[b]The kind of mega-church that makes God smile[/b]
COMMENTARY--- A couple of days after I got home from a recent trip to India I received a copy of Outreach magazines annual list of the 100 largest churches in the United States. The entire issue was devoted to these churches and their pastors. I couldnt help but notice that the largest church was feel-good preacher Joel Osteens Lakewood Church. I also noticed that recently disgraced Ted Haggards New Life Church was number 37 on the list.
As I read through that issue, I also couldnt help but think about another kind of church one whose pastors dont fly around the country in private planes or who pay for their vacation retreats with book royalties.
These were the churches I saw and the pastors I met on a recent trip to India with the Christian ministry Gospel For Asia. One of them, in particular, sticks in my mind:
About 20 kilometers outside the emerging high-tech city of Hyderabad, you are fully into the Indian countryside. The road turned to dirt in places. Ox drawn carts or foot travel -- were primary modes of transportation. It took almost 2 hours to cover the short 20 km distance from the city, but we eventually came to a small village, where we stopped in front of a small Believers Church, which is what Gospel For Asia calls all of the nearly 30,000 churches it has planted over the past 30 years. It is a small but sturdy building with a cross prominently reaching skyward from the peak of the church. The pastor of the church came out to greet us and invite us in. We sat in plastic chairs as he told us, with the help of a translator, a remarkable story.
When he first came to this village to plant a church, he slept some nights out in the open as he went from house to house, distributing Gospel literature provided by the Believers Church. He met with much resistance, and once was beaten severely by anti-Christian radicals in the town. During that beating he had teeth knocked out, and his ear was nearly ripped off.
But the pastor persisted. And when the village began to experience a water shortage, the pastor prayed and drilled a well next to the road in front of the church.
Everyone told us the well would not bring water, he said. But we prayed, and by Gods grace and for His glory the water came. The pastor let it be known that it was Jesus who had brought the water, as it is God who brings all good gifts. He called the well the Jesus Well. He also let it be known that everyone in the village, even those who had beaten him, or who had been happy when he was beaten, could freely use the well.
Seeing the water from the well changed the hearts of many people, the pastor said. Soon, a few were coming to the Believers Church for services, and before long 30 and then 40 and then 50 people were coming. The pastor explained to these new church-goers that attending church does not save them. Only by turning from their sins and accepting Jesus, becoming born again, can they be saved. Eventually, 10 people make that decision, but because it was soon after the pastor had been beaten, the pastor -- and others in the leadership of the Believers Church -- decided that it would be safer if they were baptized at the Bible college in Hyderabad, so they made the trip in that we had made out that day, and were baptized.
Today, the pastor is all but healed. Only a scar remains to show where his ear was nearly ripped off his head during the brutal beating. The first 10 who were baptized were followed by more who made the decision to follow Jesus, and now, every Sunday, 65 people crowd into this small Believers Church for worship.
No, this is not a mega-church in the sense that we think of them in America. In fact, this is a typical Believers Church. On average, a Believers Church planted by Gospel for Asia has only about 60 members. But when you consider that each of these 60 members are newly born-again and baptized believers, and when you remember that there are 30,000 such churches, and that Gospel For Asia is planting churches at the rate of more than 1000 per year, you begin to realize that the 1.7-million members in these churches represent more real growth in the Kingdom of God than every mega-church (a church with more than 2000 members) in America combined.
It sort of makes you wonder if this method of church growth is not more biblical than the mega-church model touted in "Outreach" magazine and by so many others in American evangelicalism.
At least I hope it makes you wonder. As for me, Im through wondering. After seeing Ted Haggard on television this week, and comparing that image to my memory of those pastors in the remote villages in India, I no longer wonder. My minds made up.
Warren Smith is the publisher of EP News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon