Well, maybe not.
Steve Blanchard forwarded an article recently about a pastor who resigned from his mega-church in Atlanta two years ago because people loved the dynamic Sunday worship experience he had created but didn’t love “caring for people and meeting the needs of the city” on the other days of the week. Let me warn you: this example is extreme, but I do think there are some lessons here that every church–and every pastor–could learn from.
Take a look at this post from John White’s “Stories of the Revolution” blog.
Mega church pastor: “We are completely off base with what discipleship means”
Shaun King stepped down on September 1st .
Shaun resigned from the church in Atlanta that he started three years ago. Called “Courageous Church”, it was, in Shaun’s words, a “super cool Sunday worship-service-centered church with 700 people”. A mixed race congregation, it was seen as one of the cutting edge churches in the city. Highly “successful”!
Leonard Sweet, scholar and author, called Shaun, “One of the most dynamic, entrepreneurial, creative and passionate leaders on the American scene today.” How could this guy possibly fail? What would cause him to throw up his hands and give up?
Shaun stepped down not because of any scandal but because he was disillusioned and burned out. He had followed the advice of church planting experts on how to develop an exciting, growing church by focusing on a dynamic Sunday morning “experience”. He writes, “I sold my soul for church attendance in our first week and I could never quite get it back.”
Over time Shaun came to understand that “the overwhelming percentage of our time, energy, skills, budget and creativity were spent preparing for Sunday morning services, getting people to our Sunday services and getting them to volunteer for our Sunday morning services.” Then, Shaun made a big “mistake”. He tried to change all of this. He tried to create a discipleship oriented church where the “time, energy, skills, budget and creativity” went primarily into caring for people and meeting needs in the city. And, since he was the senior leader, he could make this work. Right?
Shaun planned to move the whole congregation into small missional groups with one large meeting each month. He worked with his leaders to develop the new structure. He preached a whole sermon series on the new vision (Preaching changes people. Right?). He reports that, as long as he was preaching about it, the people loved it.
But, once the “shift” took place, in his words, “all hell broke loose”. Three months later, 85% of the congregation wanted to go back to the “super cool worship-service-centered church”. Four months later, Shaun stepped down as the lead pastor. Here’s his evaluation…
“What I am saying is that church attendance, Sunday morning services, sermon-listening (or even sermon preaching), song-singing, hand-clapping, amen-saying and all the other things that “Christ-ians” have lifted up so high look so little like Christ himself that I am utterly convinced that we are completely off base with what discipleship means. Considering all of this, I think I have given up on church as I knew it. Big buildings. Hugh crowds. Few disciples. I’m not with it. It’s inefficient and just doesn’t feel right with my soul. This is not a rejection of big buildings or huge crowds, but an indictment on how few disciples are being made in the process of it all. A better way has to exist.”
Well, Shaun, welcome to the growing number of traditional church leaders (perhaps 1500 a month by some estimates) who are coming to the same conclusion. That is, that the building-centered, Sunday big worship-service-centered “experience” (one mega church here in Denver calls this “the big magic”) is a great way to entertain people but an inefficient way to make disciples. Not only that, but it takes a terrible toll on the pastors and on their families. (In my next post, I’ll tell you what Shaun’s wife wrote about this whole experience. I’m telling you… this lady shoots straight!)
And, yes, Shaun a better way does exist.
–John White, September 19, 2011