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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Big Church Envy

Megachurch2William Whitehead of Soma writes:

My mom brought me another bulletin from a church she just visited. I wish she wouldn’t do this. “You should see this church!” she glows. “They have everything! They have a great music program with a choir and an orchestra. There were hundreds of people in the pews. The sanctuary was beautiful.”

“Isn’t that nice,” I reply politely, when what I really want to do is slink away and hide in the chimney until she’s gone.

I am the pastor of a small church in New Jersey and when it comes to those big wonderful churches, I have an inferiority complex. In the tough seller’s market of preaching and teaching Jesus, I feel like we just can’t compete. It’s like how a local hardware store owner must feel when a brand new Home Depot moves in across the street. We’re going to get crushed, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Yes, I’m jealous. I admit it. I want to be the pastor of the big church with the big building and the big programs. The megachurch up the street has a band, two keyboard players, soloists, and a huge choir. They have a professional sound system with studio engineers. They record everything and pump out CD’s, not to mention their cable television show. We, on the other hand, are lucky to have a couple of microphones and a tape deck. We have an organ with ivory keys that fly apart. We have a piano that sounds like it’s underwater. OK, so Jesus doesn’t care. But I do!

Big churches have programs for every group. They have the financial and the people resources to identify and minister to even the smallest market niche. Small churches don’t have a really good answer for complaints like “Pastor, I don’t come to church because you have nothing for my hypochondriac, nearsighted, teenaged Cocker Spaniel,” except “Yes, I understand what your special needs are. We’re working on it.” Maybe we could build a dog walk in the back. Think the trustees would go for that?

Big churches have new stuff. Small churches, well…new is not a word I am familiar with. What I wouldn’t give for a furnace that doesn’t send SOS messages by smoke signal. Our sanctuary boiler was dredged up from the Titanic and donated to the church as “slightly used.” Furniture is generally acquired the same way. People think to themselves, “I have this 30-year-old couch with broken springs and no more stuffing. Now what can I do with it? I know, I’ll give it to the church!”

Megachurches always have brand spanking new buildings. It must be wonderful to have hallways with no smudge marks on the walls, gleaming doorknobs and comfortable stadium seating. When I try to upgrade my church, however, I run into problems. I once tried to get a church to buy pew cushions. I was told, “I don’t go to church to sit in comfortable seats.” Maybe if I’d suggested installing 2 X 2 pieces of plywood instead, they would have grabbed for their wallets.

Oh, I know. I could always leave my little church family and seek out a position at a big church. But I’m not going to do that. God wants me to stay right here. So I need to figure out a way to conquer my envy and concentrate on the important things, like love and compassion and spiritual upliftment, even though they’re not nearly as exciting as recording studios and 60-inch plasma screens and Billy Graham giving visiting talks in auditoriums the size of Rhode Island.

Peace—that is what I am really looking for. Peace of mind, peace in my heart, peace in my soul. When you get right down to it, I really don’t care so much about the size of my church. I really don’t care about the lack of programs, or the physical condition of the building, or the small number of people that come to praise God on Sunday. My small church is a wonderful place and I am blessed to be there. I just want to escape from the nagging thought that something is wrong, that we are not good enough, and that somehow we have failed to do something, anything, that would make us “successful,” in the true consumer materialist sense of the term.

Fortunately, I do know that inner peace comes from the unshakable faith that God knows what is best for me, and that I’m doing my best for all of the things that He has placed into my care. If God wants me to be in a small church, that must be for the best. And if God wants my church to grow into a big one, that would be for the best too.

Unfortunately, it just isn’t as easy as it sounds. I may be a pastor, but I’m also a human being, prone to all those human woes of worry, envy, and frustration. Yet I know that if I don’t continue to seek after the godly things in life, they will forever elude me. And so I hope that some day, amidst the peeling paint, the tinny piano and the smoking furnace, I will find contentment. Or at least a piano tuner who’ll work for free.

Oh look, another bulletin in the mail from you-know-who. Great, the church’s worship leader has a platinum CD, is a headliner at the Creation Festival, and juggles amplifiers.

Thanks, mom.

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April 5, 2006 in Senior Pastors | Permalink

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I've been lately in a church that had fewer than 75 or so, where we could barely afford to rent our facility and couldn't always afford to pay our senior pastor... and in a church that is the "biggest in town" with 1000 in weekend attendance, a staff of 7 and programs for everything we possibly could.

I really understand where this guy is coming from. But sometimes, I envy him just a little. I don't know everybody in my church... I can't. It's harder to have the kind of fellowship that he can have. I go to the store and 6 people greet me with warm smiles and friendly handshakes. I have no idea what their names are, but they are part of my church.

I can only say what I've heard from so many leaders. Keep the vision white hot and in front of everybody all the time, and God will take care of you! Keep the Gospel in front of everybody... Preach it, brother!

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Apr 5, 2006 9:03:14 AM

I know exactly where this guy is at!

