And so am I, in a city with churches galore.
Churches come in all shapes and sizes now. You get to choose.
And don’t we like that? We are Americans, after all — a country of religious heretics. I don’t mean we are all un-Orthodox believers; although some are. I mean heretics in the original sense of the Greek verb hairein, to choose. Heretics choose their own beliefs and go their own spiritual way, rather than conforming to the beliefs and practices of a tradition.
The choosing now is often over what church to attend, which is recent phenomenon in the history of the world. Before we had 39 flavors of denominational churches and 27 varieties of non-denominational churches, before we had 11 versions of English Bible translations, and before we had decisions to make about choirs or praise bands, sermons or teaching talks, Sunday-go-to-meeting dress or non-business casual, we had parish churches that everyone attended whether you liked it or not.
Not that that way of churchgoing is Paradise Lost, but churches like that were generally smaller and always intergenerational. You didn’t get to choose your family or your church family.
A new dust-up in church circles came recently from an Atlanta-based mega-church pastor who said this:
“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 do 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.”
So many things to say about this, but before I do, I should give full disclosure that am the pastor of a church that is large by most standards, but not close to mega-church size. Our church is big enough to have diverse programming for all, with staff ministers for each age group. So we probably quality for the “unselfish” choice of church he advocates.
I grew up in a small church I mostly hated as a kid. I knew and was known by all the adults. I ended up loving the church enough to serve it vocationally. Which makes me want to thank my parents for not asking my opinion about where we went to church. They weren’t being selfish; they were being adults. And they didn’t teach me that the world revolved around me and my happiness.
I choose to believe God can shape faith and character into children and youth through small, medium and large-size churches. But maybe that’s just the heretic in me.