Big Church or Little Church? Yes!

Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, Executive
Director of Cultural Engagement for the Hendricks Center at Dallas
Theological Seminary. My guest today is Gerry Breshears. He teaches
Systematic Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Welcome, Gerry.
Dr. Gerry Breshears It’s good to be here, Darrell.
Dr. Darrell Bock And Gerry is a returning guest so he’s a veteran
of foreign wars when it comes to the podcast, and today our topic is Big Church
or Little Church. We’re going to discuss church in general, ecclesiology in general, and in
particular the tensions that sometimes exist between big churches and little churches,
and hopefully have a discussion in which we are able to affirm the value of each.
So that lays out the plan. So it’s time for confessions. Gerry, what
kind of church do you attend? Dr. Gerry Breshears
I’m a member of Grace Community Church in Gresham, Oregon. It’s a Baptist background,
a conservative Baptist community church. We run about 65 adults in our auditorium
in three services, about toward a thousand in a weekend so we’re kind of a
midsized church I would say. Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. I have two churches. One is the one that I’ve attended ever since I was a student
here at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, which runs probably about 250,
300 during the week. It’s a somewhat traditional church. Has a touch of liturgy tied to
it. Very historically rude kind of church. And then my daughter works at Bent Tree Fellowship,
which is a huge church. They probably run five, six thousand in a weekend,
and a classic megachurch if you want to think of it that way. She writes curriculum for
fifth grades and under. So my wife attends there to be with the grandchildren. This explains
why we’re in the situation that we’re in, and so I’m elder emeritus at the first
church that I mentioned, and so I attend the first service at Trinity, get in my car and
drive the 15 minutes or so that it takes to get
to Bent Tree so I can make the second service and make lunch with my kids afterwards. So
that’s our church situation. So we’re actually describing a situation in
which we are all participating, if I can say it that way. Running the scale in terms of
size of church.
Well, let’s start off by talking about megachurches. I want to start there because they’re probably
the more controversial, but before we get there I want to ask a basic
ecclesiological question, and it goes like this: The church – a building, a people
or a presence. Okay? Which of the above or a combination
of the above, what are we talking about when we say church?
Dr. Gerry Breshears Well, I assume you’re thinking biblically,
not culturally. Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s correct. Dr. Gerry Breshears
The first definition of church is a building. It’s not a building at all ’cause there weren’t
church buildings in the original. They met in
the temple courts initially, and then in homes. There were no church buildings until quite
a bit later. So the pictures of the church in Scripture is a group of people committed
to Jesus Christ and his mission forming a community of the spirit. That’s what we
see in Acts 2, and then it carries out all the way from there, and the size, well, there
were three thousand people converted on that first day.
Dr. Darrell Bock That was a membership class, wasn’t it?
Dr. Gerry Breshears Yes. And then the leadership developed so
that’s a piece of it. There’s a team of elders that lead a church, and then there’s a
presence in the community, and critical of that whole thing is God present with them
through the Holy Spirit and through his Word.
Dr. Darrell Bock So we’re not thinking about a location so
much or even four walls. Dr. Gerry Breshears
It’s irrelevant, biblically. Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. And yet as you mentioned, culturally most people when they think of church they
say, “Well, what church do you attend,” and they think of a location, that kind of
thing. Dr. Gerry Breshears
The other cultural definition that I need to really, really speak against is the church
as a meeting that we go to. So we say things like, “Hey, going to church this morning,”
by which we mean a meeting, and the church does meet, but a church is a 24/7 type
thing. Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So we’ve got these cultural things that are going on that make people think of the
church. You said that it’s a community where the spirit indwells. Let’s think more
about the biblical side of this. How should we think about the church?
Dr. Gerry Breshears Well, the church primarily is the followers
of Jesus Christ. We see that there in Acts 2, kind of a foundational thing, where it’s
a group of people who have repented, believed,
been baptized and joined together under the fellowship of the apostles, the
leadership there, the community. They do sacraments together and they extend the Gospel into the
community so that many people come to Christ.
Dr. Darrell Bock Now that was a description of the early church
’cause, as you mentioned, they fellowship with the apostles.
Dr. Gerry Breshears Uh-huh.
Dr. Darrell Bock So when we think of the church today what
should we be thinking about, or maybe this is the way to ask the question: When people go to church or look for a church,
what should they be looking for? Dr. Gerry Breshears
Well, there are several things to look for. One is a church that is faithful to Jesus
Christ and his teaching. Of course, many churches have abandoned that and become more
culturally relevant. Another thing to look for is a church that’s doing mission
into the community instead of just ingrown. We do stuff together separated from the community,
and a real factor there is this is a place where the church is going to invest
in me for my spiritual growth, my personal growth, so that I can build a community, so
we can be a part of a community that’s doing the Gospel work of Jesus Christ or the kingdom
work of Jesus Christ in my region. Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. And when we speak kingdom work of Jesus Christ, I rea are all broad questions, what
are we talking about? Dr. Gerry Breshears
The kingdom work of Jesus, one is forming a community of the kingdom where righteousness
prevails, and the key idea of righteousness is not just I’m the guy who
follows the rules. Righteousness biblically is the idea that we have a community where
all relationships – God, others, self, rest of creation are well ordered, where people
are flourishing with dignity as God designed.
That’s what we’re trying to develop, and then we extend that kingdom presence living under
the rule and reign and life of Jesus. That’s where we’re trying to extend from our
community into the community around our fellowship. Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Since we’ve brought up kingdom work, I want to bring up an issue that sometimes
comes up in relationship to these discussions, and especially since you mentioned
community work. You know, some people complain about a social Gospel,
and what they do is they say it’s the church’s job to preach the word, and then the activity,
that’s something completely separate. Break that down for us ’cause sometimes I
think we’ve created a vision here that is greater than what the Bible actually suggests.
