Have you ever had what should be a 2-minute dash in and out of a Walmart store turn into a 15-minute marathon that pushes your patience and mental fortitude to the max? While you’re standing there with the one final but critical ingredient for your dinner recipe in a line that is 9 deep you can’t help but fixate on a horizon full of cash registers that are closed 350 days a year, including this particular day. I’m that guy…the one whose blood pressure rises with each passing minute while I stand in that line considering the inefficient and downright inconsiderate management practices that have led to this quandary. Having said that, as much as we may hate to admit it, the church can be a place with poor management skills too.
In his Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) Jesus tells his followers that they are to go out and make disciples of all nations. In this statement Jesus conveys an expectation of his church to grow. The church of Jesus Christ is still called to growth because people in all nations are yet to be discipled. Thus, there is reason to celebrate growth (especially conversion growth where unbelievers are submitting themselves to a life of following and becoming more like Jesus) in the local churches in which some experience weekly attendance numbers in the hundreds or even thousands. But with that growth there are some challenging dynamics that we must consider.
One of the challenging but real dynamics that comes with larger churches is that there is often a sense that intimate relationships are lost. I don’t use the word intimate to convey an idea of sensuality, but rather the idea of closeness, authenticity, and uncommon depth. In a small church you may know the name of every member, the names of their children, and perhaps even have important events from their family circled on your calendar to remind you of anniversaries, birthdays, and the like. Church goers who belong to small congregations know (or at least recognize) all the people that attend along with them and are familiar with the testimonies and circumstances of their church-going friends. But those dynamics are much harder to accomplish in a larger church. It is far more difficult to find intimacy in a worship center with a few hundred people on a Sunday morning. In fact, it is totally possible to be in this room full of people week in and week out and feel completely alone. Is this a problem? Or just the way it is? In our society of social media where relationships are becoming less and less intimate and more and more virtual, this is a problem…and it’s a problem that is not new to this age, but is addressed in Scripture.
One passage that we can reference is Exodus chapter 18 where Moses has a visit from his father-in-law Jethro after hearing what great things the Lord was doing “for Moses and for his people Israel” (v.1). After a time of hearing Moses testify to how the Lord had provided for them Jethro responds by praising God (v.7-12). Then beginning in verse 13, the passage records a conversation that Jethro had with Moses. Jethro saw all that Moses was doing for the people and asked “why are you doing all this by yourself?” (my paraphrase). Moses replied by saying something like “because the people need me”. What seemed like a noble attempt by Moses to serve the people Jethro called “not good” (v.17). Not good? They had just finished celebrating all that God was doing and much of what He was doing was through Moses! Isn’t that really good? This man Jethro was a priest of Midian (not just a best-selling organizational leadership author) and he shared some great wisdom with Moses. He cautioned Moses that not only were the people not getting what they needed, but “you and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out” (v.18). Jethro had identified not one, but two problems with this model of “church”.
The good news is that like any spiritual elder, Jethro didn’t just rebuke Moses, but he offered correction. He advised Moses to do two things: 1.do what only he could do (be the people’s representative before God, teach them and model for them v.19-20) and 2.select capable men to “make your load lighter” (delegate what can be delegated and let the Lord work through them v.21-22). The results listed in verse 23 are solutions to the two problems listed above: “you will be able to stand the strain” (benefit to Moses) and “all these people will go home satisfied” (benefit to everyone). This is such great advice not only for Moses, but for all large or growing churches to glean.
So what does that look like in the context of a local church? For CBC it looks a lot like small groups. It actually speaks to why small group ministry is one of the core values of the church. You see the pastor(s) cannot effectively meet every need of a large congregation and if he dare try, he will end up suffering ministry burn-out or worse. In this scenario nobody wins…the pastor(s) become unhealthy and the congregation isn’t having their needs met. In the case of a healthy church that is committed to doing ministry through small groups new leaders are developed, deep & meaningful relationships are cultivated, and everybody is better-suited for sustainable growth and health.
The same lessons that the Lord used Jethro to deliver to Moses are relevant for us today in the context of a 21st-century church of Christ followers. Furthermore, Walmart could stand to gain from these lessons. Walmart management, PLEASE select some capable men & women to run the cash registers that are in place because it really is in the best interest of your customers and the cashiers who consistently have to smile and be friendly to people who have been standing in line for 15 minutes with a stick of butter! Once again, Scripture stands the test of time.