Authors Note: This is Part two of my look at the mega church phenomenon. If you missed part one you really should go back and read it just so we’re on the same page.
Mega churches aren’t exactly exclusive to the 20thcentury. In fact what may be considered the first “mega-church” was Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, the church was founded in 1650. Charles Spurgeon, the “prince of preachers” was one of Metropolitan Tabernacles most famous of pastors preaching there from 1854-1892, during which time the church averaged 5,000 in attendance. But in that day and time the mega-church was much more of a rarity than it is today. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that mega-churches as we know them today even started developing. I can’t remember the stat exactly and while I could make it up and no one would know the difference (87% of all people know that) I think, if I remember what I read correctly, the number of mega-churches from 1950-1970 was less than 100, and today that number stands at 1,412. Some are large because they happen to be in a large city, looking over the list you won’t see any mega-churches in cities like Senic, South Dakota. But you do see them in Houston, Chicago, Dallas…oh sure some of them have names like Grapevine, but that’s essentially Dallas…the same way people in Aurora say they’re from “outside Chicago”, so simply by population of the church location you have large numbers. But are they a “good” church? As I said in my last blog entry, there are a few that I know of that are a good church.
Mars Hill, Seattle
In the city that gave us Nirvana, Soundgarden and Starbucks sits Mars Hill Fellowship, a non-denominational, multi-site church led by Mark Driscoll, with an average attendance of close to 7,400 in satellite locations spread out all over the Puget Sound area, Mars Hill is an enigma on not only the mega-church map but on the city of Seattle itself. Seattle while being well-known for being politically very liberal, also boasts the highest rate of the un-churched and those claiming to be atheists of any major metropolitan complex in the United States. Mark Driscoll does not preach a warm, fuzzy feel-good message offered by so many typical mega-church pastors, but instead preaches the hard messages of the extremely high cost of discipleship, the gospel in all of its facets, and can occasionally be very blunt and even somewhat crass while preaching.
I asked my friend Kate, who lives in the Seattle area, and has attended Mars Hill on occasion what she thought of the church, how the church functions, and who shepherds the flock on an individual basis and this was her response:
“The Mars Hill church is set up so that each plant has an official campus pastor who Shepard’s that flock on a daily more personal basis, but Sunday services are broadcast and preached by Mark Driscoll who is the founder and main pastor of the church. There are also many, many small groups set up at each campus to help break down the large congregation into smaller groups for more support.
While Mark Driscoll does not want to be the “celebrity” of the church and tries to set it up in some way so that is avoided, he has still become a big focus of the very large congregation. I think on the playing field of “mega-churches” Mars Hill does it well. Mark Driscoll often disagrees with and warns against a lot of those churches and pastor’s who preach a weak or false gospel to the masses. And the fact that he preaches a strong and true gospel with no apologies and without sugar coating it in any way is what makes the size of the church almost work in it’s favor. He really reaches people and presents them with the truth and reality of their state and people respond to it.”
I have listened to Mark Driscoll preach many times and I’m almost always impressed with his boldness and frankness in communicating the truth of the gospel and he’s not alone on this list, looking down it I see churches like the Village Church in Dallas with Matt Chandler as pastor, Grace Community Church in California with John MacArthur as pastor, and Coral Ridge
Presbyterian Church in Florida with Tullian Tchividjian (yup, I can’t pronounce it either) as pastor. I have listened to sermons by all these men, and I know that when they preach they are not preaching a watered-down, feel good, self-help type of sermon, but that they are presenting the gospel in all of its glory. These pastors and their church staff are working hard to make sure their church is functioning in a Biblical manner. And as I said in a previous post, while I do not blankly approve of, and agree with, every single thing these men say and do and say, I CAN say without a doubt that they are brothers in Christ and they are for the gospel and not preaching the opposite of the gospel just to draw a crowd as so many mega-church pastors are prone to do.
Kate briefly touches on another issue that mega-church pastors have, and that is the “celebrity” they create. Most of the Mega-church pastors are also best-selling authors. Some are regularly on TV. Even the pastors that are “good” have created a psudeo-celebrity like aura around them, at speaking engagements and conferences. But is this a good thing? Like I said in my previous post it partially depends on what they have to say, (are they preaching the true gospel, etc.) but it also falls back on us as well. When I went through my “Rob Bell phase” the thing that got me was: that to me, at that time, nothing was as authoritative as what he said, nothing my pastor said, nothing my small group leaders said, nothing my dad said, nothing the Bible said (which was a part of the Rob Bells whole deal “can we really know the truth?” “Did God really say…”) But we can run into the same thing here if we focus too much on the person instead of the message. We must be careful when we say that any mans word is more or equally as authoritative as God’s Word, because that when we’ve done that we’ve just made an idol of that man.
