are raised predominantly in one setting, it influences what you will and won’t do. You base your choices on what you have experienced in the past and therefore what you see around you throughout your life plays a role in your decision making process. This can apply to many areas of life including your parenting style, career choice, your hobbies, or anything really. Your experiences either give you an example to emulate or show you what you don’t want to become. For example, if you had a father who never said, “I love you,” you will probably become a person who tells your children and your spouse those very words you longed to hear all the time.
The church had a huge impact on my upbringing. I was never involved in extra-curricular activities at school because my grades would not allow it. As a teenager I would sink my time into helping with youth group and other church related events. I had a fantastic time being involved in church. Nonetheless, as a young man I began to form my own opinions about where my life was headed and what I believed to be true. I started to ask big questions and look for big answers.
In relation to understanding Scripture, it all comes down to the reader’s perception and interpretation of the Word. Let's be honest, you could have twelve people read the same portion of Scripture and each one will tell you something different about it. This is how I view churches. Everyone has his or her opinion about their church and how it should be run. Because I speak at Christian music festivals and run the group “That’s Not My God,” I have heard many people talk about their churches…the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Their opinions got me thinking about how I, as a pastor, view church and ministry. This is my opinion and since this is my blog, I don’t mind sharing it with you. I believe there is a place for mega-churches. I will never speak badly about them because a lot of those complaints come from pastors who are simply jealous and if given the chance would take a position in a mega-church the moment it was offered. Likewise, I believe there is a place for home-based churches. It is possible that people who have had bad experiences in the "institutional church" or are intimidated by the idea of entering a traditional church building are simply more comfortable meeting with one or two other couples in someone’s home. The point is that God can reach us no matter what setting we are in.
The church I have the joy of pastoring is one that I like to believe "gets it" and is really seeing some cool things happening. Let me explain to you why I enjoy Radiant Fellowship and what my philosophy on ministry and the church is. A few years ago, Christianity Today Magazine published an article entitled, “Willow Creek Repents.” It was a moving article regarding how a church can become over-programmed and miss its main purpose. In the article Bill Hybels stated, “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and [became] Christians, [what] we should have started telling people and teaching people [is] that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders. We should have gotten people, [and] taught [them] how to read their Bible between service [and] how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.” Needless to say, it is a really intriguing article.
There are few things I think a church needs and the first is community. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, the average church in America has 75 members. That kind of small setting can paralyze some people with fear. They would much rather go to a large church where anonymity is its greatest commodity. However, we must remember that community is a necessary part of life. I suppose you could find your own kind of community in a social network or "small group" but I believe that people coming together from all walks of life can really make your faith journey all the better. Opening yourself up to that kind of real community is dangerous though…at least we feel like it is. Relationships with people we don’t agree with or understand can get messy. It requires people to let their guard down and realize life is more than the Republican Party. It is having communion with other political parties, cultural backgrounds, racial ancestry, and even taste in fashion and music. Your way of living will be challenged and you may be a challenge to other people. Real life in a real community means coming together with people from other walks of life. If you don’t believe this, may I suggest you read the Gospels?
Second, coming from a background of experiencing a “capital campaign” I want to stress that the building you meet in doesn’t really matter. One of the most frustrating things to me is the thought of a large building budget. The church I pastor, Radiant Fellowship, operates on a budget of $902 a week. This covers our insurance, mortgage and more. I have always thought it was odd that a church exists to have a huge building budget when in fact ministry should be their main goal. To go into debt to do this false kind of "ministry" really is something I do not understand and would love to talk more about. And it’s not just about the building. It saddens me when I hear from people that their church spent $12,000 on equipment to stream their service live online when in fact it could be done for $1,000.
I believe that more programs are not what people need in order to become disciples. No matter what the technology or the latest innovation is, you simply cannot replace good conversation, Bible reading, and prayer. And what do we do with all of our “discipleship” anyway? We wait for the next Bible study only to finish that one and sign-up for the next one. Who goes and serves with what they know? Getting out into the world and sharing the wisdom and love we discover in our faith journeys is what matters. Don’t get caught in the hamster wheel of constantly attending meetings or taking classes. The best lessons you’ll ever learn are out on the streets with the people God longs to reach.