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The Big Picture Podcast 74: Does Your Church Make You Selfish?

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Stinkin’ selfish!

That’s what you are if you take your kids to a small church. No wait, you’re not… it’s been retracted, but too late for some.

I’m Joel Fieri, and this is part three of my reaction to Andy Stanley’s year so far, here on The Big Picture podcast. Pastor Andy Stanley did it again recently in yet another sermon that went viral online. In parts one and two of this series, I discussed why – even though his concerns were valid – I didn’t particularly care for his viral video call for my generation of folks over 45 to “knock it off!” in voicing our concerns about politics and culture.

That video was well received and widely shared in the Christian community. It got lots and lots of “Amens” and “likes”, so my disapproving voice was against the grain for most.

But in a subsequent sermon in February, Pastor Stanley drew the wrath of most every one when he said this:

“So, when I hear adults say, ‘I don’t like a big church. I like about 200. I want to know everybody.’

I say, ‘You are so stinkin’ 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, anybody else’s kids..’

I’m saying, if you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big ol’ church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.

Instead, what you do… Can you tell I’m passionate about this?

I’m sick of this. I hear this all the time: ‘Well, I just don’t like a big church.’

Well, look… here’s what you do: you drag your kids to a church they hate.”

Another pretty harsh pronouncement.

Image: Jon Hawkins

Image: Jon Hawkins

“Stinkin’ selfish”?

“You care nothing about the next generation”?

Wow!

Not surprisingly, the reaction to this was swift and fierce, especially from small church pastors and attendees. And to his credit, Pastor Stanley quickly (and I think sincerely) apologized.

All seems to be forgiven, for most at least.

But I have an interest and even a personal stake in what he said, because what he described here is almost exactly the decision my wife and I made a few years back regarding our children.

When we were first married we attended a small church that my wife and her two children had attended, with her late husband, for years. It was a great church, full of loving people who had taken my wife and the kids under their wings and loved them tremendously through their loss. There was a deep bond between the beautiful Christian folks at that church and my family. They were very accepting of me and welcomed me into their family of believers.

There was one problem, however. It became more and more evident that our kids, especially our fourth grade son, were finding the church pretty much as irrelevant and boring as Pastor Stanley described.

Through no fault of their own, the little church’s Sunday school and youth ministries weren’t equipped to engage our son. With no boys his age involved, he had no one to connect with, and we felt that we were, indeed, bringing him to a church he hated.

So my wife and I made a gut-wrenching decision to leave that wonderful little church and attend the local mega church in the area, which offered all the youth group options we could ask for.

My wife endured the feelings of guilt, and the sense that she somehow betrayed her loving church family. It was an extremely un-selfish decision on her part, but also the right one.

So I get what Pastor Stanley is saying. We lived what he’s saying. For us, he’s dead-on right!

So where did he go wrong?

Most people would say he made a crude, judgmental and offensive blanket statement against any church that wasn’t like his, or at least as large as his (which means, since his is the largest church in America… every other church in America). And they’d be right.

Andy Stanley even said so in his apology.

Quote; “The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

But what would lead him to say something so offensive even to him? He’s been in ministry for years. He’s the son of Charles Stanley, no less. He knows better!

As you might expect, I have a “Big Picture” take on why this happened. I found a big clue in his offensive rant that I haven’t heard anyone pick up on. It’s in the middle of his talk where he interrupted himself and said, “…can you tell I’m passionate about this?…”

Yes Pastor Stanley, I can tell you’re passionate, and I think THAT was your mistake.

You allowed your passion to lead you to lose focus and to lose control of your emotions, and you let loose some long-held frustrations toward your fellow believers.

And after blurting them out, you posted them on the internet for all the world to hear.

Judging by your apology, you didn’t realize or even hear what you were really saying.

That’s what passion can do!

Anyone who’s heard this podcast before has heard me express my concern over how an over-emphasis on passion – as in the “Passion for God” movement, or having a “passionate relationship with Jesus”, or even “finding your passion” in ministry – has taken root in today’s Christian culture.

The Bible does mention passion, a bit. It’s a legitimate human emotion. The few times it is mentioned (nine times in my preferred translation), we’re warned against being led by it, and in no uncertain terms.

Passion burns. Passion leads us astray, causing even a well-respected pastor to say things he wouldn’t otherwise. I’ve never seen a church split that wasn’t fueled by passionate beliefs on both sides. How many divorces, legal battles and political fights are ignited by passion?

Now, once again, let me say that this is all unsolicited advice I’m giving here, but I think this why God’s word warns against following our passions, and the good Pastor Stanley’s regrettably offensive tirade serves as a good example as to why.

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