The Myth of the Happy Church-Growth Pastor
Once upon a time there was a young man who felt called to become
a Pastor. He went to a Christian college where they taught him
many wonderful things...how to love people and teach the Bible
and win people to Jesus. But when he entered his first church he
realized there was a big difference between what he was taught
and the skills needed to run a dynamic congregation. So he read
books and attended conferences and sought advice from
consultants, and sure enough, his church began to grow. New
people were coming to Christ like never before. They needed more
worship space and parking so they ran a capital campaign. More
people were baptized, their offerings grew and they added new
staff. A few years later people took note of the growth of his
church and he found himself in the interesting position of being
looked to for advice. But the pressure of leading a growing
church began to take its toll. Endless staff meetings. Long
nights. Weekly anxiety over whether or not they would meet
budget. Management issues. Architects. Piles of phone calls and
emails to return. Systems. Planning. Paperwork. Requests for
counseling. Inability to go anywhere in his community without
Deep down he wondered if this was all worth it. But he
persisted. He shoved any disapproving voices in his soul farther
and farther away. "I'm doing this for the kingdom," he reminded
himself. "Besides, I've gotten them too far in debt now to
Years later his church had grown beyond anything he ever
imagined. He had book deals and endless speaking requests.
People lauded him as someone to model their ministry after. In
other pastor's eyes he had achieved it all. But personally his
soul was smaller now than it had ever been before. Late one
evening after a discouraging meeting with his Finance manager
over sagging contributions, he walked into the staff office
bathroom, stood in front of the mirror, and slowly slapped water
on his face. He starred at the person he was forced to become to
maintain such growth. With every new building built, and with
every new staff member added, and with every capital campaign
administered he felt like a little bit of his soul shriveled up
and died. He felt numb. He mumbled something almost inaudibly at
first. Then he repeated it again. "Is this what I signed up for
when God called me into the ministry?"
One of my favorite rock bands, Coldplay, released a song a while
back called "Clocks" that immediately hit the top of the charts.
Buried in the middle of that song is a little question that
flies by so fast you almost miss it unless you are listening
The song asks, "Am I a part of the cure, or am I part of the
As of late I can't get that question out of my head.
Four years ago my wife, kids and I moved to the suburbs of
Philly to launch a new church for a heavily unchurched area. In
just four short years we're popping over 800 and getting ready
to break ground for a multi-million dollar complex.
People would say things are going great.
But the larger this thing gets, the more unhappy I become.
It's that question.
I keep wondering if this thing we've just created, this entity,
this land consuming, staff adding, money raising, people
churning, numerically and financially growing conglomeration of
people...I'm wondering if it's part of the cure or part of the
By now you can probably tell where I'm leaning, so let me
I don't like what I've become
A while ago I asked a nationally recognized Pastor and author to
give me some direction. To be honest, I was pretty surprised
that he was willing to come and consult with a scrub like me,
but he graciously did. I had a long list of questions that I
needed help answering, but top on my list was the question, "How
can I sustain this for the long haul?" When his plane landed we
spent two days together driving around our area talking and
praying. Do you want to know what his first words to me were?
"Brian, it takes a pretty unstable person to lead a church from
0 to 500 in 3 years." I said, "Ummm, thanks, I think."
I don't like what I've had to become to lead, manage, catalyze
and propel this ever-growing mass forward. In his book,
Organizing Genius, Warren Bennis says that "Great groups are
full of indefatigable people who are struggling to turn a vision
into a machine and whose lawns and goldfish have died of
neglect." My problem is that I want out of the machine building
business. In fact, I never wanted to be in the machine building
business in the first place.
The sheer weight of the burden on my shoulders never leaves.
Money. Meetings. Planning. One friend of mine in a similar
situation calls himself "the weeping prophet," not because of
his passion for the lost, but because of the misery of running
the machine. In fact, almost every mega-church pastor I have
ever talked to, and I mean almost every one, has whispered
behind the scenes, "This is hell. I wouldn't wish this on my
worst enemy." To lead a growing church you have to become a
workhorse (and lead a team of exhausted workhorses). The problem
is when I do this I become a hypocrite. There is a disconnect
between the life I'm leading and what I'm teaching our people.
Rest, peace, freedom from anxiety, and contentment...are words
that cannot cross my lips with any amount of authenticity when
I'm running the machine.
My question is "Why isn't anyone warning upcoming pastors about
this?" If we are a fellowship of churches with endless numbers
of congregations looking at the 1,000 mark in their rear-view
mirrors, does anyone else see a problem? How can this be a part
of the cure when the people leading these entities are
I don't like what my calling has become
In the 1920's a team of archaeologists excavating a section of a
city called Dura-Europas in western Syria uncovered a
spectacular find-the first known dedicated church building.
Dated to roughly 231 a.d., it was a house converted into worship
space, including a tub for baptisms. Over this tub they found a
beautiful mural of a young beardless shepherd carrying a lamb on
While I am jazzed by the nature of this archeological discovery,
I am also saddened. Unlike me, for the first 100 years of its
existence, kingdom leaders were focused on people--reaching
them, baptizing them, teaching them, and starting new
fellowships for them. That was their calling. And this is what I
thought I signed up for. They didn't see building buildings as
part of their mission. The only collections that they had were
for the poor. There were no budgets. No Capital Campaigns.
Church leaders didn't worry about things that consume our time
like programs and systems and mission statements and strategic
planning. There was a small group of people that met in a home.
That's it. New Testament scholars all agree these small
fellowships were no more than 25 to 50 in size, and the Apostle
Paul seemed quite content with that.
I feel at times like the leader of a spiritual
institution...like a regional manager for a Wal-Mart or YMCA. Of
course I am passionate about reaching people for Jesus, but I
also constantly need money to keep this thing going. People are
needed, not so much to become disciples but to lead and
administer and fill up programs. People in the hallway are
immediately sized up in my head, "Potential leader...contact.
Whiner...avoid. Sharp couple with great giving
potential...connect." I despise this. I can't imagine this is
the vision Jesus had for his new community.
So What's The Answer?
This past summer I had a chance to visit a booming mega-church
in the west. It had just completed its billionth capital
campaign and had it all: new state of the art buildings, acres
and acres of land, surplus parking, a spacious bookstore, snappy
graphics and lots of happy, carb-counting worship leaders. It
even had the coolest coffee bar I'd ever seen in a church lobby.
Walking into the worship center with my wife, I stopped
mid-stride, threw up my arms and said, "I don't want to do THIS
She said, "What?"
I said, "THIS. All of this. Every last bit of it. Giving my life
to THIS is shrinking my soul a little bit everyday. If I keep it
up nothing will be left."
I guess what I allowed myself to articulate for the very first
time was that I wanted out of the machine building business.
Machine building is part of the disease.
I want to be a part of the cure.
I don't want to be 55 years old, looking in the mirror and
mumbling to myself, "Is this what I signed up for when God
called me into the ministry?"
The only problem is I don't know what the cure looks like.