Bigger is Better: How Ego Has Harmed the American Church

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How wonderful, how uplifting it is to meet a Christian speaker.

Isn’t it?

In the American Church, our Christian Speakers are our saints. We read their books. We follow their twitter feed. We aggressively quote Timothy Keller and Francis Chan and all the rest of them. They’re our modern day apostles.

These men have insight. They’ve bottled it up. They’ve neatly arranged it. They’ve sold it under glossy covers and stood on huge stages, broadcasting their views to millions through YouTube.

This — this is the highest good. To reach the maximum number of people with a good idea. That’s where the heart of Jesus lived. In the millions-at-once. In jotting down some quick advice and then having it passed out in leaflet form.

Oh, wait.

No it wasn’t.

The Ministry of Jesus

Jesus kept things small(1). He was bizarrely ineffective by today’s standards. Imagine if Jesus had never left a certain region of Detroit.

He met with some guys. He chatted with some disgraced women. He did some miracles. He was homeless and hung out with “dirty” people, and I guarantee that the American Church wouldn’t even have heard of him. We would have heard about his death afterward and then fought about it for two days on twitter.

It seems a strange choice. Why didn’t he do his own marketing? Why didn’t He — the real teacher, the real Lord — try to talk to more people? Why did he leave Evangelism to the next 2000 years?

As you read through the gospels, you’ll notice a trend. Jesus, when he spoke to big groups, taught through stories. It was only in one-on-one sessions that he offered actual advice.

The Ministry of America

I think of all the pastors and Christian writers I’ve known who have given complex counsel to me and to wounded friends of mine. There is a reason psychotherapists go to school for 8 years. Yet, when faced with similarly delicate confidences, most church leaders stomp straight in, trusting that they’ve read the Bible enough times. Obviously they have Christ’s answer on the subject.

They’ve developed black and white answers that will fit in every situation. They assume they are Jesus, able to offer His absolute opinion. They’ve studied the test book; they’ve learned to correct answers. They’re ready to fire from the hip. Whereas, if you look at the God-Man himself, Jesus tended to stay away from, “In this situation, do this” advice. He didn’t fill the gospel with test answers. When he offered counsel, he stopped. He listened. He met that person and that specific situation tenderly, then spoke from His own divinity.

Ego seems to be pervasively tangled up in a pastor’s or a Christian speaker’s response: they must give the right answer. They must be over you, in authority. They must provide. They cannot be a peer, and simply listen.

Where is the humility? Where is the quiet, “I don’t know, but I will sit with you?”

Could it be that the Lord of the Universe knew more about human nature than we did? Did he perhaps understand that no size fits all, and that each human heart deserves eye-contact when it’s ministered to?

And yet, all across American Christianity, we have honored Big and ignored Small. And I believe that, in part, this has contributed to the Millennial Exodus.

The Roots of Our Instruction

Jesus died.

With any movement, the death of its leader is often going to crush it. Think of how many churches have been upended when the pastor moved away. We tend to circle around leaders, but once the leader goes, only rarely does their message continue.

Jesus died. Not only that, his followers were brutally persecuted. But here we are, 2,000 years later. The message didn’t die.

Why is that?

I think Jesus knew what he was doing when he kept his ministry small. He worked with a small group of men. He spoke to whoever came to him, but he didn’t rush to Rome.

This is radically different from what the church in America looks like. Yet according to the model set to us by God Himself, I should not know the name of your spiritual teacher in New York. You should not know the name of my spiritual teacher in Georgia. Maybe our spiritual teachers know each other; maybe they gather under the same counselor to increase their wisdom. But if I’ve heard of a teacher in New York, then we have a problem. Because small, effective work doesn’t go far. If their work is going far, then it smacks of Ease and Ego, rather than the Empathy and Effort of working in small circles.

I want to say a word about Christian Speakers: they’re not evil. I don’t want to shame Timothy Keller or Francis Chan and claim their hearts aren’t in the right place. They have good things to say, and I believe they have a genuine love for Christ. But you’ve never heard of the most effective Christians in America. The most lasting work is done across lifetimes, in small circles, when someone is face-to-face and refuses to let go of your life. That’s the work that becomes multi-generational.

If you’re wondering why so many Christian youth are leaving the church, consider this: we have no elders. Our mentors are Celebrity Christians we’ve never met.

  1. (Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known)

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