If it wasn’t for the television ministry of a relatively affluent pastor of a long standing megachurch, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have become a Christian.
My dad got saved because he happened upon Charles Stanley preaching about the prodigal son on television one night. My dad prayed to receive Christ that very evening and things haven’t been the same for us ever since.
I won’t paint catastrophic, apocalyptic pictures of two paths for my life. As if my life without Christ ends with me in a prison cell doing arm curls with a massive dumbbell, just living for the moment I can get a smoke in the yard. No, it’s a bit more mundane, but still sobering. I know that I would be largely at the mercy of my desires, anger, and anxiety because I battled them for years on my own and only found deliverance through God’s presence and intervention. That’s enough to make me eternally grateful for Charles Stanley’s massive church (we visited it, and the size of it is bananas) and their television ministry.
The younger Stanley, Andy, recently let his guard down a bit during a sermon and said that people who go to small churches are selfish and aren’t looking out for the best things for their kids. He said that big churches provide big pools of kids in their youth groups so that they’ll have lots of friends.
The lesson? Go to a big church if you don’t want to be a selfish person.
I watched the video with my jaw down. Did he just say that? Oh, he did. Andy later apologized on Twitter. But I think he let his cards show a bit during the sermon, don’t you think? More to the point, I think Andy’s little rant about big churches goes beyond an overreaction against people who criticize the size of his church. Sure, he has every right to be annoyed at the haters who can’t appreciate the value of his church, and we most certainly need churches of every size—we really do. Remember, Paul praised God for the simple fact that the Gospel is going out regardless of the preacher’s motives.
Let’s give Andy some grace for a moment and remember that we’re all tempted to treat big things as the best or ideal. Like Andy, we all have our own anecdotes about big things working and we imagine that’s really the only way to go. Most importantly, we face the temptation of measuring our faithfulness with numbers, and bigger is always better.
How many Christian ministers, writers, nonprofit leaders, and creators in all manner of professions automatically assume they’ve failed if they can’t build a large enough audience or reach a certain goal? In addition, how many spend time longing to imitate the size and success of those with larger audiences? How many of us have gone to conferences in order to guarantee audacious goals are crushed for the all things?
The temptation to compare is constant. I share about the danger of envy for Christian writers in Write without Crushing Your Soul, and the truth is that low sales numbers may mean it’s time to try something different, but they don’t necessarily validate or invalidate God’s calling on your life or the value of your work.
Bigger numbers don’t always indicate God’s blessing or calling.
Where do we turn if bigger isn’t always better?
This is where I show my charismatic Christian cards.
The times that I have sensed God’s presence and peace have been the times when I knew I was on the right track. Letting go of something that wasn’t right eventually brought a sense of relief and peace—if not immediately, then at least in retrospect.
Growing a big ministry or audience or anything isn’t always a blessing. For many pastors and creators, a big audience can lead to suffering or a downfall. Pastors burn out from the pressure and writers struggle to produce content to keep their readers happy. Some eventually break down and leave it all behind. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.
I don’t pray for big things. I pray for faithfulness. I pray that I can remove the clutter from my day long enough to hear God’s still small voice and that I’ll have the courage to obey it.
The results may be small. I may need to make some changes. That’s fine with me. I’ve seen big things and small things work.
After my dad got saved while listening to Charles Stanley, we started attending a small church of about 150 people in rural New Jersey. I made some great friends. Yes, our middle school group was small, but our church was a family. People genuinely loved each other and loved to share the Bible with others. While the particulars of fundamentalist Christianity introduced some negative elements at times, I never doubted that I was loved and accepted in our tiny church.
I never felt like I was missing out from the big church stuff. We had something precious and valuable in our little country church, and I wish folks like Andy Stanley could take a Sunday off to visit a church like that to see what I mean about that.
Our culture’s obsession with big stuff is an American-Made idol that we can all make the mistake of worshipping. Perhaps we can only find salvation if we sometimes intentionally seek God in the small things and quiet moments.