Monthly Archives: January 2013

Why I Love BIG Church!

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CHow do you feel when you think about attending a big church? Do you get excited or recoil in disgust? Does the idea of attending a big church make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, or do you get irritated at just the thought?

Recently, my brother passed along a blog posting he found written by a person who hates big churches. He started his post with, “I haven’t been to a church in over a year.” Then he went on to criticize all the things that were wrong with the large church he worked at for ten years.

For the most part, his arguments were pretty skewed, and his heart was obviously full of bitterness.

And it breaks my heart.

I truly wish I could sit down with him face-to-face and have a meaningful conversation about his past and his pain. I know he was wounded. I also know that no church is perfect. Tragically, churches, big and small, have spiritually abused too many dear people.

But here are my questions: Are big churches simply the result of pastors with big egos? Do they do more harm than good? And on the flip side, is the ultimate church a small congregation where everybody knows your name?

I grew up in small churches. I’ve pastored small churches. I’ve been doing this “church-thang” for over fifty years! I’ve also been on staff at two mega-churches and now pastor a church with a couple of thousand folks. None of this makes me an expert, but it does give me a fairly broad background and some experience to speak from.

So here are some small thoughts about big church:

1.            Jesus and the church in the book of Acts did big group and small group.

For Jesus and the apostles, it wasn’t either-or but both-and. Jesus drew very large crowds of thousands, and he invested personally in a small group of twelve. The early Church met in large gatherings, and they also met daily from house to house in small groups. On its first day of existence, the “First Baptist Church” of Jerusalem baptized over three thousand people (see Acts 2:41)!

I tell people all the time, “Our church is never bigger than your small group.” We consistently challenge people to do more than just show up in the crowd on Sunday. We want them to engage in our big group gatherings and our small group encounters.

It’s not that big is better or that small is better—for me—both are needed and both are valid.

2.            Big provides more resources and some amazing opportunities for community impact.

Can a small church make a big impact? Of course! The Bible is full of examples of how God used the weak and the small to do great things. So I want to be clear: big is not required to make a big splash. However, the combined resources of two, three, or ten thousand people provide a measure of financial flexibility and opportunity not afforded the typical small church of seventy. Together we can do more than we can alone. And when there are a lot more of us together, we can do even more.

Next week, our church is going on a local radio station every weekday. We’re excited about the program because 40% of the people who listen to this station don’t go to church anywhere (even though it’s a Christian broadcaster). The staff and finances it takes to pull this off are provided through the broader resources we have as a larger church.

In a couple of weeks, over six hundred high school students will be meeting in our auditorium for a Future Business Leaders of America conference. Many of these kids don’t go to church anywhere, but because we have a facility that can handle a large crowd, we can accommodate a non-church, community event such as this.

Sometimes the toughest challenge is getting people in the front door. However, hundreds of kids who might never walk into a church building will be sitting in ours and possibly thinking, “This is kinda cool.” Call me crazy, but I think that’s awesome!

Big is not always or automatically better, but big can provide some amazing opportunities to serve our communities and to reach the lost.

3.            Big is safe for seekers.

I can name no less than a dozen formerly non-believing guys in our church that never would have attended a small church, but they came to our church because it provided some anonymity. When you’re far from God, the last thing you want to do is show up at a place with fifty people who all know each other and all know you’re the new guy.

Yes, I understand, it doesn’t take a crowd to lead someone to Jesus. But we’ve seen over a thousand people come to Christ in the last ten years and well over seven hundred get baptized in water.

I love to share my faith one-on-one over coffee at Starbucks. But I really love seeing hundreds of people come to faith in a large church that is a safe place for them to discover grace.

4.            Heaven is BIG!

I’m always a little surprised when I hear people say, “Your church is just too big for me. I prefer an intimate and quieter setting for worship.” I usually smile, and wonder—how are they going to feel about eternity in heaven?

Here’s how the Bible describes in Revelation 19:1, 6 (NIV) what we can expect:

I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.”

Sounds to me like rather than a small group in God’s living room, heaven is going to be an incredibly loud party with a few gazillion people. Big can be fun!

So again, let me be extremely clear—big churches can be a big challenge. Inherent in the practice of a large community is the possibility that people can be wounded, missed and forgotten. Big churches include some potentially big problems. I know.

But guess what? Small churches are not exempt from challenges either. I’ve known small churches that were ingrown, petty, ineffective and isolated. Small churches certainly include some potential problems too.

That’s why it really is not about size, but about our hearts.

Do we have the heart of Jesus for the lost?

Do we care about the outsiders as much as we do the insiders?

Are we providing a safe place for people to discover grace no matter what the size of our congregation?