It is one thing to attend these churches or to work for them, it is something completely different, though, to be the pastor (I don't know if you are a pastor, Peter. This is not meant as a slam). There is tremendous pressure to grow. You get it from ecclesiastical superiors, from the church world, and sometimes from people within the church (though they are doing nothing to help).

You always feel inadequate. And then you feel guilty for being jealous and wanting more.

Posted by: eric | Apr 5, 2006 9:13:49 AM

Eric, SO right. SO true. I've seen that, and those superiors, that "church world" and those insiders who say a lot but do nothing to help... shame on them... (and yes, I am a pastor)

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Apr 5, 2006 9:48:15 AM

Wow! How refreshingly honest of the guy to say he struggles with envy issues. Most folks who struggle with big churches just tear them apart as "evil".

I wonder how many of those de-edifiers actually struggle like this pastor but aren't as honest about it?

Posted by: Chris Cree | Apr 5, 2006 10:00:37 AM

In my 30 years as a local church pastor I spent 25 of them in the shadow of not one, not two but 6 mega churches, all within a 6 miles from my church. For a long time I felt like I was small potatoes and they were the big guys.

Then I decided to learn something from them. The greatest lesson I learn was, I wasn’t them. I decided to focus on the strengths of my church and do everything we could to the best of our ability and not spread our ministry to thin.

The key to our growth (yes we grew and we grew a lot) was discipleship. There is nothing like One to One Discipleship to mature believers that in turn mature other believers. 2 Tim. 2:2 It’s a matter of building a good foundation of “the basics” in God’s people and then let them “do the work of the ministry.”

When I decided to resign my church to travel and be a help small to medium size churches, the church I pastored had all those things. The band, the going youth group, the multi-media equipment and sound boards as well as active missions programs. We had over 60% of the people in the church active and fulfilling some sort of responsibility at the church. We we not big stuff, but we we not small potatoes either. The key was time and process. Ministry is a process that doesn’t happen over night and that process we discovered was One to One Discipleship

Posted by: Andy McAdams | Apr 5, 2006 10:17:45 AM

I think I need to get more rest. WOW, my last post was full of typos. Sorry folks. I hope you saw my heart more then my mistakes.

Posted by: Andy McAdams | Apr 5, 2006 10:24:59 AM

I have the oppposite problem. I'm happy as a clam, but my people are suffering from envy. The other side of the coin? Yeah, but I'm not going to let them wear me down. I'll just keep doing what God has placed in my heart to do. It doesn't get anymore peaceful and joyful than that.

Posted by: pjlr | Apr 5, 2006 10:36:00 AM

Andy, we did see your heart. You NAILED it!

So did you, pjlr! I am SO impressed with the pastors who post here!

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Apr 5, 2006 10:37:38 AM

Don't worry friend. The True Believers will eventually see it for what it is "entertainment" and seek out the Pastor teaching the Word of God for what IT is Worth. Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom.

This too shall pass...

Posted by: BeHim | Apr 5, 2006 11:37:47 AM


I’m not so sure I agree with you. Though some churches that are considered mega churches are a lot of entertainment, many have fine and profound Bible teachers.

Case in point, David Jeremiah, John Maxwell and John McArthur just to name a few. In fact is was McArthur that challenged me to step out and give myself to pastoral ministry.

I think God has a purpose for churches of all sizes. Those churches, no matter what size that water down the gospel or do not preach “the whole counsel of God” will have to give an account someday.

Posted by: Andy McAdams | Apr 5, 2006 11:55:43 AM

I am involved in planting a new church in my area (I’m not the Pastor, but I’m looking to this experience to help me decide if I’d like to be someday) and I know where this guy is coming from, also. While we do have a decent (used and donated) sound board, lighting trees, etc. we don’t have a building. Early Sunday morning a small group of us (our Pastor and two couples) get to the gym at the local recreation center to set up our “church”, a small stage we built, some curtains on PVC pipe, lights, sound and speakers. Then the band and choir (the vocalist and her husband the guitar player) arrive to warm up.

Now, we just started holding services and we’re patient, but most Sundays there are less than a dozen people at our services. I do envy those big (or even moderate sized) churches with their budgets and beautiful worship facilities, coffee shops, bookstores, etc. but I think many of them envy us our intimacy and spiritual closeness. Last weekend my wife and I invited everyone at the service over to our house afterwards for some grilling and fellowship, and all but one couple who had another commitment came over. I couldn’t afford to do that at a bigger church (sorry, I can’t feed the multitudes with 5 packages of hamburgers and hot dogs). Our church doesn’t have to break up into small groups, we’re all together one small group. Our Bible study has a passage the Pastor chooses, but is also an open forum for any scriptural question anyone has. We couldn’t do that if there were lots of people there.

Like I said, I’m not the Pastor (I have a full-time job that pays the bills) and I’m sure our Pastor, while he loves our church, can’t wait for things to take off and start to grow, at least partly because right now he doesn’t get paid at all (and his wife’s a teacher and we all know they don’t get paid much). But, all in all, big is not necessarily better in all ways.

