I find the rapid growth of my church both exciting and worrisome. On one hand growth does indicate that they are bringing people to God. However, an important part of a church is the connection and fellowship of its body. It seems to me that without great care, the very growth model that the church leadership is pushing and driving can make the church a building filled with individuals where there is no presence of the Holy Spirit.
During the "campaign" to raise the funds for our church's move to a multi-site model to enable us to increase our capacity and reach, our pastor really had to press and push to relay to his congregration his vision for this development. He needed to overcome the obvious palpable initial resistance and reluctance of his sheep. I suspect most folks felt like I did that rapid growth and radical models to deal with it can really change the feel and approach of a small-town, cozy, intimate church. I remember in one of his sermons he repeated the phrase, "If you are against increasing capacity in the church, you are telling others to go to hell."
This statement was meant to be provocative to be sure, but the message was clear. Our job as members of the church and members of the body of Jesus, was to spread the message of the gospel. If we are working to actively keep people out of the body or discouraging them from even hearing the good news, then we are keeping them on a path to hell. However, to my ears, I also sensed by his tone and timbre, something else in his words that I wrestled with. Perhaps it was the drive and passion of a man and his vision that was overshadowing or competing with the compassionate message of Jesus regarding his followers, his body of the righteous. Jesus told his disciple Peter to feed my sheep (John 21:17). This is an active and ongoing process of those who already are set aside as righteous. Without being properly fed, there is no depth and learned understanding. There is no sanctification, only shallow, dime-store religion that does not bring true salvation.
I wrestled with my pastor's message then and I wrestle with it still today. Am I following the teaching of Jesus and working to bring new distant and disconnected members to the body or am I being selfish in my resistance to get what I feel I need and others need to be properly fed? My thinking is that the role of a pastor is to fulfill the role of shepherd and teacher. Yet as the numbers grow and grow, there is no way for the shepherd to know his sheep. As well, a teacher who does not interact with his students in an intimate relationship is simply a lecturer or a figurehead. Without relationship, there is a danger of growing numbers masking a hollowness and shallowness and emptiness in the flock.
(Part 2 of 4)