Are there consistent opportunities given to people for meaningful connection with others in the body of Christ?

And even if we’re in a small church, do we have the big picture of the Kingdom of God?

I realize the average church in America is small and relatively few are mega-churches. But I also recognize this truth: God loves the Church in all her variety, forms, styles and sizes. So I suggest that we stop criticizing and casting stones at the Bride of Jesus—because big or small—she belongs to Him.


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2 Responses to Why I Love BIG Church!

  1. What do you think about this 1. By starting small. Do churches think that because their ministry is initially small that it’s insignificant? I think so 2. By making someone accountable for progress. Community takes time, and needs a lot of TLC. Someone (beyond senior pastor) needs to constantly be thinking about how to translate strategy into action.3. By budgeting for it! If it’s that important, let’s pay for it! Most of any relationship is intangible and free (at least in $$). But free ice cream every once in a while goes a long way. An experience of participation happens on a ton of levels.-At a gathering: “Everybody let’s pray quietly together about this issue ” is experiential-Offering mission trips, even just for a day -Empowering people to lead by promoting their activities. But most of all it’s the senior leadership *thinking/praying* at length about what it looks like in their specific context. **This is long, sorry it’s good for me to flesh out though.

    • Great questions. I like to remind people that every church, no matter how big it is now, started small! Thanks for your thoughts and input.

Tally-Ho! You Were Made for Adventure!

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Nathan and Kurt Bubnaon top of Mt Hood
Nathan and Kurt Bubna
on top of Mt Hood

Okay, let’s be honest, some of you read the title of this blog post and thought, “Whatever. Here he goes again trying to push me out of my nice, safe bubble.”

You’re comfortable. Content. Satisfied. The last thing you want to read about is adventure. You’re thinking, “No way! I’ll just stay in my PJs and enjoy my coffee today. Thank you very much.”

I understand. For many, adventure is synonymous with struggle, hardship, and pain. The word dials up images of someone attempting to climb Mt. Everest or trying to swim the English Channel. We might like to watch the documentaries or read about it in Call of the Wild, but we prefer to experience our adventures vicariously from the comfort of a Lazy Boy recliner.

For many, adventure is a four-letter word.

But what if God made you for more than a safe, routine, and boring life? What if you were created in his image to discover, to explore, and to live life on the edge? What if he designed the human race “to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before”? (Yes, I’m a Trekkie.)

I’ve climbed mountains, trekked the Himalayas, finished two marathons, sailed the Caribbean where pirates once roamed, and walked city streets from Hollywood to Hong Kong to Scotland. I’ve even parachuted out of a perfectly good plane at 12,000 feet (what a rush!). Perhaps, however, we need to look at adventure in a different light.

All of these exciting adventures of mine are treasured memories, but I’ve discovered that most of life’s adventures can be experienced in everyday life. You can know and experience adventure as you decide to be fully present and fully His wherever you are and whatever you do.

Parenting can be an adventure if you intentionally engage your children with a view to helping them become everything God wants them to become.

Marriage can be an adventure if you choose to be a student of your spouse no matter how long you’ve been married or how well you think you know each other.

Friendship can be an adventure if you resolve to sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron.

Going to work, getting coffee at Starbucks, shopping at Costco, or taking a walk in your neighborhood can be an adventure if you see every encounter as a divine appointment and opportunity to be like Jesus to the world around you.

Here’s what I’m suggesting: Attitude and perspective determine the measure of your adventure. You can aimlessly wander through life on cruise control or see every moment as a gift and live with God-inspired intentionality. That, my friends, is the key to living the adventure the Father has planned for you.

So tally-ho! Go for it! Adventure in the Kingdom is what you were made for. Why would you want to settle for anything less?

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The Problem with Un-Reality TV

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watching-televisionLike you, I have a few television programs I rarely miss. I tend to drift toward cop programs that are well written with great actors and at least some semblance of morality (like Blue Bloods).

As an avid reader and rookie writer, I know that most good stories follow the S.C.C.R. approach. They provide the setting (S) and then create a conflict of some sort (C) followed by a riveting climax (C) that ultimately leads to a feel-good resolution (R).

In the brief span of an hour, we are taken on this familiar journey. The more driven the story is the more intrigued and entertained we are. (Remember 24 with Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer? That program was intense!) Most of what we see on the idiot box follows the same path week after week.

Have you noticed, however, that in television-land, the resolution usually happens in the last 7-10 minutes of the program? Whatever the challenge or conflict, everything usually resolves itself just after the final commercial break.

Luigi is tragically murdered. After some brilliant and witty police work, it’s discovered that his brother Guido did it, and in less than an hour the bad guy is busted and all is well with the world again (until next week’s episode).

