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Thursday
Mar062008

Deep and Wide

The term, “mega-church,” has become a dirty word. It’s really a simple term. It just means “big church.” A church is usually considered a mega-church when it has 2000 or more attenders. But language is complex and words take on all kinds of connotations – or some would say, baggage. The next time you encounter the term “mega-church” – whether in Newsweek, on The Daily Show or in casual conversation – take note of what is being expressed.

To many unchurched people the concept of a mega-church is that of religious (or semi-religious) huckstering. They hear about rock bands and cappuccino bars and wonder if there is anything there about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked or showing compassion. They’ve seen some mega-church pastors on TV who were promising prosperity or preaching right-wing politics and they figure American Christians are flocking to these places to hear what they want to hear and to have fun doing it.

Of course, most of the criticism leveled at mega-churches comes from other Christians. To them the whole thing just seems so shallow. They see it as dumbed-down Christianity.

Real problems arise when we caricature those who approach God’s work in ways other than ours. It’s the old comparison thing. I want to compare me on my best day with you on your worst day. I want to compare my strengths with your weaknesses. I want to compare my stable places with your excesses.

It’s very easy to caricature the mega-churches, especially the ones we’ve never attended. But let me tell you something about large churches. Most of them became large because of a passion to tell others about Jesus Christ. They were trying to take barriers away so that lost and lonely people would have access to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And that passion is something we must not lose. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

"It was not enough for Jesus that a few had heard his call and followed him. He could not consider setting himself apart aristocratically with his disciples and, in the way of great founders of religions, conveying to them, in isolation from the crowd of people, the teachings of higher knowledge and perfect conduct of life. Jesus came, worked, and suffered for the sake of all of his people. And the disciples, who wanted to have him for themselves, who wanted to keep him from being bothered by the children that were brought to him and by many poor beggars on the roadside, had to learn that Jesus would not let his ministry be restricted by them. His gospel of the kingdom of God and his power as Savior belonged to the poor and sick, where he found them among his people. The appearance of the crowd, which in his disciples perhaps evoked aversion, anger, or contempt, filled Jesus’ heart with deep compassion and anguish." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I Want to Live These Days with You, Westminster John Knox Press)

When I read those words a song came to mind. It was a song I sang in Sunday School when I was five or six-years-old.

“Deep and wide. Deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.”

I had no idea what that song was about, but it was so fun to sing because we used big, exaggerated gestures as we sang it. I believe it was a song about the effects of Christ’s sacrifice – the fountain of his blood that flowed deep and wide.

I think we’ve got to go for both. We’ve got to go deep. His grace is to saturate all areas of life. But we also have to go wide. There are so many who are clueless about His grace. It may seem shallow to some, but if we don’t make the good news accessible we’ve abandoned the heart of Jesus.

Maybe churches would be better off if we looked at the strengths of those who do God’s work in ways different from our ways. Maybe if I compared your strengths with my weaknesses I could learn from you.

Go deep. Go wide.

Reader Comments (5)

hi phil. it's great to get to read some of your thoughts here. so i agree with the deep and wide philosophy, and of course Jesus did have compassion on the crowd, but what about kierkagaards idea that the crowd is where we go to hide from God? it seems like many christians i've been influenced by lived lives that wouldn't fit in a mega-church model - the desert fathers and mothers, st. francis, etc. and in personal experience of visiting churches around the country for the last 4 years with psalters the mega churches almost always did seem more shallow over all then the smaller congragations. a lot of times they would be more friendly to start off with, but the relationships rarely lasted long term.
in a village we visited in turkey we went out to view the fields of one of the leading men of the village. he showed us his orchard of a few dozen cherry trees. daily he would inspect and care for each tree like a shepard to them. he said he could afford to get more, but he didn't want to because that would sacrifice the quality time spent with each tree he already had (plus he other crops he was looking after). anyway, just some thoughts i had. it's very cool to me when different people who's thoughts i respect come out on different sides of an issue. for exapmle i have this pastor friend in tennessee (who reminds me somewhat of you) who was just writing a blog about a similar theme, but with some different conclusions: http://dougfloyd.wordpress.com/
well, i look forward to reading more of your writing to come. faith,hope,love. jeremy
p.s. our little community house just started a blog page if you ever want to check it out: www.kairoshouse.blogspot.org

March 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjeremy siegrist

Jeremy,

Thanks for the post, bro! I'm sorry it's taken me a few days to respond. This is a pretty busy week.

