Carl Trueman makes two points I want to pass along. 1) In certain sectors of American Christianity, the ideal of a church is rooted in a craving for a prolific Mega-Theologian-Author and 2) The desire for mega-leaders, mega-movements, and mega-everything is not innocent, and may be outright devilish.
The Mega-Theologian-Author is that guru preacher guy who turns every word he says into a blog or a book. To that, Trueman observes:
Let’s face it: no preacher is so good that his every sermon deserves to be printed or his every thought published; but some contemporary leaders are heading fast in that direction, and this can only fuel their cultic significance for those needing someone to follow. Come on, chaps, everyone preaches a disastrous clunker once in a while; and many actually preach them with remarkable and impressive regularity. The world therefore does not need to read every word you ever utter from a pulpit; and not every electrical impulse which sparks between the synapses in your grey matter needs to be written down, turned into yet another expository commentary, and sold for 15% net royalties at the local Christian bookshop.
Affluent cities and wealth-based thinking can become a real threat to parishioners and pastors. Churches can learn to crave perfect mega-leaders with the danger that their cravings will become reality and they will birth the very thing they desire.
I worry that a movement built on megachurches, megaconferences, and megaleaders, does the church a disservice in one very important way that is often missed amid all the pizzazz and excitement: it creates the idea that church life is always going to be big, loud, and exhilarating and thus gives church members and ministerial candidates unrealistic expectations of the normal Christian life. In the real world, many, perhaps most, of us worship and work in churches of 100 people or less; life is not loud and exciting; big things do not happen every Sunday; budgets are incredibly tight and barely provide enough for a pastor’s modest salary; each Lord’s Day we go through the same routines of worship services, of hearing the gospel proclaimed, of taking the Lord’s Supper, of teaching Sunday School; perhaps several times a year we do leaflet drops in the neighbourhood with very few results; at Christmas time we carol sing in the high street and hand out invitations to church and maybe two or three people actually come along as a result; but no matter — we keep going, giving, and praying as we can; we try to be faithful in the little entrusted to us. It’s boring, it’s routine, and it’s the same, year in, year out. Therefore, in a world where excitement, celebrity, and cultural power are the ideal, it is tempting amidst the circumstances of ordinary church life to forget that this, the routine of the ordinary, the boring, the plodding, is actually the norm for church life and has been so throughout most places for most of the history of the church; that mega-whatevers are the exception, not the rule; and that the church has survived throughout the ages not just – or even primarily – because of the high profile firework displays of the great and the good, but because of the day to day faithfulness of the mundane, anonymous, non-descript people who constitute most of the church, and who do the grunt work and the tedious jobs that need to be done. History does not generally record their names; but the likelihood is that you worship in a church which owes everything, humanly speaking, to such people.
Trueman is not a theoretical muser, he is observing what is happening. His writing and advise should be taken seriously and may require serious soul-searching for some American churches. As always, I speak as an American — it is the only culture I know — and I don’t ponder these things in order to cut off my own face, but to participate in the only culture I live in.
Eastside Church of the Cross