Dr. Gerry Breshears The problem comes that term social Gospel,
which was developed a hundred years or so ago by a group of liberals who bought
into the idea that we need to do good work in the community. We need to build jobs and
we need to feed hungry and those kind of things, but they divorced it from the connection
with Jesus Christ. So when you think of kingdom or Gospel or
righteousness biblically, the first relationship is the relationship of God. So we have
to develop that. That’s the evangelistic thrust, but then we have the relationship with others.
That’s the community, the spirit, technically the church. We have relationship
with ourselves growing as people, equate for every good work, but then we have for
the rest of creation, and we’re extending the goodness of God in the community like
Jesus in Acts 10:38 where he went about preaching and doing good, and I think that’s
the same mission of the church. When we separate living a life of Jesus as
a community from living the life of Jesus into the community around us, I think we’ve
actually truncated the Gospel. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes. The passage I like to bring up in this regard is Luke 4 where Jesus preaches in the
synagogue and talks about his message and mission; that he’s anointed by
God, that he’s called to preach the good news, and to liberate the captives. He
uses all this freeing language, liberation language in the theological sense of the term,
and then the very next scene is a day in Capernaum in which he’s actually carrying
out the ministry that he describes. So there’s a match between his word and his deed,
and we see the character of his ministry being not one of word only, but actually of action
that reflects and gives credibility to what it is that he’s claiming to bring.
Dr. Gerry Breshears Correct. Colossians 6:10 is the same kind
of thing, doing good to everyone, especially those of the household of faith. Makes it
very clear that doing good is not just in the community, but it’s not exclusive to the
community, and coming back to your favorite book, Luke 3 when John the Baptist does his
foundational call to repentance the people ask, well, what do we mean by that, and
he says, “If you’ve got two cloaks, share one with somebody else.” That doing good is
that sharing and helping people who are in need, and not just inside the fellowship.
It’s in the community as well. Dr. Darrell Bock
So the community is supposed to be characterized by a kind of demonstration of God’s grace
in caring for people that actually helps to undergird the testimony of the message
that’s being preached. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Yep. If we speak in word only, we kind of fall prey to James’s thing. We’re giving good
advice to people. We’re not giving help to people. When we put them together, the good
news of Jesus with the good life of Jesus, then it reaches into people’s hearts,
and they join in and give praise to God. “Let your good deeds so shine that people give
praise to God,” Jesus put it. Dr. Darrell Bock
So what do you think caused the division that we sometimes end up seeing between this emphasis
on the preached word versus the kind of community activity that’s
supposed to reflect it? Dr. Gerry Breshears
Think historically again about a century ago with the Roshton Bush and his followers who
divorced the social work from the Gospel work, and so what was very true, say,
in the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom of Slavery Movement back in the Civil War
era, he was led by Christians who saw people being mistreated and spoke powerfully for
their freedom, but in the early 1900s they dropped Jesus from the equation and just
did good works, and it was the classic liberalism, the kingdom is in your heart,
and they didn’t see the need to do evangelism, getting people into contact with Jesus, and
then the fundamentalist reaction was to be reactive, and though we’ll stand for
evangelism, and they lost the doing good. We need to bring them back together I think.
Dr. Darrell Bock Okay. So one final question kind of walking
down this road, and it’s this: There are a lot of things that go on in the culture at
large in which many people participate within the
culture that are good. They do minister to people. They produce some forms of
flourishing and care and compassion. How should the church view those kinds of activities?
And what I have in mind here are there are all kinds of civic organizations
and that kind of thing that exist to help in one way or another, and sometimes you could
say, “Well, we can do our own thing and reinvent the wheel to a certain extent and do this
over here ourselves,” or we can join in, and in the midst of that not only show the
church’s presence, but actually rub shoulders and engage with people from other
backgrounds, and maybe even expose them to the Gospel in the process. How do you fall
out on those kinds of concerns and that kind of mix?
Dr. Gerry Breshears I think it’s absolutely essential to join
in with the community and do it in the name of Jesus. I’m here in Portland, and we have
what we call CityServe, and the churches of Portland
are joining together to assist state agencies, Department of Home Services,
school systems, and we come in and help them do what they want to do anyway, and, boy,
the name of Jesus is getting all kinds of positive work. We made the front page of
the Portland Oregonian yesterday because the people are serving the homeless
with shelters are almost exclusively faith-based, by which we mean Christian organizations.
We made the front page of the Oregonian ’cause we’re serving the homeless.
Jesus was there. Dr. Darrell Bock
I take it the Oregonian isn’t actually normally viewed as a church propaganda organ.
Dr. Gerry Breshears No. It’s more like Portlandia. There actually
are some really fine believers that work at the Oregonian, but their editorial policy
is not Christianized I assure you.
Dr. Darrell Bock Yeah. I love to tell a very similar story
about a project in West Dallas in which several churches banded together to plan a church.
This was about 30 years ago, a little more than that now. Plant a church in the poorest
area of Dallas, African-American community, and in the midst of doing that
they had an African-American who wanted to go back to the projects to minister there.
They planted a church. The second thing they did was build a gym.
