Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing the movable type printing press, and he changed the printing world forever. His invention made mass-printing of books easier. Gone were the days of hour upon hour of painstaking hand copying or carving the letters into a block of wood (much like creating a rubber stamp)! The printer could simply insert metal letters and mass produce one page after another. The letters could then be reused; a true innovation in printing.
I don't know of anyone who would say the printing press was a bad idea. But for all the things gained, very few realize or care what was lost. There was a craftsmanship and artistry to creating books prior to the press. Scribes spent hours not only copying the words from manuscripts, but added phenomenal artistic design. Binders sewed and glued and created one-of-a-kind covers.
Probably the most significant change is that we became a reading culture. There were people who read prior to movable type printing press, obviously, but the mass-produced page was the first step in moving us from a spoken word storytelling, word-of-mouth culture to a printed page culture. While there are people who can tell a great story in today's culture, we have lost the art of the spoken word storytelling.
There are many revolutionary inventions that have changed the culture that could be argued to be not good, but not bad either. Cars, now an almost necessary part of existence, enabled us to travel many miles, opened up the world around us, and made travel much quicker. Cars have also brought pollution, financial headache, and insulates us from the human interaction that is part of foot or animal transportation. Computers make information more accessible, but also online predators. The list could on and on, and could include cultural movements as well.
Everything Costs Something
For every advancement in technology and every major move in culture and philosophy something valuable has been gained, but something valuable has also been lost. It isn't that technological advancement is bad, it is just that its use caused something to be very valuable to be left behind.
I was thinking about this as it pertains to churches.
Sometimes in the drive to grow larger churches we miss the opportunities we have at each level of the church's growth and development; we fail to enjoy the current stage because we are always looking and driving toward the next stage. We forget that for every growth barrier broken something valuable is gained, but something valuable is also lost. In moving from a house church to meeting in a building, we see God reaching more lost people, we know the excitement of serving others, and we have the stability of a place to meet with others. But we loose intimacy, accountability, and have to spend more time developing the program and services.
One friend of mine, to put it in business terms, called it a cost analysis. You weigh the pros and cons of a particular action and then decide if it is the way to go. But I don't think it is that cut and dry; it isn't that something is necessarily good or bad...they are just different. They are both good and both bad for different reasons. I don't think it is fair to classify it even as a pro or a con as that seems to indicate good and bad. This is also a realization that moving from one phase to the next means the birth of one thing, but also the death of something else.
Is it wrong to be a big church? No. Is it wrong to be a small church? No. Is it right to be either? No. They are just different and both have their own positives and negatives.
Finding Your Own Way
Too often we like to castigate others who don't see our way. Or, because we don't want to be so boldly rude, we simply say things like..."Big churches are just impersonal"..."Healthy churches are growing churches"..."All the big church cares about is numbers"..."You get what you lead." While all these can and sometimes are true, they also hide a criticism that is unhealthy for the Body of Christ.
I have heard some church leaders so bold to say that if you can't lead in a certain way then you shouldn't be in ministry. (This is not saying that the church has no say in whether you become a pastor or not. I believe that if a person is truly called, the Church will recognize that calling, and if, after several places, the Church will place you in ministry you may need to reevaluate God's calling. It may be a more general calling to ministry as we are all called to do the ministry of the church, or it may be to a particular niche and not full-time ministry.) What is that person supposed to do with the call of God on his/her life and the leading of God to a particular place and position?
The secret, I think, is for each minister to seek God's face, and then follow Him. He or she is responsible for obedience to God'ss leading whether that is to a house church, or small, medium, or large church. Once in a particular ministry we are called to produce fruit; which may mean growth, but may mean something else in that particular location. Often I think it has less to do with growth than it has to do with faithfulness in whatever situation God places you. If you begin to grow...are you faithful? If you begin to lose people...are you being faithful? There is no room for laziness.
What do you think? Do you think we sometimes push forward to things ahead and miss out on what is presently being done? Do you agree that something good can be gained at the expense of something else that is equally good in different way?