The other thing about pastoral celebrity is the push-back that can be given or implied from the pastor. Pastor Perry Nobel in Anderson SC said the following to his Mega-church congregation one Sunday morning: “If you want a church where you can know the pastor you need to leave. I don’t have time. I love my wife, I love my kids and I WILL NOT sacrifice my family on the ministry altar to eat food I don’t like and hang out with people that make me uncomfortable” How this man is still a mega church pastor is beyond my understanding except that maybe by abusing his congregation they think he’s helping them. Perry goes on to make himself out to be a pious saint and anyone who would bother him is a fool, and then he continues on to set up a straw man argument to “prove” his point. You can watch the whole thing here, I’ll just warn you it’s pretty ugly. A church member should never, NEVER be made to feel as if he is bothering the pastor, beyond the rules of common courtesy it shouldn’t even have to cross a church members mind if he is bothering the pastor, and even then depending on the situation it shouldn’t matter. Perry here is pretty much saying he’s too important for that, and that he can’t be bothered, and that essentially it’s all about him. Perry is not a pastor, he is a mega-church-star wannabe.
The church I attend isn’t a mega-church, it’s not anywhere close to a mega-church. Like the majority of the churches in the United States my church is small. On a good week the attendance at my church is right around 200 to 225. But I like my church and I love my church family. I’m on a first name basis with my pastor, I know the church staff very well and pray for them by name often. Even though our church doesn’t offer every program under the sun for every single possible people group like a mega-church can and even though sometimes if I want to make sure something gets done I may have to do it myself, it’s a good church to be a part of, and let me give you just a brief example of why…
A few weeks ago my oldest daughter was attending the local summer art camp, put on by the local center for the arts. She came home one day asking about another girl who was attending who was wearing a long skirt and a long sleeve shirt as well as a “bandana-type” hat on her head. My daughter was confused by this as it was quite hot and asked her why she was wearing these clothes. The girl answered that it was biblical and she was trying to be a good christian. She even gave a Bible verse to prove her point, 1 Corinthians 11…something. My daughter asked me about the situation on our way to church on Sunday morning and not knowing the Bible verse off the top of my head I told her I’d have to look it up and study the context and get back with her in order to give her the best answer, but that if she didn’t want to wait till later maybe she could ask our pastor. Later that morning before the morning service she did ask our pastor when she saw him out in the foyer of our church. And our pastor stopped what he was doing and gave a very thorough answer to little girls question about the Bible on a busy Sunday morning. I know my pastor and my pastor knows me and my family and he cares for them as a pastor should. I know almost everyone in my church, some I know better than others, but some I know very well. Most importantly my church feels like a family, as it should, we are a church family. I think that’s one thing the mega church and even a very large church loses, and if you ask me it can’t compete with. The level of care and knowledge and Biblical counsel given by a pastor to his small church family is a hundred times better that the level of care a “campus pastor” or even small group leader can supply. The level of care and accountability I have to my church family is totally lost in larger churches. I know I am not alone in this sentiment, my friend Kate that I mentioned earlier doesn’t attend Mars Hill regularly, she goes to a typical sized Presbyterian church in the Seattle area, for the same reasons I have mentioned above. She knows her pastor and her church family and she cares for them and they care for her and her family, but these are just some of the reasons why I like attending a church that isn’t “mega” and I pray I never do.
I have tried in these last two entries to address the issue of the mega-church. I hope that you have gained some insight into the issue but if you would like to discuss it further or you just generally agree with (or even disagree with) what I’ve said here please do so in the “comments” section below. And you can always subscribe to this blog and get a e-mail every time it’s updated by clicking the button on the right.
Authors update: 06.26.12
In the article above I mention that I don’t agree with all the things Pastor Driscoll teaches…and that list of things has grown, and grown, the more I have learned about Mark Driscoll. The list of disagreements I have has grown to the point that I must now retract what I said about Mars Hill Seattle being a good church. While Driscoll still may not teach a warm and fuzzy gospel, it has become clear that his attitude toward the sheep in his care is no different then that of Perry Noble’s and that he is not performing the duties of a pastor as called to in Scripture.