**In the light of Stanley’s apology, I changed the more incendiary title of this post to a more descriptive one.
Andy Stanley has responded in a tweet, not to this article in particular, but to the general social media firestorm. Here is what the tweet said:
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.
Poor me, I know.
Okay, that’s nothing that several discernment bloggers haven’t said before, right? When you reach any level of notoriety in blogging, have an abrasive online personality, and express strong opinions, you have to get used to having your words dissected, your motives questioned, and your actions challenged. But I saw a tweet this morning by the estimable Dr. Bart Barber which I wanted to believe was an exaggeration on his part. So, I followed the video and watched what Andy Stanley said Sunday, February 27, 2016, at Northpoint church.
Here is a link to the message. I’ve not found a way to embed the video so here’s a link to it:
You can listen to it or watch it on video. The relevant section is found from about 16:00 to 19:00. It is in that section that Andy Stanley says something amazing.
Small churches are selfish! Churches of under 300 are not able to provide a full ministry to children and youth and are therefore inferior to big churches. We are selfish for continuing in our small church ministries.
If you feel that I am being unfair, I’d simply challenge you to listen to Andy Stanley’s message, at least to the 3 minutes I identified above. I listened to the entire message up to the point the 19 minute mark I referenced. I did not continue to listen after that. I would make the following observations.
- There was not a single scripture read or referenced in the entire message up to the point at which I stopped listening (19 minutes in). Not one. (Good news! I listened to the end and Stanley said he needed to work in a verse. He did. He quoted Jesus’ “on this rock I will build my church” reference from Caesarea Philippi.)
- There was no mention of Jesus, the gospel, or salvation by grace through faith. There was a mention, at one point of “God had a plan for my life.” That was the only mention of God. (The second half of the sermon did reference Jesus, but there was nothing that even remotely could be called a gospel presentation.)
- The entire sermon was about how “the church saved him.” No, he wasn’t talking about eternal salvation, but about how the local church was important in his life.
I am grateful to Dave Woodbury who copied the text of the relevant section so that you can see it here.
“This is one reason we build big churches. People say, ‘Why do you have to make them so big?’ Let me tell you why we make them so big. You probably didn’t know this. This is kind of an insider secret. We want churches to be large enough so that there are enough Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers that we don’t have one youth group with Middle School and High School together. We want there to be so many adults that there will be so many Middle School and High School kids that we can have two separate environments. So when I hear adults say, ‘Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,’ I say, ‘You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your 5 friends. You don’t care about your kids…anybody else’s kids.’ You’re like, ‘What’s up?’ 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 old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.”
Well, isn’t that special?
I pastor a church that is in that 200 range on Sunday morning. So, basically, Andy Stanley is saying to anyone who attends my church, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your 5 friends. You don’t care about your kids…anybody else’s kids.”
Wow. Gotta say that stings a little.
My church has an active youth group, but our junior and senior high youth meet together. According to Stanley, the fact that we do not separate them means, “You are a selfish adult.”
His prescription? “Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.” He went on to explain that when kids do not attend big churches they grow up to hate church.
In three minutes, Andy Stanley said that my church is comprised of selfish adults, that our ministry is causing young people to hate the church and leave the church when they get to college, and by extrapolation, that my ministry is damaging to the young people who attend Southern Hills Baptist Church. If Andy is right, we need to repent of our sin this coming Sunday, close the doors of our church, and join with the nearest big church – because they are the only ones doing God’s work. If Andy is wrong, then his arrogant dismissal of the small church needs to be confronted.
I think he is wrong.
No, I’m not going to attack the megachurch. I have never been a member of a megachurch, it is beyond my experience. I think it can be done well, and it can be done poorly. I’ve been part of small churches and medium sized churches. I’ve seen some of them doing it well and I’ve seen some of them doing it poorly. This is not about whether the big church or the little church is better.
But it is about a man standing in his pulpit and arrogantly dismissing the ministry of tens of thousands of smaller churches, negating their value and saying that our ministries are selfish, harmful to children, and destructive to the work of God.
