Are parents who choose small churches over large ones being “selfish”?
Last week, Andy Stanley said as much in a widely discussed vision message to his Atlanta churches. Apparently some folks got upset, taking it as a ugly shot at small churches. I pastor a small church–I wasn’t offended.
Let me back up and explain.
When Andy Stanley shares his vision for the church, I get fired up. Even though our ministry contexts are radically different, I resonate deeply with his passion for churches reaching unchurched people and leading them toward Jesus. His recent book Deep and Wide influenced my pastoral leadership, and my preaching has improved dramatically as I’ve learned from him, both through Communicating for a Change as well as regular listening to his messages. I’m a better pastor because of Andy Stanley.
Last week, on a road trip with my family, we listened to Andy’s latest vision message “Saved by the Church,” hot off the iTunes press and before I heard anything about it. I was so pumped. We discussed it, argued about it, pushed it around as we cruised down the highway. As a kid who grew up in the church (a small one!), I related to all the ways the church saved him. I was challenged by his message about generosity, the cultural impact of Christianity, and his vision for churches willing to make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of the next generation. And yes, I heard him call parents who choose their own comfort over their kids’ needs “stinking selfish.”
I’m a pastor of a dynamic, growing and yet small church. When Andy got hot about the church planting vision of North Point in north Atlanta, he made his passionate and now infamous comment that parents who choose their own comfort over their kids’ salvation are “stinking selfish.” I didn’t get offended by that comment in the slightest, because I could hear what he was doing. He was speaking directly to parents who would actively choose a small church because it suits their needs rather than connecting into a larger church that offers what their kids need. He was challenging their consumer mindset, trying to get them to see the picture of kids who stay connected to the church for a lifetime rather than checking out of the church in high school or college. It was way more about the parents choosing for the sake of their kids than the particular size of any church.
Now, maybe Andy got carried away. Maybe in the heat of the moment he overspoke. He says he did. He confessed his error on Twitter. He admits that he didn’t mean it the way he even said it, apologizing in full in this Christianity Today article. I admire his candor, his humility and his willingness to clarify what he said. He has tremendous influence and has to steward that influence.
But was I offended by it? No. What I heard was a man passionate for churches who love kids, willing to challenge the consumerism, the comfort, the self-centredness, the narrow way parents can often choose churches based on their needs rather than their kids’ needs. His vision is clear, his passion white-hot, his context specific, and he is moving his people toward the vision God has given them to be a church that unchurched people, including unchurched youth, love to attend. More power to him.
I suspect many of the people who were offended heard the comment out of context, devoid of the larger message and the heart behind it. I even saw a meme circulating on Facebook, featuring a picture of Andy with the statement “if you choose a small church, you are stinking selfish.” Folks, that kind of proof texting is sinful, misrepresenting what he said and what he meant and bringing disrepute to a leader with integrity.
Oh that we would have a vision for the church so passionate that we would offend some comfortable church people. Not offending for the sake of shock, not maligning people doing good ministry, not slighting folks who are slogging it out in difficult and small places. But offending people who have become too comfortable, choosing their needs over the needs of others, over the needs of outsiders, over the needs of the next generation. It strikes me that Jesus offended just these kinds of comfortable folks with his vision to “seek and save the lost.” I wonder if he might have even called them “stinking selfish”, too.