I think that in places like Northern Virginia and Las Vegas it’s easy to just believe that we have this great spiritual relationship with God, that we are great Christians and we are doing great things for Christ just based on sheer numbers.
Have you ever been to a church with ten thousand members?
It’s impressive to say the least: The building size, the streamlined six services every Sunday. It’s hard not to look at their success and think that they’ve got something good going on. However, in talking with the director of FREE International he expressed his hesitation to partner with a mega church because they have enough resources to take all of your work, label it, copy right it and go on a book tour with it…all the while the real issue is being left in the dust of their success. They didn’t want the substance of being committed they wanted the shadow of it… they wanted to look like they were outreaching. I wonder if that is the kind of culture which reigns in mega churches…there are so many people and so much money, but no one is really making that much of a difference.
We’re seeing a shift in church today. The mega church culture of the 1990’s is waning into the emergent church culture of the 2010’s. It’s not about numbers in service, it’s about numbers in home groups. It’s about having a mission, it’s about discipleship. I love this movement, I love discipleship and mission. I feel like this is closer to Jesus and his teaching than anything else. This, however, doesn’t make the distinction between substance and shadow any less relevant. Sometimes I wonder if we are satisfied with living the way Jesus lived or just looking like we do.
It’s easy to do some fun outreaches every once in a while, talk about that cool missions trip you went on, but never invest in real relationships with the people we are serving. It’s outreach drive by style. It takes so little commitment but looks so good when people ask… Really, though, if we were honest we would know that there is a substance which is lacking in this form of outreach, a substance which we so desperately need if we’re going to offer something to a world of the lost.
In truth it matters little how many church services we attended or how many people we got in our small group. What matters is how many disciples we made. How many people did we love and serve in a way that transformed their lives? Substance requires all of our life…not just the compartment labeled ‘outreach’ or ‘ministry’. The cost is higher, certainly. But do we really have a choice?
The hard part is that people don’t necessarily know that they are, in fact, settling for shadow. Perhaps they have never seen substance to know that they are missing out on the fullness of Christ. This makes discipleship, community, and deep, intentional relationships so important. People can’t imitate what is not given to them as an example. If you don’t invest in deep, intentional relationships then the people who you lead won’t either. If you don’t make your life about the substance of commitment and intentionality in effectively reaching the lost and committing to their lives than the people following you and your community won’t either.
It is definitely a process, this giving up shadow for substance. It can look bad to the Christian community when a leader takes off the shadow and reveals that there is a short coming in the area of substance. Let’s be careful to invest wisely the energy and resources God has given us. Let’s give our leaders grace and encourage them as they take off the shadow and reveal the substance. But most of all let’s make sure that we aren’t settling for shadows in our own lives and ministry when we could be working humbly towards substance.