The third thing they did was build a school, and ten years later there was an editorial
in the Dallas Morning News entitled “Angels in Our Midst,” and it was a testimony to the
way in which churches had banded together and actually had put together a community
project that was actually transforming the community. There were statistics
that showed this, and they raised the question, why is it that this can be done privately
through the churches, and yet desegregation was a big issue and Dallas was
under desegregation orders longer than any other city in the country, and yet
when it comes to dealing with these kinds of issues in our schools we do so poorly.
And the point was that sometimes churches do this better than anybody else. Same kind
of thing in terms of the testimony that exists. As we suggested before, it builds
a kind of credibility for the message so that when someone preaches God loves you
and has a wonderful plan for your life or however you introduce, you’re talking about
the Gospel, there’s something there behind it
where people can go, “Yeah, and I can see it by the way they engage the community.”
Dr. Gerry Breshears What happens when it becomes a social Gospel
is when we’re doing those kinds of things we stop mentioning that we’re from
Grace Community Church or we stop mentioning the name of Jesus ’cause it might offend somebody,
and I think that’s the secular temptation that comes with those kind
of things. We find here we don’t have that problem at all. We just speak winsomely
and with the background of love and care, and people are very welcome to receive us.
Dr. Darrell Bock Yes. Well, I hadn’t initially intended to
go quite down this road, but it’s a good road to set the stage because I think it raises
the question we kind of come back to: Is the church
a community and is the church a presence? Dr. Gerry Breshears
It is both. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. It is both, and the church as a community functions where God has his people, and it
functions where God has its people in such a way, hopefully, that God’s presence
and grace and truth in the context of living out in the relevance of life is evident to
people around them. Fair enough? Dr. Gerry Breshears
Absolutely, absolutely. Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Let’s talk about big churches here. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Okay. Dr. Darrell Bock
Big churches are supposed to be in the eyes of some bad. They are a way to kind of say
generous to the culture. They are seeker sensitive is sometimes the word you
hear attached to big churches, and the church is supposed to be for the believer.
You know, you could probably add to the list beyond the things that I’m – the music
is wrong. You know, everything about it is a
mess. We need to go back to the traditional hymn-bearing, Bible loving internal community
faithful community. Now, of course, I’ve way overdrawn this to
make the point, but your comments. How should we think about the megachurch
movement and how should we assess the different kinds of megachurches that actually are out
there? Dr. Gerry Breshears
Well, there are a lot of different kinds of megachurches, and you’ve got ones that range
from multi-campus video venues to large buildings. You’ve got people that have teaching
teams and charismatic single pastor. You’ve got people that are very Gospel
oriented in megachurches. You’ve got others that are very community oriented. So there
isn’t any stereotype that covers them. There’s a huge variety of large churches and
small churches. So, again, to assess them you have to come back are they faithful
to the Gospel? Are they really preaching the word? Are they transforming people’s lives?
Are they building community spirit where the people are encouraged to grow and
love Lord Jesus Christ even more? Same criteria for large or small on that.
The advantage of a large church, one of the advantages – well, you mentioned your
daughter is writing curriculum for fifth grade and under because large churches can
do specialized work and higher people that are just really, really super competent
in an area. They can produce curriculum that then the local small church that can’t afford
to hire a curriculum writer can benefit from those ’cause, at least the large churches
I’m working on, are very free to share their material with other churches that will
use that material. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And it produces the potential for a variety of experience. There’s usually a large
pool of gifts that are available in a large church, which then impacts the way in which
the worship is done and the quality of the worship that it’s done, the expertise that’s
brought to that process. It seems to me that there are some real advantages to the size
of the church. And I know people who are very theologically
astute, whose major complaint about secret-oriented megachurches and
megachurches in general is the idea that the church is really the nurturing place for discipleship
for believers as opposed to being about evangelism. Their theory is that
evangelism should be taking place throughout the community in the community
outreach through its members, but the gathering time of the church is a time for believers.
How do you assess that critique of large churches?
Dr. Gerry Breshears Well, the mission of the church is to do evangelism.
Some churches do that through what’s often called the attractional model,
the come and see. So you come and you’re introduced to the community spirit. You’re given the
Gospel in the morning service, and then the training, the nurturer of the
believers, happens at another time. It may happen in an evening service or it may
happen in smaller groups. It has to be there, but is the nurture of the church really on
the Sunday morning gathering? Most churches I go to there’s not much nurture
at all happening on Sunday morning. They preach and a song service and a cup of
coffee and you go home. There’s not much nurture going on there at all.
So that what you do on a Sunday morning service can be very evangelistic or very teaching
oriented, but you have to do both. The question is which one goes where.
Dr. Darrell Bock Okay. So when we think about the program of
the church, and we’re thinking about this theologically in terms of how a church,
hopefully ideally, should be functioning, you really have to look at the whole program
of what’s happening in the community as opposed to one particular moment or hour.
Fair enough? Dr. Gerry Breshears
Yep. That’s what comes back. We define church as a Sunday morning meeting in our culture,
and biblically that is so incredibly wrong. Church is a 24/7 work of the people
of God. So when does nurture happen? Well, sometime during that 24/7 evangelism
happens, sometimes during that 24/7, hopefully more than once, but when we define church
as the Sunday morning gathering, we have way undefined the church, and that’s
the ecclesiological attack that I want to make. It’s not just Sunday morning.
Dr. Darrell Bock Okay. So the question then becomes that your
service could be attractional, but your discipleship and your focus on discipleship
– by the way, it’s hard to do good discipleship and good teaching in a very large
community group in which there are a variety of things going on in the space of an hour.
You know, you’re worshipping. You’re doing your announcements. You’re praying as a
community, and then you’ve got your sermon, which, you know, if the only time the church
is teaching is the 30 minutes or so the pastor is speaking, that can be a problem.
