Last month my dear wife and I went on a cruise to Alaska with Dr. David Jeremiah. He preached great sermons, and the music was wonderful. The natural beauty of Alaska prompted us to praise the Creator and admire His handiwork. During one of his sermons, David Jeremiah said something that gave me pause: “At Shadow Mountain Community Church we demand excellence in all things.” Since then I’ve been pondering that phrase—”excellence in all things.” I’ve heard other mega-church pastors make the same statement, and it always evokes mixed emotions in me.
Positively, I agree that the Lord deserves our best efforts. We should prepare and preach the best messages that we can. We should put in adequate study time and seek to improve our sermon delivery. Our worship should be the best that we can do. The musicians should prepare thoroughly, and the ushers should be well organized. The VBS and special events should all be done as well as possible. So, on one hand, I agree we should seek excellence in all things.
On the other hand, it is a lot easier to achieve excellence in all things in a large church. A large church has the money to hire professional musicians. A large church’s membership includes volunteers who have degrees in music, both instrumental and vocal. A large church has a media staff and the best instruments and sound equipment. So, a large church can ensure that things are done excellently, and that is good. I’m glad they can do so.
Now, you may think I’m criticizing megachurches. Not at all. My wife and I were members at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, and we enjoyed our time there immensely. The quality of the services and programs was a blessing. Bellevue has the financial and personnel resources to excel, and it does.
Still, I understand that most churches lack the resources of a megachurch. During our last term as missionaries in Southeast Asia, my wife and I planted a church. On a good day we had 45 in worship. Our first Sunday at Bellevue there were more musicians in the church orchestra than we had in our baby church in Asia. We were happy if the guitarist showed up. I suggested to him that it would be good to sing a hymn each week, and he asked where he could find hymns. I gave him a hymnal. He had never seen one before. At our church in Texas our church pianist left due to bad health. Now, two ladies of limited skill play. Our minister of music told me that he has to choose music, based on whether they can play the piece or not. Now, someone in a megachurch would say, “What don’t you just hire a pianist?” He would like to do that, but we’re struggling to meet our budget these days. There is no money to hire someone. I believe it was D L Payton who wrote about a worship conference the Montana state convention sponsored. A minister of music from a megachurch in the South taught a lesson on how they could use an orchestra to improve the worship services in their churches. D L said that most of the churches were just praying for someone who could play the piano competently. A pastor called me the other day and mentioned that he has 25 members in his church. That church does not have an orchestra. There is a Sunday school class at Bellevue that has 500 members. Excellence at that little church in East Texas will look a lot different than excellence at a megachurch.
Again, I’m not dissing the megachurches for achieving excellence. They should do excellently, given the resources they possess. Praise the Lord for their efforts. I am appealing to megachurch leaders to show more sensitivity to the leaders of smaller churches. We don’t lack knowledge of excellence; we just don’t have the resources to achieve what you can.
For those who labor in smaller congregations, we should strive to do the best we can. God expects us to do our best, not some other person or church’s best.