It’s taken me a while to ponder Andy Stanley’s recent diatribe against the small church. I won’t rehearse it here. Read his response in Christianity Today article if you need a refresher.
Yes, his words were artless and mean, but ultimately misdirected, and he gave a whale of an apology which all of us appreciated.
Still, what Andy Stanley’s done is to uncover a very real challenge for all of us church leaders: how do we balance the spiritual needs of parents with the spiritual needs of their kids? For us parents, too: how do we balance our need for spiritual nurture with the needs of our kids?
Andy Stanley clearly sides with the kids:
“You are so stinking 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 [or] anybody else’s kids.”
Let me illustrate the danger at face value:
A couple of years ago, I was headed through a buffet line with a mom who was raving about the children’s program at her new non-denominational church.
“But, I thought you were Anglican,” I wondered.
“Well, yes,” she replied, “but there were no programs for the kids at our church.”
“And how do you like it?” I wondered more. “That’s quite a change.”
“Oh, I get nothing out of it at all,” she replied. “But, that’s okay. I’m doing it for the kids.”
Is that what an Andy Stanley is advocating? A place of no spiritual growth for the parents in order that the kids make friends on Sunday morning? I hope not.
For my part, I have always sided with the parents. Fundamentally, the way to grow your kids’ faith is to grow your faith. Your joy and strength in Christ models and teaches your children to have joy and strength in Christ. If your confidence in Christ is being built in your small church, then go to a small church. If it’s being built in a large church, then go to a large church, a house church, a church plant, wherever.
What if, though, your child hates that place where Christ is growing your faith? I guess I want to know why your kid hates it.
Because here’s the rub and why I think Andy Stanley had a good point, saying
“When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish.”
No one should ever say, “I go to a small church because I want to know everybody.” You go to a church—any church—because the Holy Spirit has filled that church with brothers and sisters in Christ who know themselves as sinners saved by grace. You go to a church because the church sincerely seeks the welfare of the community in which it’s located, because the church takes the task of discipling old and new believers seriously, because the church welcomes you and your noisy kids and loves all of you anyway, because you trust God more fiercely for having walked alongside them, today and every day.
If these are the reasons why you’re going to church, then I have a hard time believing your kids will really hate it. No, they’ll hate it if you’re only there to meet your friends, to keep up appearances, or to catch up on the latest gossip. They’ll hate it if you’re there out of guilt, obligation, or remorse. They’ll hate it if you love it for the wrong reasons.
That’s not selfishness. It’s idolatry.
When it comes to these matters, size really doesn’t matter. Ever.