You’ve obviously got your Sunday school. You’ve got your small groups. There are lots
of venues in a church context in which nurturing can take place.
Dr. Gerry Breshears It must happen outside the Sunday morning
gathering ’cause that’s all the nurture we get we’re going to be stunted growth for
sure. I don’t care whether it’s large church or small church.
Dr. Darrell Bock And this is why it’s very, very important
for people who think about church and who engage with the church to think about the
fact that they are part of a community that’s designed
to function in life; that’s your 24/7, as opposed to thinking about, “Oh, well, the
church is a place that I attend, and as long as I’m there one hour a week I’m a good and
faithful member. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Yeah. Ecclesiologically you could not be more wrong in defining the church. Well, I guess
you could be more wrong, but that’s terribly wrong to define the church as your
Sunday morning gathering. Dr. Darrell Bock
It’s way too limiting in terms of what it is that you –
Dr. Gerry Breshears I grew up on a farm in central Missouri, and
our community, I mean we helped each other out on crops. We did all kinds of things
together, and then gathered together Sunday for the specific purpose of singing and praying
and preaching as a community, but the life of the church was all week long.
I think we can do the same thing today, and should do that today.
Dr. Darrell Bock So I’m almost hearing now, and this will be
another exaggeration, you could almost throw out the hour a week service out of the
mix and still be very much the church. Dr. Gerry Breshears
I don’t want to get rid of that. Gathered together is a good thing, too.
Dr. Darrell Bock Yeah, right.
Dr. Gerry Breshears But, yeah, it has to be more than that, and
some churches have given up, and it’s only the Sunday morning service, and this is
large and small, and I think that is just a desperate mistake.
Dr. Darrell Bock Okay. So I still want to stay focused here
on these churches of size because I do think that one of the things that many
megachurches do that are important, and it’s important to appreciate, is the way in which
they can impact through community outreach, through the kinds of ministries
they have because of the amount of numbers that they can pour into the effort.
Dr. Gerry Breshears That’s correct. The sheer numbers of people
have an impact and an opportunity for specialization and specialized equipping
that is a huge asset to the larger church community.
Dr. Darrell Bock And so in that regard I think it’s important.
Another thing that I think is important in the background here that we haven’t talked
much about is that we tend to think about the church as individual congregations, whether
they’re small or large. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Right. Dr. Darrell Bock
As in fact, if we think about this biblically the church is actually the combination of
all those congregations as opposed to being one particular community.
Dr. Gerry Breshears Right. One of the emphases we’ve done here
in Portland in the CityServe is talk about the church of quad county. It’s actually four
different counties in the area, and we band together as a single organization for gatherings
for prayer and worship, as well as for service, and that’s so many different denominations,
and that’s really helped our influence in the community. Our evangelistic
outreach is because we do have that kind of unity across congregations and denominations.
Dr. Darrell Bock Yeah. That’s exactly where I’m going; that
in thinking about individual units and not thinking about how the units have the potential
to connect together and minister together side by side, particularly in many of the
community projects, which have demands that usually one congregation can’t meet; that
there are real opportunities for presenting the presence of the community in the city
in a way that a single congregation, almost no
matter how large it is, couldn’t pull off. Dr. Gerry Breshears
That’s correct. That’s correct. Dr. Darrell Bock
And so that means that if you’re a pastor of a church, and I do think this is a temptation
in the ministry, is you become so concerned about how your own community is
operating and functioning that you can almost become isolated from all the other
potential Christian activity that’s going on around you that actually provides other
opportunities for your community to grow and mature in efforts that might involve more
than just your community. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Yep. One of the things I really like is we’re out in Gresham, East County here, and we have
a prayer fellowship once a month, and pastors and leaders from the various churches
come together. We pray together. We sing together, and we just talk what’s going
on, and the pastors of the churches and the leaders of the churches are friends as well
as co-laborers for the cause of Jesus Christ in East County. It’s so helpful to
have that kind of unity. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. We have two things going on here in Dallas that I can mention that are like that.
Dallas is in the second year of what’s been called Movement Day. It’s actually something
that’s come out of Tim Keller’s church in New York, and they’ve decided that the
second city that they wanted to push in this direction on West Dallas, and they’ve had
two citywide meetings encouraging particularly churches to minister in the community,
looking really, really hard in a special way at cross-ethnic ministry, if I can
describe it that way, and making churches aware of needs in other parts of the city,
and bringing people together. That’s one thing that’s happening that’s along those
lines. And a second thing that happens is there’s
a very good tight personal network between many pastors of the leading large
churches in the city, and they meet together once a month to interact, pray together, let
each other know what’s going on in their communities, think about ways in which they
can work together, that kind of thing. Very, very healthy ministers group in the old
sense of the term, but cross-denominational and really very, very effective.
When we were introducing the table, for example, just getting launched, that they invited me
out to speak with them, and so immediately all the pastors of many of the
major churches in Dallas knew what we were doing and could even give me feedback,
which was terrific in terms of what was going on, in terms of what would be helpful to them
and that kind of thing, thus we’re doing a topic like this. And I think that the potential
there is huge in terms of what can come out of that kind of cross-community
ministry. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Right. And that’s where large churches can resource smaller churches and form that community
of churches together that’s so helpful, and the piece that I like there is
when large churches see smaller churches as partners in the ministry that they can help
out with the unique things they can do, but they can also appreciate that small churches
can do things that a large church can’t do. So, again, there’s that partnership of
different ways of doing things. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And I’m going to transition here to the small churches in a second, but there’s
one more observation I want to make that piggybacks on exactly what you said. Again,
a concrete illustration ’cause I think making this concrete is important.
