Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Lesson 3 - You Can't Technically "Start" A Megachurch

Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: You Can't Technically "Start" A Megachurch

Two years ago, my wife, Angel and I put our pride, reputation and comfortable lives on the line to start The Body Church in Atlanta, GA. In this blog series we highlight the top twelve lessons we learned and are still learning along the journey. For the full list of all twelve points, click the following link, "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor - Top Twelve Lessons Learned".

Today, we are highlighting the third point; "3) If you're starting from the ground up and your only example of church is a mega-church you will get your feelings hurt.". For the previous point click the following link; "Confessions of a Young Atlanta Pastor: Did God Really Say Leave The Church?"

My church is huuuuge (with Donald Trump's voice). It's huuuuge. We take up an entire block. We don't have a church building we have a church campus. We're so big that there are people I go to church with each week that I have never even seen. We're so big that when we turn the pages of our Bibles together it sounds like waves in the ocean. In fact, our church choir is the size of a small congregation and our children's ministry building is bigger than the entire church up the street. We have 50,000 people on 50 campuses in 50 states. We're huuuuge.

In the USA, there is an obsession with size. Bigger is assumed to be better. We want bigger houses, bigger trucks, bigger corporations, bigger portions of food. We don't want a large #5 at the fast food joint, we want it super-sized. So it logically follows that the same attitude has entered the church. Swelling with pride, we say, "my church is bigger than yours" with the unspoken message being, "hence, my church is better than yours". Whether or not bigger is better doesn't really matter right now because that's not what this discussion is about. Regardless, that mindset is everywhere.

Acts 2:40-47(NLT) - Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Wow! I can see this in my dreams. The Holy Ghost falls on us in a room, we talk in tongues, then I stand and deliver the message of my life. In response, 3000 people get saved on the spot. From that point on, our church continues to grow as a community with frequent signs and wonders while God keeps adding people to the community daily. I would love to say that's the story of The Body Church but it's not. That's the story of the early church led by Apostle Peter. Perhaps, it's the story of Billy Graham, Benny Hinn or Reinhard Bonnke but definitely not our own. Anyway, back to earth now.

Today, we are talking about being young, naive and starting a church with unrealistic expectations. Welcome to reality. I sat in an Atlanta megachurch for about twelve years and completely lost touch with the real world. There were times when I sat transfixed by what looked like complete perfection in motion before my eyes; thousands of people in attendance, a perfect choir, a perfect worship team, perfect band, a perfect sermon, perfect media presentations, perfect drama team, intercessory team, men's ministry, women's ministry, youth ministry, security, parking attendants and the list goes on and on.

There were moments when I lost my mind and thought that when I started a church it would be just like that. That's about as unrealistic as expecting parents thinking that when their son is born he would be a 6 ft tall, 200 lb professional athlete. Impossible. The only way you can start a church with all the pieces together is if those pieces come directly out of someone else's church. Hence, you're not really starting a church, you're taking a piece of another church and transplanting it elsewhere under a different name.

That's a church transplant and only a few people get that opportunity. Believe me, if you get the opportunity to start like that, take it because you don't want the stress of starting from scratch if you don't have to. If we could have inherited a team of mature, faithful, consistent, dedicated Christians from someone else's church we would have gladly taken them. Nonetheless, let's now focus on what we've experienced stepping out on our own and what's a much more likely scenario for the average young pastor in a similar situation.

Zechariah 4:10a(NLT) - Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin...

You're probably going to start small like we did. Perhaps, not as small but definitely small in comparison to the mature churches you've seen or modeled yourself after. However, don't despise your small beginnings because God rejoices to see the work begin. With small beginnings come big responsibility. I've had to sing, play the keyboard, beat drums, clean, set up, break down, run the projector, run the video camera, etc, etc and oh yeah, preach a little here and there. Until someone was willing to take my place, I had to do it.

Unfortunately, the toughest part of the whole thing is not being able to execute church on the level that you desire which comes from not being very good at certain things and having no choice but to do it. Nobody feels worse about something in a church service not being at the highest level of excellence than we do.

After watching such excellence at the megachurch I attended for so many years, my dream was to operate on the same level. Yet, here we are, two years in and we're not there yet and that's sometimes very hard to deal with. We have had to prioritize and ask ourselves the question, "What must a church have?" Once we found the answer we had to focus only on that. The rest will come later.

People want perfect churches and I get that because megachurches have it all. They want flawless worship bands, top of the line children's ministry, high profile guest speakers and gospel artistes, smiling greeters, excellent ushers, dance ministry, pantomime ministry, single mother's ministry, legal ministry, jail ministry, free ministry, street ministry and the list goes on. Well, we want the same thing too. We're just not there yet. In fact, we're not even close. If we knew the formula for growing the church quickly we would have used it. Yet, the truth about growth is contained in the following passage.

1 Corinthians 3:5-8(NKJV) - Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

After trying everything we knew and failing miserably, we've finally settled in our hearts that we cannot make the church grow. We can sow The Word, love people, advertise, invite people, pray, make confessions, connect on a personal level, prophesy, do personal ministry and participate in outreach. We can water with encouragement, Godly counsel, follow up, support and accountability.

The one thing we cannot do is bring the increase. That's God's job. We have to let Him do what He does the way He chooses to. We pray for The Lord to send us the people we need. We ask the people we know to help. We advertise and put ourselves out there. Yet, all we're really doing is sowing and watering. God and God alone will bring the increase.

Job 8:7(KJV) - Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase.

We receive that Word like it was directed to us. The end of our story will be bigger and better than the beginning. We don't expect it to be quick nor dramatic. We just expect it to be done right and the right way is God's way. If He makes it quick and dramatic then we'll take it. If He takes us through this process for a long time as He builds our character and establishes the church's structure so we can handle the increase we'll take that too.

Maybe you're in a similar situation where you started something and it's small right now. Don't let the lack of size frustrate you because beginnings are supposed to be small. Since God is no respecter of persons, follow His directions and expect Him to greatly increase it. I thank God for the time we spent at Christ United Church prior to starting The Body Church. They gave us a much more realistic perspective of starting a church and helped us to be better prepared for the small beginning. See you next time for; "Point 4) You know more about being a pastor when you're not an actual pastor."

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