Sure, it’s a nice plot and fun to watch, but that’s not the way things happen in real life. Wouldn’t it be great if life and death were that simple? But in the real world, nothing hard is typically fixed in less than ten minutes.

In the real world, it often takes years to resolve some problems, and some are never resolved.

In the real world, people are not as witty, smart, or ingenious in their battle with evil as Jack Bauer. Sometimes the bad guy wins.

In the real world, it takes a lot more than a few minutes to resolve most conflicts. Think about the last fight you had with your spouse or a friend. I bet it took more than a few minutes to work through that drama.

In the real world, things rarely get wrapped up in a nice, neat little package. More often than not, life is messy.

So what? Why am I more than a little concerned with the unreality of what we watch on primetime TV?

Because I see people too often discouraged by reality. They want an easy fix, a shortcut, and a simple solution. Too many give up on their marriage, or their kids, or even themselves because they lack the mental attitude that says, “I’m in this for the long haul. Whatever it takes. For as long as it takes.”

Endurance. Long-suffering. Stick-to-it-tiveness. These qualities are not developed or encouraged through our media and entertainment-driven culture.

In the real world (at least the one I live in), life is seldom simple, problems are rarely resolved quickly, and it takes a lot of effort and time to make a marriage, a family, a friendship or a life work.

And it’s okay. It’s normal. That’s reality.

Outside of a miracle, which can happen, there aren’t many shortcuts to healing and wholeness, just a lot of hard work. So hang in there and don’t quit.

You’ve got Somone better than Jack Bauer or Tom Selleck on your side!

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The Challenge of Being Beautiful

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apply_20lipstickWe live in a culture where sex and being sexy are relational currency. Sexy and beautiful people win the contests, they get the attention, and they are the ones that sports announcers go gaga over. (Really, Brent?)

If you want to succeed or be famous, you’d better be either really smart or really pretty. Of course, from time to time the not-so-pretty can be applauded, but nobody has a poster of an ugly man or woman on their wall or uses his or her picture as a screensaver on their computer.

Physical beauty can literally be money in the bank (Angelina Jolie’s net worth is $120 million), and in our world, it’s also relational currency—it gives someone social value.

But what if our true value has nothing to do with the image we see in the mirror?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Beauty is only skin deep.” In a moment of rational thought, we all would agree that it’s important to be beautiful on the inside, not just the outside. But more often than not, we irrationally accept the Victoria Secret commercials as the standard of beauty. We aspire to be just like them: Tall, skinny, wrinkle and blemish-free, and with hair to die for.

But what if we saw others and ourselves from a different perspective?

The other day I saw a Facebook picture of one of my friends. She was smiling and she was beautiful. (Frankly, I also saw more of her breasts than I needed to see.) Here’s what struck me—I know for a fact that she is hurting, deeply wounded, and though she was smiling on the outside, her soul is tragically damaged.

Most would look at the same picture and see someone to be envied or desired. I looked, and what I saw broke my heart.

What Jesus sees is what drove Him to the cross.

I am not advocating for ugliness. I’m not saying that physical beauty is meaningless. I am, however, challenging a belief system that puts physical beauty above what really matters.

King Solomon, who had a beautiful mother (Bathsheba) and quite a few beautiful wives, once wrote this gem of wisdom in Proverbs 31:30 (NIRV) “Charm can fool you. Beauty fades. But a woman who has respect for the Lord should be praised.”

What? Beauty fades? Shocking! And true.

Eventually, age and gravity win. You can nip and tuck all you want, but sooner or later the person staring back at you from the bathroom mirror will be old and far from stunning. And if your value comes only from an outward beauty, then that relational currency will leave you bankrupt and feeling pretty miserable in the end.

However, if you are a man or woman who has loved God and loved people—that beauty lasts forever. If you are a person who lives and walks in grace—that makes you stunning to the day you take your last breath. If you are someone whose soul is whole—that is a beautiful person who should be praised.

Go ahead, be beautiful (it’s okay), but most of all, be beautiful where it really counts.


“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV)


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4 Responses to The Challenge of Being Beautiful

  1. Great post. I saw that game and the googoo gaga of the sports announcer. Seriously?!

    One thing that has always comforted me (an average looking woman who is beautiful in Christ) is the verse in Isaiah 53:2 that describes Jesus’ physical appearance as being “nothing special” just an average joe kind of guy so why in the world would I think I should be entitled to beauty? If the savior of the world humbled himself by stepping into average joe skin, then I can be satisfied with my God-given appearance. Ladies save your money and forget those beauty mags!

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