I know of a church – in fact, I was in a church in which there was a very painful
transition, if I can say it that way. A pastor for a
long time was let go, and it kind of shook up the body because the minister had been
there a long time, et cetera, and there was need for reflective and reconciliation work
in terms of how this move had impacted the particular community.
Well, it so happened that a larger church that knew about the church had a pastor who
specialized in reconciliation work. I mean they can specialize. They can hire someone
whose goal is to – and he actually serves this way around the city in various
kinds of situations like this.
So the smaller church contacted the larger church, and the larger church really, for
lack of a better description, lent their minister to this community for about a one-year period
of periodically meeting with the elders and helping them think through what’s going
on, drawing off his many experiences of working through these kinds of situations and really
helping the church that had been a little unsettled by this experience kind of
get back on its feet and get going again. That would be very, very hard to do if you
didn’t have these places where there is a combination of a wide array of skills built
in one location.
Dr. Gerry Breshears Yeah. The same kind of thing happened –
I know you’ve been a part of it – where a large church would ask you to come to
their city and do lectures, and they invite people from many different churches to come
be a part of that teaching time. If there isn’t the large church that has the budget
to do that sort of thing, it probably wouldn’t happen, but what an incredible resource to
the church as a whole. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes, exactly. So the point here is that it’s probably a little too easy to stereotype that
big is bad or that the reason a church is big
is because it’s simply placating itself to the culture at large. I think that’s another
charge that we often hear about big churches. Dr. Gerry Breshears
I can speak from personal experiences of pastors up here that many of the large churches are
very, very sharp in their Gospel preaching. They’re not truncating anything,
and they’re growing quickly because of that. People are looking for a straight
preaching of the word of God, and some of the churches I work with are very evangelistic,
but boy, do they preach the Gospel straight up and hard, and they don’t soften
anything. So the idea of we’re large because we’re trying
to be relevant and just dumbing down the Gospel, there are some, but there are
many others that it’s exactly the opposite. They’re large because they’re preaching Gospel
with power. Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Now in the midst of this there’s another part of the conversation that needs to be
injected in before we transition to the smaller church, and it’s this: And that is
music, music style, the way in which people accomplish this outreach. You know, people
do come sometimes to a big church because it provides all the kinds of community presence
and services that people are looking for. It’s able to minister across
the family. It’s able to do something for the ill, that kind of thing, but sometimes
the charge is that contemporary music.
Now here’s the question I want to ask about this: Where in the Bible is there a description
of the kind of music that we should have in the service?
Dr. Gerry Breshears Well, clearly we should sing only Psalms,
Darrell. You would know that. Anything other than Psalms we should crucify people for
doing that. Obviously that’s not what I mean to say seriously.
Scripture never describes the worship style. I was in Amsterdam teaching at the Tyndale
in Badhoevedorp a while back, and I was down at the Rijksmuseum in downtown Amsterdam,
and I saw two forms of the same picture. The second form of the
picture got the artist almost killed, and I was looking at the two. I had to look for
a bit and figure out that the thing that got the artist
killed was he drew a picture of a church with an organ in it, and having an organ in a church
was heresy 300 years ago. Dr. Darrell Bock
Wow. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Now it’s a sacred instrument. Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, we’ve been soaked in liberalism, obviously, for a long time. Seriously speaking, there
really isn’t any specific guidance in Scripture about the kind of music that we
have. What I like to tell people is if you read the Pastoral Epistles it really tells
you very little about the hour that we tend to argue
about a lot. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Or even what hour to have that on. Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right. It’s much more interested in the character of the people, in how the people
are being nurtured in the Lord, and there really are a wide-open variety of means in
terms of trying to get there in terms of presenting and reflecting and worshiping in
relationship to the truth. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Yeah. And large churches are not always characterized by loud music. Some of the best music I know
of is from large churches that have large choirs and large organs, and
just exquisitely beautiful music in a more classical sense.
Dr. Darrell Bock So to me, thinking theologically, the music
wars that we kind of went through for a period of time was one of – I almost hate
to say it this way, but this is what I’m going
to say what I’m thinking – and that is one of the silliest arguments we had in
the church in a long time. It’s a little bit like arguing
over the color of the carpet. What carpet should we put in the new building? Blue for
heaven or red for the blood of Christ. I mean, you know. I mean you make the call.
Dr. Gerry Breshears The thing is what is worshipped in the music,
how does the Gospel proclaim the music, how does it help me worship God and
believe in what he’s saying. That’s the character of music, and musical style, I certainly got
my favorites and least favorites, and just for the sake of not getting myself crucified
by people who love what I don’t love, I won’t say what those are, but yeah, those
styles vary, but let’s not fight over that. Dr. Darrell Bock
And I actually think there’s a lesson in worship styles that gives a pastor an important opportunity
to teach, and that is that in producing some music style with variety what
you’re asking people to realize is you may not like the hymn that we’re singing right
now or the worship song that we’re singing right now, but hopefully down the road there’s
one coming that you do connect with, and you need to remember that different people
do connect to different styles and ways of music, and that it’s important that they
all be ministered to in one way or another. The thing that I hate to see is to kind of
watch a church get locked in and kind of just slowly grow old because it’s locked into that
style, making no effort to connect to younger people by how they engage and worship, and
in the process they’re cutting off their future.
Dr. Gerry Breshears And that’s the point I would make. I’m not
a musician, but whatever style you do, do something that your church can do well.
