Last week, one of my heroes, Dr. Eugene Peterson, said some fairly harsh words about the megachurch. Those words hit me hard as I find myself the pastor of a megachurch. I never intended to build or pastor a megachurch, and it was certainly never my goal to be a megachurch. The whole concept of anything “mega” is usually not something to enjoy or value.
Dr. Peterson said, “megachurches are not churches. I don’t think you can be a pastor with just a bunch of anonymous people out there. In the megachurch, well--there’s not relationship with anybody.” Before I share my thoughts on this subject, allow me to walk in the shoes of this hero, this brilliant mind, that God has used to bring great clarity to millions of Bible readers.
I have great respect for Dr. Peterson. It is important that I approach his comments with the understanding that he has never been the pastor of a megachurch. What he may not know is that most of us who do pastor a megachurch never intended to do so. When our church began to grow beyond 200, if someone had given me a crystal ball look into the future, and if I had been given the privilege of seeing where this thing called Crossings was headed, I would have emphatically stated, “This is not what I had in mind! This is not the church I want to pastor! The large church cannot possibly be a church that can love and care for people in a meaningful way.”
What Dr. Peterson may not know is how hard it is to lead people to Christ, to provide a place where significant spiritual growth is possible, and to develop leaders who will walk alongside thousands of people as they journey toward Christ. Most people have no idea how challenging it is not only to provide the leaders who can effectively and lovingly walk with people as they pursue Christ, but also how hard it is, as a pastor of a megachurch, to make sure the needs of people are handled in a biblical and effective way without the benefit of getting to know all of them personally.
I came to a point where I had to decide If I was willing to make sure people who were hurting had amazing people around them to love and lead them, which meant I would not get the joy of being a part of this process. Just think how selfish it would have been of me to deny someone the help they desperately needed just because I insisted I know them personally.
People in pain do not care how many people they personally know. They just need to know that someone, a person, sincerely and lovingly knows them and cares very deeply for them.
There are many Thursday evenings I find myself on the back row of our Chapel as I worship with those engaged in our Celebrate Recovery ministry. There are a few hundred people in our Chapel worshiping, celebrating their milestones of recovery, and finding strength for the journey without knowing the pastor who happens to be sitting on the back row of the celebratory service.
Thursday nights are filled with deadlines for me. It is on Thursday night that I must have the sermon title, outline, and PowerPoint slides to our fabulous communications staff. The typical Thursday night finds me at the office, or occasionally on the back row of the Celebrate Recovery service in the Chapel, or laboring in my study at home over the message for the coming Sunday.
As I prepare the message, I realize it will be a message for people I do not know and have never met. All the more reason to be extremely sensitive to the direction of the Holy Spirit who knows every person’s name even though I don’t.
So, yes, I am the pastor of a megachurch. When we were small, I knew everyone and everything going on in their lives. Somewhere along the way I decided we had too many people who needed care--care that I could not provide and care that could be provided by people who could truly relate to their issues in a way that I could not. I know many pastors whose insecurities demand that they are everyone’s savior. In essence, they need to be needed more than the needy really need them.
Years ago, even though far out of my comfort zone, I decided I’d rather see hundreds get help, even if it meant I would not know them. And I discovered they needed help more than they needed to know me. They had numerous people around them who could relate to their needs, their seasons of life, and their paths to recovery far more than I could ever hope to.
When it became clear that we had needs to meet, people to love that I could not know, I made sure someone did know them and the megachurch thrived. My megachurch loved it. It persevered with people who felt lost and alone.
Thank God I learned they did not need to know me. They just needed to know that someone cared--and I happen to have a few thousand people who care. Call it what you want. Mega may mean too big to care for some, but I have found it to mean the ability to provide mega care to people who did not need to know me personally, but rather they just needed to know someone who cared, who understood their pain, who could relate to what they were going through, and someone who would be available around the clock.
I’m so glad I realized that I could not be that for the many who needed it, and that God provided numerous amazing people who were eager to be always available to hurting and frightened people. Thank God I realized that I was not, nor could I be, the primary source of care, but that there were people--hundreds of people--who had walked this difficult road of recovery and were willing to be available to those who were on the journey.