There are lots of potential problems inherent in churches with the necessity for large organisational structures and large amounts of infrastructure. One potential problem is that people can become viewed more as resources than people, as Bull mentioned here recently on another thread.
If people are viewed as resources, one of the temptations then becomes to attempt to control them like resources. Various forms of control might include teaching that induces guilt or fear if they don’t do the ‘right’ thing, or exclusion from various ‘levels’ of involvement if certain required behaviours are not committed to. The latter is not necessarily immoral, but may be questionable at times due to its context in a ‘church’ setting, where theoretically people are all equals as part of the body of Christ, rather than members of a club with different strata.
The Purpose Driven approach from Rick Warren has aspects of the above, in my view, and John Bevere’s influential and popular teaching has other aspects of the above in my view. Many churches love both of these authors.
I’ve become used to thinking of megachurch environments as places where to some degree these things will happen, while also admitting that its possible in any organised setting regardless of size. My view is that over time, the degree to which they happen negatively affects the quality of relationships in the church, especially between leaders and those they lead. When fear and guilt are used as motivators, this can reduce the relationship between those in positions of authority and those not, to relationships with different degrees of power, rather than relationships of mutual love, respect and honour. It will also affect to some degree the way many members of the congregation view God – as a loving, generous, safe and forgiving Father (as in the parable of the Prodigal Son), or as an authoritarian Father whom they must please in order to be blessed.
But is my thinking really true? Could there be megachurches that encourage people throughout the body without seeking to control them through these methods? Will their ministries emulate this, both in their service to others, and towards those within their own ministry team? Once I would have thought that the latter happened almost as a matter of course; in more recent times, I came to the view that the former happens to some degree at least, as a matter of course. But its good to question your own beliefs, including this one.
So this long preamble is really leading up to a discovery that I’m so far delighted by – I’m reading a Christian book about parenting that really seems to understand the difference between controlling from the outside (typically using fear of some kind) and motivating from the inside; the heart. I’ve only read the first couple of chapters, but the understanding of the way God loves us; the way He is a Father to us and gives us freedom, which we then learn to responsibly manage, and that we can learn to emulate this in our parenting, is so encouraging.
The book, ‘Loving Our Kids On Purpose’, by Danny Silk, exposes as a lie the idea that we can control others, even our children, and sees the goal of obedience and compliance as an inferior one to the goal of love and relationship, where kids learn to make good choices and handle their freedom with responsiblity.
The thing that has struck me, is that the author of this book, Danny Silk, is the Family Life Pastor at a megachurch, Bethel Church in Redding, California (senior Pastor Bill Johnson). If they approach leading their church in a similar way to that described for building relationships in this book, then even if they have mistaken theology in some areas (and we all probably do), then I imagine that the church will stay fairly healthy. People will have the freedom to develop the way God leads them, rather than in some set way that is designated for them by an outside authority with a ‘resource’ driven approach. Leaders across the board in this kind of congregation, are likely to respect people’s freedom, and encourage rather than seek to control.
I hope this is the case. At the very least it is encouraging to see the other end of the spectrum of contemporary Christian views in this area. And the book, ‘Loving Our Kids On Purpose’, by Danny Silk is excellent so far. I am looking forward to incorporating the tools into my own parenting.
This link/post is not meant as an ad, but as a touchstone for thoughts on the issues – but some of you might be interested in checking the book out here.