Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

The bigger the church the greater the responsibility

Last week I had a great experience. Through some circumstances it happened that I got connected with the Global Director HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven Life – does that ring a bell?) What a great privilege it was to have him and his wife, together with their son and mother at our house for dinner on Wednesday and then to spend the greater part of Thursday with them in Swaziland, showing them what we were doing in our Home-base caring program and in what way we were putting our vision of becoming the hands and feet of Christ into practice. We spent many hours in discussions on how we were going about doing this work and then also hearing from them how they saw their task in this regard in their home church in California.
I must be honest that I’m not always very positive about mega-churches, the main reason for this being that some of these churches seem to exist merely for the sake of being able to claim that it is a mega-church with seating for so many thousand people. It’s not that I think that a small church is necessarily better than a larger church. I recall that Rick Warren writes somewhere that any church larger than 300 people becomes impersonal, which is the main objection which I have heard against mega-churches (that there is a lack of true fellowship and warmth within such churches.) But this objection would then be equally true for medium-sized churches.
However, as I listened to what these people had to share with us, I realised one important thing: God grants some church leaders the privilege of leading huge churches, but then God also expects so much more from them! In terms of resources, people and expertise, they have so much to offer in order to assist others to fulfill their calling. I have had contact with some of the world’s largest churches (on two occasions I’ve had the privilege to visit Coral Ridge in Fort Lauderdale where Evangelism Explosion originally started) and I’ve also had close contact with people from Willow Creek and now also with Saddleback. From my experience with these specific churches, they are all greatly focussed on God’s mission in the world. This is great! I sincerely believe that the main reason why God grants some churches to become mega-churches is in order for them to do even more in the world than would have been possible if all of those people had been divided into a number of smaller churches.
However, what was however perhaps the most remarkable of this visit, was when we were told: We did not come here to teach you. We have come to you in order to learn from you and to understand what you are doing. Being a small church ourselves, we tend to become used to the fact that people come to us with a lot of knowledge which they want to share with us. Finding that representatives from a church as large as Saddleback tell us that they can learn something from us was really very special (and very humbling) and also a great encouragement. There is a good possibility that we may be able to take hands as partners to increase our own influence in Swaziland. However, as I’ve learnt in the past, this is something which the Lord will have to guide us through in order for such a partnership to work to the advantage of both parties, which, if you had been reading this blog for some time, you will know I feel very strongly about. But we are full of hope that some great things may follow.
And then, to top an already wonderful visit, we determined that this man and my wife are related! About six or seven generations ago they shared the same great-great-great…. grandmother and -father! So, not only were we linked through the blood of Christ, but we were also linked through family blood. I thought that was pretty neat!

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008 - Posted by | Building relations, Evangelism Explosion, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hospitality, Mission, Partnership, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland

2 Comments »

  1. Really really pray about this before you get involved. I was a missionary with Saddleback for seven years. My experience was that they use small, grass roots ministries overseas to build their church and vision for people to see and experience at the home front. The partnerships are not what I would call equal. And in my experience, it was oppressive to the Christian nationals I worked with. I really loved this church and was very saddened by my experience with them. I don’t think that they have a true desire to understand missions from the perspective of long term missionaries overseas or the national Christians that they partner with. I don’t understand this and never felt I got a concrete answer on their current view on long term missionaries but we parted ways because from my perspective they cannot concretely hold to the Biblical view of sending out missionaries and their is too much of a focus on “using” national Christians for their own benefits. Bigger may be better to some people because they think there’s more money, but when ideas cannot be communicated and carried out and ministries and missionaries cannot be supported either financially or spiritually after they are taken on by the church then the size doesn’t matter.

    Comment by Michelle | Monday, January 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. Hi Michelle, thanks so much for your honest view on this issue. I realise of course that you may be absolutely right. In a certain sense this is also what it means to say that the bigger the church the greater the responsibility – also a greater responsibility to be very sensitive for the situation and people you are working with. But I will take your advice to heart.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, January 7, 2008 | Reply


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