Trying to imitate somebody for the sake of doing the newest and the latest is not necessarily
the right thing to do unless you can really pull it off.
Dr. Darrell Bock Okay. Well, let’s turn our attention now to
the smaller churches, and as you’ve suggested, there are things that smaller churches
are able to do that larger churches really have to work harder at in some ways. I mean
the most obvious thing is that there is an intimacy and a potential for intimacy in fellowship
in knowing the person who’s sitting next to you in the pew in the context of a
smaller church that larger churches have to achieve in some other way because it’s not
going to happen in that hour that we’ve talked so much about because from week to
week you may not be sitting next to the same person.
Dr. Gerry Breshears And that’s really true. When I was in smaller
churches, I really like coming together from the same morning worship and knowing
the people who are there. I know their stories. I know many of their inner stuff well, and
there’s a community of worship that happens when I’m worshiping with people I
know. I now fellowship in a church and preach in
a church. Most of the people there, I don’t even know their names. You know, there are
six-hundred people there. I can’t possibly know all their names, but what happens, being
a traditionalist, I always sit pretty much in the same spot so we have a fellowship of
the left side forward that we all kind of know each other.
Dr. Darrell Bock Yeah. And it is funny how that works. It’s
kind of like the classroom. I tease my students that students are Arminian on the first day
of class and they’re Calvinists after that. You know, they pick their chair the first
day of class, and that becomes their space theoretically, and then they’re pretty much
in that space the rest of the semester. You get a few rebels that move around, but
basically that’s how things work, and practices in the church work that way.
Well, of course, in a small church you learn all those things. You get to know people at
that kind of detailed level in terms of what their preferences are, who their kids are,
what they like, what they’re involved in, et cetera. Whereas in a large church, unless
you move to some type of small group involvement
you’re not going to find that very, very easily. Dr. Gerry Breshears
And the good large churches I work with, all make great effort to get their people into
some sort of ministry team, some sort of home group, some sort of missional community.
To be sure, people can come and hide in a large church. That’s absolutely true,
but it’s not the church’s fault in most cases. People refuse to participate in what they’re
real strongly encouraged and enabled to do.
It is a little harder to hide in a small church because there are only 118 people there and
everybody knows each other, and if you’re there doing nothing, it’s really obvious
to the whole group right there. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. So the nature of the way the community functions, at least potentially and inherently,
is an advantage in the smaller church. It’s easier to get to some level of intimate
community. Dr. Gerry Breshears
But, see, from the other side if somebody is just checking out Jesus, and they walk
into a small church, immediately everybody descends on them and they’re singled out for
special attention, and it actually drives a lot of people away.
Dr. Darrell Bock Yes. It is an interesting dynamic in terms
of what’s going on there. What are other advantages of a small church? I mean,
obviously, the intimacy, the fellowship or at least the potential for that is strong.
What else? Dr. Gerry Breshears
One of the things that I find helpful in a smaller church is that the sermons can be
more directed to the people who are there because the diversity of stories isn’t so
great. So a pastor can really speak to the congregation in applicational kinds of ways
that are much more specific, and I’ve got a large church with thousands in it, I have
to be generic in my applications because there’s just so much diversity in the group.
So I think that’s a real advantage that being able to preach specifically to the people
in the Sunday morning gathering.
Dr. Darrell Bock So really in some ways what we’re saying is
large church, yes, small church, yes. The issue is not the size.
Dr. Gerry Breshears Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock The issue is the church being the church.
Dr. Gerry Breshears Yep. And, again, there’s personal preference.
I actually prefer a smaller church. I’m in a midsized church, and I do a lot of work
with large churches, and I think what we should do is go to the church that works best for
my spiritual growth and enjoy it, and quit comparing and being critical of somebody who’s
in a different sized church. There are advantages to every size and there are
disadvantages to every size. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. That really is the point of the exercise here is to just kind of discuss some basic
core ecclesiology, you know, in the big word, and what church should be and how we
should think about church, how we should view church, et cetera.
Let’s talk a little bit about pastoral leadership and leadership style because, obviously, another
advantage of a small church is that in some senses it’s easier to get involved
at one level in the sense of the needs are usually pretty obvious and people can
step in. Whereas in large churches you say you can get lost, and isn’t that large churches
discourage involvement. I know a lot of churches that promote involvement. That’s
not the problem, but it’s easy to be overwhelmed in a big church. It certainly is not so
easy in a smaller church to be as overwhelmed. Dr. Gerry Breshears
That’s true. It is easier to connect because the web of relationships is smaller, but in
a larger church you often have specialists who are there to train to really equip you
to do the work, where in a smaller church there isn’t somebody to train you for that
kind of work. You got to figure it out by yourself.
So, again, there are advantages on both sides. And in a small church there will only be a
few opportunities for service, and if that isn’t what I’m really gifted and passionate
about, I might find a place where I’m really going to thrive, in a larger church I might
have more opportunities to really clip into what I’m connected with, and I might try even
the larger church. So, again, it’s not a one size fits all.
Dr. Darrell Bock That’s fair enough. Now let’s talk about the
structure of church leadership for a second. How should we think about – there are
models of church in which the pastor is the guy, and I mean he’s not just a CEO. In some
cases he’s it, and then there are other models in which the leadership is shared.