1. It flies in the face of church history.
Yes, there were 3000 souls saved on Pentecost, but the church did not have large buildings to meet in and it met in small fellowships. There is no evidence that “youth groups” were a chief concern of the church until more recent times.
2. It is without biblical support.
Frankly, I don’t think this matters to Andy Stanley at all, but there is absolutely nothing in Scripture that defines the size of a church. Big, small, medium. A church gathers to worship, hear the word, share communion, encourage one another, grow in Christ, and unite in mission. “Make sure you separate the junior and senior high or you are selfish” is wholly without biblical mandate.
I think it’s a good idea. I’m not against age-graded ministry (some are), and I think having separated middle school and senior high ministries has merit. But it’s not a biblical mandate and the failure to do so does not make a church less than biblically valid.
3. It is Americo-centric.
This won’t play in most of the world. It is taking American culture and making eternal and universal principles out of it. Try teaching this to suffering Christians in Muslim countries or China North Korea.
4. It is disrespectful to families.
It is not the church that is the primary force in leading us to serve God and love him, but the family. His disrespect of families (selfish!) and relationships is stunning.
5. It ignores the biblical concept of intergenerational ministry.
I’m not against the concept of youth ministry, but the Bible places the emphasis on older men teaching younger men and older women teaching younger women, not on middle school small groups or high school small groups – as important as I think these can be.
6. It is disrespectful to faithful pastors laboring in smaller churches.
That’s where I’ve spent my life. I’ve seen some faithful pastors in country churches. No, they aren’t media stars who are asked to speak at mega-conferences, but they are there when people need them. They love their people. Guess what, this old, fat pastor has had some pretty good friendships with teenagers through the years and quite a few of them are serving God faithfully. I’m not claiming it’s all because of me – it’s not. It’s their families. It’s the word of God. But it’s also the church – small churches.
I realize that Andy Stanley is way more popular than I am. His fans are going to tell me I’m being petty and small. I probably am. It is hurtful to be told that our church is built on people who are selfish and that we are destroying our youth, that we don’t care a bit about the next generation. It’s false and it is infuriating. I’m guessing that Andy will issue a clarification claiming that will all misinterpreted and misrepresented him. Probably some of the big guns of the SBC will say the same. But I think that statements like this are worthy of notation and clarification. There is a principle at stake here.
The Principle at Stake
The SBC is made up of a small number of megachurches that have a large membership (about 150 of them) and a large number of churches that average 400 or less (about 95% of SBC churches). There are also churches in-between (400 to 2000). The SBC is helped by all of them. I know that Andy Stanley is not part off us. I’m not sure where he stands theologically anymore, frankly, so this isn’t about him.
- We need megachurches doing their mega-work.
- We need mediochurches doing their medio-work.
- We need minichurches doing their mini-work.
Don’t get offend by the “mini” label, I only used it for the sake of the alliteration. There’s real ministry done in small churches. Yes, some of them are hopelessly bound up in conflict and pettiness, but not all small churches should be closed and replanted. There’s some powerful discipleship that takes place in churches that don’t get substantially bigger. I know the conference-circuit gurus will never believe that, but I do.
Smaller churches need to stop speaking of megas like they all got that way through spiritual compromise and gospel-salesmanship. Not all megachurch pastors are charlatans putting the gospel on discount and jealousy is not an attractive emotion. On the other hand, numbers are not proof of fidelity. What God does (save people and grow churches) can be imitated in the flesh to destructive consequences.
Megachurches and a lot of folks in the church-growth circles need to realize and respect small churches and small church ministry. We’d all like our churches to break through and grow, but there is real ministry going on and we are not just “selfish people” without any concern for future generations.
One large church pastor who came to my small church in Cedar Rapids on a mission trip spoke these (sensitive and encouraging) words, “There are two kinds of churches – big churches that are doing God’s work and little churches that are doing nothing.” It was offensive but I think he said what a lot of people in our denomination think.
It is a false dichotomy. Big churches need to be careful that they are doing it the right way and small churches need to be concerned that they are not hindering the work of God. But churches of all size need to respect that God can use other types, styles and sizes of church.
And can we all agree that what Andy Stanley said was foolish?