Three trends from the church in the USA we should avoid!
- Created on Tuesday, 19 November 2013 09:49
- Written by Nigel James
In a recent blog I discussed 3 powerful and positive lessons the church across Wales can learn from the church in America. For this blog, written in a cold dressing room of an ice-hockey arena (a glamorous life I lead!), I am focusing on 3 more dangerous trends of the church in the USA that we would do well to avoid. Whether we like it or not, ideas from 'successful' churches across the Pond tend to become a fashion here. Their assumptions tend to creep into our thinking unchallenged. As ever, I pray that this will provoke thinking, discussion, and encourage good practice.
1. Big Is Best
The USA is large country! Most nights I am sleeping in a bunk on a tour bus whilst our driver takes on a 500 mile plus journey. Looking at a map of the USA our long trip hardly makes a dent! Everything here is big ... the houses, the meals, the people, the churches! Most cities have at least one MEGA church, some have many. A stereotypical US answer to the challenge of planting churches in Wales, is that one or two mega-churches will solve the problem. Yet for a nation of towns and villages like Wales, there needs to be gospel initiative that penetrates local community and draws people into a new community of believers. Wales will be better served by 20 new churches of 100 people each, rather than by one mega-church of 2,000 people. Don't get me wrong... if a church of 2,000 people sprang up in Wales I would be doing cartwheels in the next Waleswide meeting, but strategically a bunch of smaller churches spread geographically across the nation would be more significant. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, or the church in Ephesus, we know he see believers in one region as 'the church' but we also know those believers met in homes and small groups across a region or a city. Although on occasions in Acts we read of thousands coming to faith in Christ in one day, scholars tell us their growth as believers happened in smaller community groups.
2. Church Hopping
New churches spring up in the USA all the time - some spectacularly, some with famous leaders, some with grand new buildings, some inevitably because of a church split. Whilst a few new churches deliberately target the unchurched, many new churches expand from 'transfer growth' - Christians from other churches wanting to try somewhere new and exciting. In fact, I know a significant number of believers across the USA who don't belong to any local church at all, but simply get up on a Sunday morning and decide which church to visit that day. Whilst you might get a broad experience that way, your faith is likely to be shallow. You can spread yourself widely, but you won't go very deep. The kind of devotion Luke remarks upon in Acts 2.42 - to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship - can't be realised by occasional appearances at whichever church takes your fancy for a Sunday or even for a season. Consumer culture has shaped many Americans' relationship to church to the extent that they place wanting to 'get' from church much more than wanting to 'give', placing 'the experience' above 'relationship'.
3. Hiring and Firing
Most US churches are way ahead of us in understanding the value of team ministry, and most new church plants in the US set out with a committed team of leaders sent from the mother church. However, there is also a rotating door tendency in many churches where pastoral leadership team members come and go quite quickly. I know one worship pastor, for example, who has been on the staff of 5 different churches in a 10 year period. It seems to me that one of the undervalued aspects of Paul's ministry throughout Acts was that he stayed a LONG TIME in places where he planted churches, even as an itinerant missionary! When we read of Paul's adventures it's easy to assume that he was rushing from place to place, a few days here, a few days there. In Acts 11, we discover Paul and Barnabas staying amongst the believers in Antioch for a whole year, and it is apparent Paul appointed leaders locally wherever he went to remain leading those churches long-term.
Somebody once said that leaders will overestimate what they can do in 3 years, but underestimate the effect they can have over 10 years. Welsh churches won't be planted, grow and flourish without leaders committed to the long haul, and without church boards/elders/etc willing to believe in, and spiritually invest in leadership for the long term.
I hope these insights and opinions will help us guard against some potentially damaging tendencies that so easily affect us. May they challenge us to let the Lord build his church through you in the nation of Wales.