Let’s talk a little bit about what the Bible has to say about that, about leadership and
the structure of leadership. Dr. Gerry Breshears
One of the passages I go to pretty regularly is a passage like Acts 6 or Acts 15 where
you get a glimpse into the inner-working of a church. In Acts 16 when the widows are
not being served well, the question, the complaint doesn’t go to Peter, the senior
pastor. It goes to the apostles, who are serving as the elder team of that church. In Acts
15 where we see the development now of elders, again the charge does not go to
one guy. It goes to the apostles and elders along the whole church.
Seems to me that the New Testament model of leadership is a shared leadership of team-diverse
people, and my inclination very much to see the Acts 4 APEST, the apostles,
prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher as different types of skills that
need to be represented in that leadership team. So I think that’s what should happen.
The team should be a leader, and you should have different kinds of people on there,
and in the mutuality of those different kinds of people you’ll have an enriching and
sometimes frustrating mix of leadership. Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And you’ll have an array of gifts and skills, et cetera, which allows the community
to function. I think this is true – what you
see in axiom, what you even see light out in the Pastoral Epistles, assumes that there
are multiple leaders in a community. That they are sharing the authority, that they
share the responsibility for the stewardship and oversight, in fact, one of the terms for
elders, that’s basically what it means, for the oversight of the community that sets the
direction and the tone. I’m going to raise something else here that
our culture brings into the equation to a certain degree because you have certain
models in which the authority is top down, a kind of hierarchical structure, but you
also have church structures and denominations that are built around the idea that the membership
has a major hand in how the church operates. More congregational kind of
emphasis, if you will. How do we sort through that biblically, that kind of attention?
Dr. Gerry Breshears When I’m teaching my ecclesiology class I
break it down into four kinds of models. One is pastor rule, which actually is often
called congregational, but it’s not. All the congregation does is ratify what the pastor
wants; and then there’s elder rule. You’ve got a team of people that gather together
and make the decisions and then tell people what to do. You’ve got elder-led, where
the elders lead the congregation in wise decision, and then you’ve got a true congregational
where it’s the whole congregation carries the authority and they vote on most
everything. I think all four of those can be legitimate.
The least legitimate of the bunch I would say would be the pastor rule or it’s the
authorities vested in a single person. Unfortunately, that’s too common because it fits our corporate
culture of a CEO that has a board of advisers, but makes the decisions,
and also our football teams where there’s a coach who makes those decisions, and
when he’s bad you fire him and go get a new one.
Dr. Darrell Bock Yeah, those, which happens to pastors, too.
Dr. Gerry Breshears It does. Pastors too often are looked at as
football coaches. It’s all their responsibility. They get the glory or they get the
condemnation. Dr. Darrell Bock
One other level of leadership that we need to introduce is kind of this basic way of
thinking about the church is the level of the
deacons. What’s their role in the scheme of things?
Dr. Gerry Breshears We get so little in Scripture about deacons
it’s hard to say much of anything, but in the kind of very, very, very prototypical
picture in Acts 6, the people that are called deacons
are like ministry team leaders, and that’s what I’m inclined to do with deacons, is to
say that they’re men and women who lead ministry teams in the church. It’s not a board of deacons.
I don’t see that ever done in Scripture. I do see elders serving as a board
or a team, but the deacons are more ministry team leaders with specialized
functions in the church that could be anything from financial to building to Sunday school
to community relations. It could be just about anything, but you’ve got a team that
leads that, and that would be your deacons I think.
Dr. Darrell Bock Now a final issue to think about in relationship
to the church, I think, has to do with how people – and we’ve already alluded
to this – that the church is about a community.
It’s about a presence. It’s about an impact, and oftentimes what happens in church
discussion is there’s the time when I gather together as the church, and that’s the sacred
time, and then there’s the rest of life, which is something separate and distinct and
apart from the church. Actually, one of the impacts of thinking about the church as
a building is to create this divide in people’s minds which are you?
Dr. Gerry Breshears When you think of the church as a building
or a meeting, you fall into that. Dr. Darrell Bock
And what that, of course, does is it means that all this other time is viewed almost
through a secular kind of non-sacred lens, and
perhaps even more destructively, what that reflects is an acquiescence to the way our
culture wants us to see church. Dr. Gerry Breshears
That’s correct. Dr. Darrell Bock
And it is not biblical. Dr. Gerry Breshears
It is not biblical. Dr. Darrell Bock
And the more important thing, I think, is that it has a lot to say about how people
view their own – and I’m going to use this word
on purpose here – their own calling that God has given them, where God has them
in life as being something less than sacred and less than God being involved in. Now that
sounds contradictory, but I’ve posed it that way on purpose because there’s a
sense in which God has people where he has them for a very sacred purpose, but they don’t
see where God has them as being involved in a very sacred purpose. Speak to
that element of church life. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Well, again, if church is a meeting we go to, then that’s sacred space. If church is
a group of people 24/7, then there’s no sacred sect there to divide. I’m always church.
Another distinction that I despise is the idea that the pastor does the Lord’s work
because he’s hired by the church, but the guy
who’s an HR director in a corporation isn’t doing the Lord’s work. I couldn’t disagree
more. They’re both doing the Lord’s work, just in different ways, and what we can’t
do is let people think that it’s sacred if the church pays my salary and it’s secular
if somebody else pays my salaries or I don’t
get paid. We’re all doing Lord’s work. Think of Abraham.
What was he doing? He was an agri business. What about David? He was into
politics. What was Paul doing? Well, his job was construction, small house construction.
