April 19, 2007 / David Fitch

IT IS MORE DIFFICULT: WHY MISSIONAL COMMUNITY IS MORE DIFFICULT AND WHY I LOVE IT

Bill Kinnon did a marvelous rant about a month ago. Our conversation together last month over the big church superstar mentality (when I was up in Toronto area for the Evolving Church Conference) spurred me on to think of my own experience of church planting. I have often pondered the church planter’s tasks versus the mega church pastor’s. To me, what the smaller more organic missional community leaders do is much more difficult. Here’s why.
It is more difficult to take 10 people and grow a living organic body of Christ to 150 than it is to transplant 200 or 300 people (or I have heard even 600-800) and then grow that congregation to 5,000. Because a crowd draws a crowd. And if you have all the bells and whistles, 5 full time pastors and a youth program, all from day one, and a charismatic speaker with spiked hair (no shot intended at anyone in particular) and you don’t mind putting the smaller less flashy community churches out of business, it will be harder to stop attracting a big crowd from all the people who want Christianity to be more fun and mesmerizing. BTW did you know that the statistics say that small church growth (from 10-150) is where the true conversions (as opposed to transfer growth) come from? Why then do evangelicals exalt the mega congregations as the answer to reaching those outside of Christ?

It is more difficult to build a community of people who know and care for one another, who when they speak, they are heard, who when there is conflicts, all participate in reconciliation and growth, than it is to put on a production and provide religious goods and services where if some people don’t like it they can just go shopping elsewhere.

It is more difficult to preach a sermon to 100 people than it is to 8,000 people. Of course, there are some of my emerging co-laborers who don’t believe in preaching per se. I believe in proclamation of the new reality, the calling of truth into being, and my thoughts on expository preaching are already out there. My point here is that to preach for 100 people you know and live with is a lot harder than to preach to 8000 people, 99% of whom you don’t know. It is not that it is harder be vulnerable in a larger crowd. It is that in a space of 100 people you are more vulnerable when so many know you. In many ways you are naked. And I might add, I’ve preached for our own congregation of 100+ and I’ve preached for 1000+, and my experience is that a joke is 10 times easier to pull off in a large audience than in a small congregation (not that I should be trying to tell jokes in my sermon but you all know what I’m talking about).

It is more difficult to deal with conflict and leadership in a small organic church where our conflicts, our vision, our weaknesses must all be talked about, worked through. In small church organic leadership we must do the hard work of owning our weaknesses and speaking truth in love to other leaders. It’s hard but we grow. In mega-sized corporate churches leadership and organization is much easier. BECAUSE YOU CAN JUST FIRE PEOPLE.

It is more difficult to build a live body of Christ, the social space of His Lordship, where his powers are made manifest and his mission is sent forth, and poor people are actually recognized and loved, and where a politic takes shape which subverts the consumerist depersonalizing forces of our day than it is to build large mega churches that play on the consumerists forces that rule our culture and play right into church marketing programs.

It is more difficult to organically engage people’s lives where they are at than it is to become a media figure over night through some large publishing house by which those Christians looking for the next hip thing buy your book and drive to your church. Then you do not have to deal with everyday details of people’s lives. You take the show on the road to promote the illusion that you started this church from 8 people and overnight it turned into 4,000 people and you couldn’t stop it. But nobody asks the question how did this ACTUALLY START, so the mythology grows and all the young church planters with visions dancing in their heads become depressed and defeated when the same things do not happen to them.

It is more difficult to build a gathering that is a mission in the world, than it is to build a gathering that comes to see the show. It is more difficult to build a gathering into being the Body of Christ in the world than it is to build a crowd into a bigger crowd around a personality. Yes it is more difficult, but in the end so much more satisfying. And when you’re gone this community will keep reproducing the love of Christ, the fruits of the Spirit and the leader(s) to carry on the transformation of the world until Christ returns.

FOR THESE REASONS, TO ME THE REAL HEROES ARE THE MISSIONAL PASTORS WHO RAISE UP THE ORGANIC COMMUNITIES THAT TAKE DIFFERENT SHAPES AND MANIFEST THEIR ACTUAL PRESENSE IN NEIGBOURHOODS. Yet status quo evangelicalism knows no other way but to extol the virtues of the mega-sized personalities at mega-sized conferences. In the process those who would be missional church pastors are demoralized, leave the pastorate or just give up.

Have I overstated my rant? If so I apologize ahead of time. May the Holy Spirit burn away any chaff that I have written and use the rest to encourage any discouraged missional community leaders for the glory of His Kingdom. Amen

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P.S. I will try to defend this and many other of my blogisized rants in intelligent and theologically informed conversation at the workshop I am doing for the Grow Center at Northern Seminary. If anyone cannot afford the 24 bucks they are charging, and wants to join me there, please let me know and I’ll find a way to pay your way!