Posted by: DanielR | Apr 5, 2006 12:31:33 PM

Churches that grow tend to have a pastor who is evangelistic. Have you ever heard a pastor say that evangelism is not his gift? Or that he’s not comfortable sharing his faith? Or his last story about sharing the gospel is 15 years old? What I think is that you reproduce what you are. I don’t believe it’s the pastor’s job to grow the church but I do think he must convey the importance of sharing our faith. I love what Neil Cole wrote in Organic Church:

“How long will it take to reach the world through multiplication? If any one Christian alive today were to lead just one person to Christ every year and disciple that person so that he or she would, in turn, do the same next year, it would take only about thirty-five years to reach the entire world for Christ! Suddenly world transformation seems within our grasp. But it could be even closer than that. If every Christian alive today were to reproduce in the same way, the world would be won to Christ in the next two to four years. What if all of us decided to put everything else aside and focus on truly discipling another for just the next few years in a manner that multiplies? We could finish the great Commission in just a few years.”

This is amazing to me but also puts the responsibility on every Christian not just the pastor.

Posted by: Linda | Apr 5, 2006 2:41:32 PM

Andy, I'm sure the article is not in reference to MacArthur and I would in no way suggest JMac is entertaining so thank you and point well received.

Posted by: BeHim | Apr 5, 2006 3:03:06 PM

I, for one, don't find John MacArthur entertaining. (for what it's worth)


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Apr 5, 2006 3:05:13 PM


Not even when he juggles those sixteen plates with the firebrand in his mouth while riding a unicycle?

Oops... I guess that's a different John MacArthur. (I think I had a "friday" moment...)

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Apr 5, 2006 3:08:37 PM

Linda...well spoken.

Todd...3 demerits for the John Mac comment.

I think he is a profound Bible teacher. I first met him when he started at the church, when there was about 200 people. That was 30 years ago. I'd say "a job well done."

Posted by: Andy McAdams | Apr 5, 2006 3:37:47 PM

I didn't say anything bad about John... just that I don't find him entertaining. That's good, right?!



Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Apr 5, 2006 3:39:22 PM


I suppose it's good. However, I am entertain in a sense when someone can hold my attention and teach me something at the same time.

Posted by: Andy McAdams | Apr 5, 2006 3:51:48 PM

I like what Andy said. I think it is so true that each church has to realize what it is they CAN do well and stop focusing on all the things they think they SHOULD do well. I have seen so many churches tax their budgets to maintain programs that they simply cannot do well.

At the church I planted, I realized that our church was not able to do a good VBS. Besides there were 10 other churches in our area with VBS programs. So we took all the money we would have used in that week (plus more) and focused on a one day event that reached out to unchurched families. The last two years that event has drawn more than 600 people average.

We didn't grow numerically on Sunday mornings from this event, but people were impacted. We had to discover what we could do well, and not worry about what the other churches were doing. Though I must admit that I became a little perturbed when one of the large churches began throwing money and resources into an area that had been our niche. At least people were being served in Jesus name.

Posted by: eric | Apr 5, 2006 4:09:59 PM

Linda, You're right on target about the Pastor and Evangelizing.

I once heard my Pastor teaching a group of young Pastors when he said something to the effect "A Pastor's primary job in the church is to build and edify the Saints", but a Pastor also has a responsibility as a Christian to evangelize, but it is the same as other Christians, to go out and do it".

Todd says: [I didn't say anything bad about John... just that I don't find him entertaining. That's good, right?!] Praise God if Todd is able to learn from good Bible teaching from J.M. whether he finds him entertaining or not. Thankfully J.M. knows that's not his first calling is to tickle the ears.

Posted by: Kent | Apr 5, 2006 4:12:06 PM

We have gone from:
John MacArthur to MacArthur to JMAC to John Mac to John to J.M.

Can I add Big Mac, or do I have to wait until Friday?

Posted by: eric | Apr 5, 2006 4:17:20 PM

only if you add fries and a milkshake or would that be a FMS.

Posted by: BeHim | Apr 5, 2006 4:31:01 PM


That's Dr. Big Mac!

Is it Friday yet?

Posted by: Andy McAdams | Apr 5, 2006 4:36:58 PM

And just to think I thought all that GREEN they where seeing was from $$$$$$$$$... I never thought about ENVY... Shucks...

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Apr 5, 2006 9:15:50 PM

It's all relative. This guy compares himself to the megachurch pastor, and is jealous. If there was no megachurch, then he'd be perfectly fine. Or what if he compared himself to the typical pastor in a third-world country-- would he then be grateful to God for all his blessings in providing him with food and clothing?

I suggest that this guy read the free book from Gospel for Asia. They have ministers that have kids go hungry each night. Sometimes these ministers resort to selling their own blood, literally, to finance their ministry. Many of them don't know what it means to have a change of clothes.

It's all relative.

Welcome to the church of Laodicea, the American Church.


Posted by: Bernie of FreeGoodNews.com | Apr 6, 2006 3:18:47 PM

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