I think you really point out the difficulty with going deep AND wide. Mega-churches who have gone deep have had to be pretty creative. Some have integrated small house churches into their fellowship. Some have planted satellites instead of building bigger buildings (which makes them feel much less mega).

I just think we can't have the luxury of choosing either/or. It must be both/and. Now when I say "both/and" I'm not saying that each church should aspire to be a mega-church. I'm simply saying that a church should never be satisfied if it is not reaching out to the lost. Even if I was worshipping in a small house church I would want to be challenged to share my faith in an effort to fulfill Jesus' mandate to make disciples. (I would also want to be challenged to care for the poor. Matthew 25 and Matthew 28 are both essential to discipleship.)

Years ago I heard the life-saving metaphor. It's the picture of people on a ship who are pulling drowning people out of the water. Someone on that ship needs to be helping them dry out, giving them clothes, taking care of all their needs. But while that is happening, the guys at the edge of the ship need to keep pulling people out of the water until they're all safe.

No metaphor is adequate, but that one really pointed out the both/and to me.

I haven't had the chance to check out Doug Floyd's blog yet, but I will.

Thanks also for letting me know about kairoshouse. I can't wait to go there.

You're a breath of fresh air, Jeremy! The great experiences you've had with the Body of Christ over the past few years of travel compliment the heart and passion I've always seen in you. You have so much to give to the Body. Keep it up!

March 22, 2008 | Registered Commenter[Phil Stout]

When I read "Wide and Deep" and also see "more and better" (as in disciples). It sure seems to fit our mission statement. I thunk that there are so very many things at First Church that allow us to continue to go deeper with each other while continuing to try to go wide and reach new people for Christ. First Church is already too big to know everyone, but we can certainly each get involved in many ways that allow us to still have personal connections with many in our body. Whether it is in small groups, specific ministries, or more informal avenues, I think that the resources are there. I have been disconnected for awhile, but that was because I allowed myself to become distracted by other more worldly things. Fortunately for me, my relationships here were deep enough that people from the body let me know that I was missed and helped encourage me back in. There was a net that casted wide a few years ago to get me into First Church. The relationships that I gained went deep enough to still be felt even when I was away. I think that we can do both, but as we grow wider we need to work harder and more intentionally to ensure the depth that we need and desire. That is where the real connection lies.

March 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHarry Trapp

Though I am no longer at First Church, I think my experience since leaving has made me see the values that First Church has not only makes complete sense (which I never doubted in the first place) but is such a healthy balance. The weekend services as a seeker oriented described by Phil as a service where walls are torn down for the unchurched and a mid week service that is worship based and heavy believers based just works. I am at a church of 900 and we struggle with a community where people are unconnected. Smaller churches don't have more connected people. Connection happens when your people are ready for it. First Church has plenty of people who don't know everyone but also in the same sense has content people because they are known by someone. It doesn't matter to people how many people they know as long as they are known. And that is the beauty of small groups. I think the "mega churches" have started the small group model and have shown that a small group of people breaking bread together, praying together and doing life together is what really and truly connects people in ways that a 45 minute class on Sundays in between services can't. But it all boils down to the fact that people have to make the CHOICE to show people their true faces and to open themselves up and show who they really are. And that is the beauty of what these "mega churches" have brought back into the church - they have shown that you can come broken and sinful and still be welcome in the church. You can wear jeans and sneakers and the kids can come in sweats and no one cares. Because what matters is not the outward appearance, but the heart. So rather than look at the places mega churches have opened up for the church, we nick pick and complain about the loud music and the electric guitar and the fact that there is coffee in the sanctuary and look past the broken souls that are actually in a church for the first time in years. I too am sick of all this mega church bashing. I am an hour away from WillowCreek and I hear it all the time and how fearful people are of changing in any way that will reflect them. It just drives me crazy. I think the ironic thing in all of this is that the critics are putting mega churches in a box. Who is to say that St Francis or the desert mothers or fathers wouldn't fit at a Willowcreek or Northpoint. Let's not forget that these churches are the ones that started the change in the first place. They are the ones that dared to be different when everyone else was doing church the same way it had been done for a hundred years. They have left a legacy in the church of today and I can only hope that God can use me to leave a legacy with the children I am honored to lead.

April 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJill Crew

Will always have their own dreams forever! Believe in yourself!
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April 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAir Jordan shoes

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