I was obsessed with big churches. For many years.
At age twenty-six I attended the annual “Pastors School” at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. As a young pastor serving my first congregation, I had never experienced anything quite like it. On a “good Sunday” I preached to 50 souls in my tiny little church. At First Baptist I was surrounded by thousands. There were three times as many in the choir than I had in my entire sanctuary. The singers were outstanding. There was an orchestra. And the preaching…Oh the preaching!!! It was like heaven on earth!
From that moment on, I wanted a big church. I desired to have a famous ministry like Jerry Vines, or Adrian Rogers or Charles Stanley. I wanted to write books, preach at pastor’s conferences and be elected to be an officer in the Southern Baptist Convention. After all, I could preach as well as any of those guys. I was smart. I will earn my degrees, climb the church ladder (from one bigger congregation to another). One day, I said, I will be the pastor of my own mega church. I will host my own “pastor’s school.”
Other pastors taught me to grow churches. The seminary taught me to grow churches. Bigger is better. Larger numbers means that you are doing it right. Small churches are sinful. Pastors of smaller churches, especially “bi-vocational” ones, are somehow not as godly or as blessed as the big church preachers. That’s what I was taught. That’s what I believed. That thinking is what would make me a “success .”
Something happened on my way to the top of the ministerial pedestal. Life happened. Sin happened. Ego happened. Tragedies happened.
Thirty years have elapsed since that” big church baptism “in Jacksonville. I left that church of 50 and subsequently was the pastor of eight different congregations. Only two of them reached or exceeded 200 in Sunday attendance. One was 150. The others have been less than 100. The church I preach in now? You guessed it. About 50.
In a time of discouragement last week, I spoke with my dearest and best friend in the ministry. I needed some reassurance. I needed some hope. A positive word. Anything. My dream of being a big ole famous preacher is shot.
His words were sweeter than honey, more precious than gold.
We were taught the wrong thing, he said. Everything we “learned” at those mega church pastor conferences was wrong.
Jesus did not call us to build big churches. He did not call us to be famous. He called us to make disciples. He called us to win souls.
Thank you my wonderful friend for speaking the truth. After preaching to 45 precious souls this morning, and witnessing an altar full of them crying out to God, I can sleep in peace tonight. I can rest well in my labors.
God wants me to love Him, love people and preach the Word. And upon THE ROCK, HE will build HIS Church.
Just like He did in Jacksonville.