Andy Did It Again
March 4, 2016
By now many of you have seen the clip of Andy Stanley criticizing small churches and the people who choose to attend them. Specifically Pastor Stanley said:
When I hear adults say, ‘I don’t like a big church. I like about 200. I wanna be able to know everybody.’ I say you are so stinkin’ selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids, anybody else’s kids. If you don’t go to a church large enough, where you can have enough middle-schoolers and high-schoolers so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big ol’ church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people, and grow up and love the local church. Instead, what you do…you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church, and then they go off to college, and you pray there’ll be a church in their college town that they connect with, and guess what: all those churches are big, the kind of church you don’t like. Don’t attend a church that teaches your children to hate church.
No doubt seeing the quick and negative reaction across social media, Stanley took to Twitter to offer an apology.
I am glad Pastor Stanley apologized. That is a good start. There is not a pastor alive who does not regret something he has said. However, this is far from the first time Andy has made similar remarks about the superiority of mega-churches. I don’t begrudge him his opinion. I grew up in a mega-church. I am grateful for so many of my experiences there. But I also know what it is like to attend and serve on staff at a small church; something Andy does not know anything about. And I can say categorically that Andy Stanley is wrong.
Andy grew up at Atlanta’s mega First Baptist Church where his dad served as pastor. Later Andy became FBC's youth director until a falling out between father and son. Andy left FBC Atlanta to launch the insta-mega-Northpoint Community Church which now has multiple locations across the metro Atlanta area. It is massive. But Andy does not know what it is like to take his family to a smaller church where everything is not awesome; where the band is not kickin; where there is no full-time director of stage props. In other words Andy has missed out on the church experience of the vast majority of Christians throughout the ages and around the world. Indeed he condemns their choice in such a church as “stinkin selfish.” I cannot help but wonder about the faithful pastors who labor with no fanfare for the sake of Christ and his people under the massive shadow of Northpoint. Their celebrity pastor neighbor called the men and women who attend their churches "stinkin' selfish" for not doing the easier thing by following the masses to Northpoint.
The irony which seems lost on Andy is that the charge of selfishness may easily be leveled against those who attend Northpoint. After all it is easy to attend a mega-church. The seats are generally more comfortable. They have a coffee shop. Attendees don’t have to be bothered by annoying kids. The lights and videos are mezmerizing. You can be anonymous which means you can avoid any responsibility. You can consume all the various goods and services without needing to contribute anything by way of service. See how that works?
Andy said that having your children in a smaller church means that “you care nothing about the next generation.” But judging by the sorts of preaching and worship going on in many (not all!) mega-churches the same charge can be leveled against them. Indeed the failed seeker-friendly church consumer movement has left a generation of unbelievers in its wake.
Too often the awesomely felt-needs preaching, doctrine-belittling, worship-taining religious big tent churches which Andy praises have taught untold thousands (millions?) to expect the church to meet their every consumer demand. Many (not all!) of them are leaving a burnt over zone much like the manipulative revivalism of the 18th and 19th centuries did in the Northeast United States.
Andy’s rude comments were simply the fruit of his woefully unbiblical doctrine of the church. Many may remember Andy’s rather infamous charge at a conference hosted at Northpoint where he said that “preaching through books of the Bible is lazy…it’s cheating.” Or the article in Leadership some years ago where he said that if he changed his doctrine the people of his church would not notice but if he changed the music style they would be instantly upset. How can that reality produce anything other than grief in the heart of a pastor? Or how about the rather horrifying interview where Andy said that we must do away with the idea that pastors are shepherds? Some of this may be chalked up to Andy’s deficient doctrine of Scripture. But whatever the case, Andy proves that it is possible to build a massive church with very little input from God’s Word.
I pastor a church that fits into the large category but we are by no means a mega-church (no matter what Carl Trueman says). Anyway, there are a lot of things I am immensely grateful for about the church I serve that can be true about any church no matter what the size. Here are few:
1. The leadership is “we” not “me.”
Contrary to what Andy teaches relentlessly to pastors, leadership is not about the top guy. If he understood what the Bible says or took it seriously he would know that churches are not led like secular corporations. The Bible actually does say quite a bit about how the church is to be led. Churches are to be led by a plurality of elders accountable to God and the congregation. It is less efficient and gloriously so. It also keeps the pastor from thinking of himself as the CEO.
2. Those who lead worship are rather ordinary.
When we think “worship leaders” we don’t think merely of a guitar player or singer. We think of everyone from the song leader to the preacher to the musicians and those who lead in prayer and administer the sacraments. Simply put, we have no rock stars and we love it that way.
3. We love to feed God’s people God’s Word.
We can’t get past Jesus’ words to Peter – “Do you love me?...Feed my sheep.” Yes Andy there is something about the shepherd metaphor that is timeless in understanding what pastors do. There is nothing else quite like a shepherd because there is nothing else quite like the church.
4. We love for families to worship together.
There are times when we do gather in groups reflective of stage in life. For instance we have ministries to children and youth and university students complete with age appropriate Sunday School. That arrangement makes a lot of sense to us. But we want families to worship together. We desire our children to be in the gathered worship of God’s people just as Jesus welcomed them so eagerly. We believe they learn profoundly important lessons as they watch, listen, and generally observe all that happens in our Lord’s Day services where the Lord himself promises to be present through the ordinary means of grace. We believe that habitually segregating people by age and interests does a disservice to the body of Christ.
I don’t mean to be uncharitable but a Twitter “oops” is not sufficient for such hubris and pastoral malpractice. Perhaps Andy would consider going back to the drawing board and rethinking his whole idea of what the church is. Hey, a guy can dream.