How big is too big?
A hundred? Two hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand?
What’s your general feeling about mega-churches?
We don’t really trust them, do we? We don’t really like it when people visit our church and later decide to join, GWAC, or Crossways, or City Life, or Planet Shakers.
It all seems a bit unfair when larger churches refuse to share their wealth or their people. So we are inclined to accuse them:
We might accuse them of being empires built around the ego of the Senior Pastor ..
Or Of being soul-less, money-grabbing, miracle-selling, prosperity doctrine businesses
And we ask ourselves, are these churches really advancing the kingdom of God, or are they building up a kingdom that is of this world?
But you know, size is relative. There are some, who go to much smaller churches than this, who would say that the property development we are planning here is empire building, and not kingdom building.
How do we know, if we have fallen into the trap of building our own empire? Well, we know when we see the fruit of it – the fruit of distrusting God (and the fruit has nothing to do with the size of a church).
We see this fruit in all of our lives … including mine … and it’s in every church.
I was talking the other day to Shellie, on the way home from a parish dinner … and she asked me what I had on this week. So I began to tell her about my Monday and all the meetings and commitments I had that took me from mid-morning to 10pm at night.
Shellie looked at me and said, ‘Do you ever stand still? What are you scared might happen if you stop?’ (then she smiled at me as if to say, ‘you know I’m right’)
You see, I know that my weakness towards perfectionism, workaholism and control … this is bad fruit, and it indicates that I don’t completely trust God. I don’t completely trust him to protect and grow his church.
I know when this began. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the pattern started when I was nine years old, and both of my parents suddenly became extremely sick … and I thought my family was falling apart.
In a hidden place in my heart, which we all have I think … I decided that God must be sleeping on the job … or that maybe he had abandoned my family …
This soon extended into my experience of the church. I couldn’t understand why God would let churches close and decline, in which people were genuinely doing their best.
So I got busy making everything right in the world, and I’ve been working hard to achieve that ever since, with varying levels of success.
I think you could call that attitude, ‘empire building’ … relying on my own strength, rather than on God. In different ways, we all have this kind of bad fruit in our lives.
We all have that hidden place in our hearts, where the Devil convinces us that God’s not really doing a good enough job.
What’s the source of this distrust? .. there’s a basic equation – an experience of suffering combined with voice of evil. (the Devil uses trauma and woundings in our lives as a platform to speak fear and doubt into our thinking)
We see this pattern in Isaiah 36
In the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, the people of Judah had good reasons to doubt God. Just like nine year old little Heather had good reasons to ask, why does God let his people suffer?
The suffering of the people of Judah was very real: King Sennacherib of Assyria had captured all the fortified cities of Judah and Jerusalem was next on their list. Their sense of defeat was real. Their fear was real. They had good reason to wonder if God had abandoned them.
Just when things seemed hopeless, the Assyrian king’s right hand man, the palace administrator, turned up with an ultimatum to pass on to Hezekiah.
His words were nothing short of evil. The palace administrator became at this time in history, a mouthpiece for the devil … who (the scripture tells us) prowls like a lion waiting for an opportune time …
… and that opportune time is when our defences are down, and the suffering meter is high, and defeat is immanent … that’s when he strikes, with words designed to get us to lose our faith in God.
This speech given by Sennacherib’s administrator exposes the strategies of the enemy, which he routinely uses against all of God’s people … and in this speech there are five strategies:
1. Doubt God
- To doubt his goodness, his sovereignty … even his existence
v4 – The palace administrator said to the king’s servants, ‘On what do you base this confidence of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?’
In other words, look at the evidence, your God hasn’t saved you. His words and his promises to you mean nothing. He’s let you be defeated by the enemy. You can’t trust him.
2. Worry about Resources
v6 – The palace administrator said, “See that you are relying on Egypt that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce that hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to all who rely on him.”
He was saying, you can’t rely on your allies … don’t think that your resources will be enough to sustain you. Likewise, the Devil might want to say to people here, ‘You’ve got a few staff leaving next year … you can’t rely on them anymore. You can’t really rely on anyone, can you?’ … these are the lies he would have this parish believe.
3. Desire Riches
v8 – “Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them.”
Horses were hard to come by in Israel. The Devil will always distract us by tempting us to put our trust in material things.
4. Persuade us by False Prophecy
v10 –“Is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.”
We have to test every claim that God is leading us a particular way … and not make the mistake of thinking that false prophecy only comes in the form of people saying, ‘God told me’… everything we do in the church carries an inference that it has been led by God … but, has it? Or are we doing things our own way, because we don’t really trust God or his methods?
5. Doubt the Competency of our Leaders
v11-15 –the palace administrator loudly defames the competency of King Hezekiah, so that onlookers can hear him. He says, ‘Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you.’
And you know what comes next … a myriad of gossiping, people asking one another, ‘do you think this Hezekiah is really up to the job?’
This is an all too common strategy the Devil uses to bring division in churches … in times of trial, he wants us to undermine the leaders he has placed over us … and divide us between those who support the Pastor’s leadership, and those who don’t.
How do we know when these lies and judgements have made their way into our hearts? We know because we see the fruit of it.
When we see this bad fruit in our life of the church, a church that claims to put its trust in Jesus as the head of the church, we might wonder … what is the source of this bad fruit?
The answer: suffering and failure are a part of life, and the Devil likes to use these against us.
His ambition is to instil fear, and to get us to trust in our own strength:
- to doubt God’s goodness
- to doubt His provision
- to doubt His blessing upon us
- to doubt Him as a Shepherd and guide
- and to doubt the leaders and shepherds he has chosen and placed over us
When the suffering meter is high, and the threat if defeat is immanent … it’s natural that in our hearts we cry out, ‘My God my God, why have you abandoned me?’
Perhaps you could ask me now, ‘Heather, where do you think God was, when you’re parents both got very sick at the same time? Had God abandoned your family?’
My answer today is no, he has never abandoned me ….
But as long as I exhibit pride, perfectionism, and the need to have control … I know, that there are still places in my heart where I do not completely trust God.
And as long as our churches exhibit empire building behaviour, however large or small, we know that we don’t completely trust God.
What’s the remedy for that?
First we have to recognise the voice of evil to be what it is … just as Hezekiah did, who took the palace administrator’s threats and accusations straight to prayer.
We recognise the Devil’s strategies, just as the bible exposes them to us.
And then we renounce fear and doubt and we seek God’s voice in our lives: the voice that says ‘I will never abandon or forsake you’.
Then we can trust in God who never slumbers, but who keeps constant watch over his people.
Amen? Can we trust him? Yes we can.
And just by the way, this is not the point but .. if you read on … the Lord totally smashed the king of Assyria.