Yes, you’re doing the Lord’s work wherever you are because the church is people
doing God’s business in God’s place, and God’s place is the whole world in a
building that we gather in on Sunday morning. Dr. Darrell Bock
And that actually does help us, just to refract back on the major part of our discussion,
with the small and large church discussion. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Absolutely. Dr. Darrell Bock
Because it relativizes it to a certain degree. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Right. Dr. Darrell Bock
And so how in your thinking can pastors do a better job of making people think about,
one, the church as it is and, two, their vocations as being a part of what God is very
involved in with them? Dr. Gerry Breshears
Some of that, there’s a lot going on now in the whole work and vocation movement. We’re
part of the _____ Network that has a lot of resources for this, and there’s a lot
of publications. Tim Keller has done his Every Good Endeavor book, R. Paul Stevens
has done his Work Matters, Tom Nelson did a book, Work Matters. There’s a lot of ____
out that talks about theology work. I’ve done a thing here at the seminary, some
short curriculum on that. There are a lot of those things, but the pastors, I think
the biggest thing for the pastor is they need
to actually get out and be involved in people in the so-called workplace. Go to school
with their students, go to the work with their people who do work, go to home schooling and
be involved with the lives of the people and remember that the Lord’s work is
more than just what happens inside the building on Sunday morning, and then
preach to that, teach to that, equip to that. Dr. Darrell Bock
So that means doing things like making sure that your illustrations aren’t just about
what God is doing in the midst of your family, but what God is doing in the midst of your
work, and here’s an important distinction that I think often is missed: It isn’t just
about doing evangelism at work. It’s about how you
do your work. Dr. Gerry Breshears
That’s correct. Dr. Darrell Bock
And thinking about the actual service that you perform in your work. I’m going to illustrate
this with my son. My son is a lawyer. Now lawyers come in for lots of jokes for
all kinds of reasons, but he’s just finished working on a case in which he wrote a report
to a university helping them think through how they handle issues of sexual harassment
on their campus and how they deal with those reports. It’s actually a very important
life-significant category of engagement that he has spent hours on trying to help the
school sort through what they were doing well and what they were doing poorly, not just
in regards to how the law works, which obviously as a lawyer he was concerned about,
but just in terms of the community formation that that represents.
Now that, actually, is a very significant piece of work that he is doing, and I wrote
him after the report came out and said how proud I was of him that here he had all these
choices as a lawyer as to what he could do and be as a lawyer, and he’s chosen to
give his time and his energy to this kind of concern.
I think that’s a very concrete illustration of work that matters and thinking about the
choices that you make it work that matter. Dr. Gerry Breshears
That’s correct. Yeah. My son is a manager at Safeway, and the same kind of thing. He
works with people in the store to create a community of shalom in the name of Jesus,
and he’s actually creating goodness in that store with the employees and customers
that is a work of God, and that is an important work of God whether it’s a lawyer or a manager
or a guy who’s just doing checkout work at Safeway. We can do that as the work
of the Lord, and it’s as it should be. Dr. Darrell Bock
And I can compare what my son is doing with what my daughter is doing in writing the curriculum
for fifth grade or what my other daughter is doing as a school teacher. My
goodness, that’s character forming. She taught in elementary school for years,
second grade and fourth grade, working with little kids, teaching them how to read well
and how to think and what they think about and that kind of thing. There are literally
all kinds of jobs that are out there, all kinds of services that are out there that
would make life much less enjoyable or effective
or fruitful, however you want to put it, because people are doing what they’re doing
every day in the everyday workplace. Dr. Gerry Breshears
That’s right. We’re doing good in the community. The Galatians 6:10 type work when you do that,
and that’s work of God. That’s the work of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Darrell Bock And so when we wrap our teaching and preaching
around a theology – this is where I’m going with this – that presents the
church community as a community and as a presence, what we actually do, we do two things at once.
Once we dispel the cultural definition of church; that’s way
too limiting and not very biblical; and secondly, we encourage people in the direction of
being equipped for what it is God is actually having them do much and most of their time.
Dr. Gerry Breshears You might want to get a job at a seminary
or something. You got good stuff to say. Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, I do that in my spare time. Well, Gerry, I really appreciate you kind of walking us
through the basic elements of ecclesiology and thinking through churches and what they
should be and what they shouldn’t, and the issue of size, big or small. When we
were joking about doing this, we said the title was going to be “Churches: Big or Small?
Yes.” That’s kind of the way we’re thinking about this, and hopefully, for those
of you who have been listening in to us this has given you a good orientation about
how to think about church whether you lead a church. Whether you’re in leadership within
a church or whether you’re attending a church or thinking about attending a church,
these are the kinds of qualities and things you should be looking for as you think
about church. Do you have a final thought for us about how
we should think about churches and our engagement with them?
Dr. Gerry Breshears Well, again, the thing is to join in a community
spirit where the power of spirit is real. It’s not just an intellectual trip. It’s an
empowerment trip. It’s a transformational trip, and it’s fundamentally a community that’s
present in the world to bring the fame of Jesus Christ so that people see our good deeds
and praise the God who is heaven. Dr. Darrell Bock And so in the process of being encouraged
and edified and sharing in worship together and encouraging one another to love
good deeds, to use another famous passage in Hebrews 10. We show ourselves to be the
community that represents Jesus Christ. We reflect the presence of God’s power
and God’s spirit in the midst of the world. We reflect the presence of his kingdom
in the world that, of course, God is working in and through, which makes the church certainly
one of the most important institutions that God has designed on earth
to bring attention to his plan and glory. Dr. Gerry Breshears
Well said. Boy, I agree. Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, thank you for joining with us, Gerry, and talking about ecclesiology. We’ve enjoyed
the conversation and we thank you for being a part of The Table where we discuss
issues of God and culture, and we look forward to seeing you again.

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