For those of you who don't know, last week I went to the Leadership Conference at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. This was their first conference in five years, and it was worth the wait. I've been to their conferences twice before, and one thing that impressed me then continued to impress me this year and that is ANY size church can benefit from the principles that Southeast is committed to and has built upon. Not once did I ever get the impression that I was a small fish in a big pond or that "well, yeah, of course you can do that, you have an army of volunteers" feeling. The stress was always on the principles of a healthy, Biblical Church. I just wanted to share a few reflections, or lessons, from my experience.
LESSON 1: It's not the size of your congregation, it's the size of your God that matters. If we believe that God is all-powerful and can do anything, then we must believe that He wants His Church to prosper and that He can enable it to succeed. I am not saying that every church must be 18,000 members in order to be considered faithful. That is a ridiculous assumption. Take the congregation I serve as an example. There is not a population base nearly large enough to warrant that size of a congregation. I don't think there are 18,000 people in a 10 mile radius of where I sit right now! However, I believe God wants us to grow and reach people with the Gospel, and if we believe in His power, we must put faith into action and try some things that stretch our faith and will fail if God is not in it with us.
LESSON 2: God cares about lost people, and so must we. Every community, large or small, has people who are outside of Christ. When's the last time you wept for them? I'll admit, until this month as I prepared a series of sermons on God's prodigal prophet, Jonah, it had been a long time since my heart was broken for the lost. All too often we make excuses, "what can I do?", "I might offend someone," "evangelism is not my gift," "isn't that the preacher's job?" I'm so glad Jesus didn't make excuses. Imagine if He told God, "I might offend some people, and it will hurt, and death just isn't my gift, especially death on a cross, and it's not my problem anyway, I didn't sin." God has a passion for the lost, and that passion must be translated through us into our communities as we meet needs and proclaim Jesus.
LESSON 3: Everything we do should be done as an act of worship to God. As I mentioned before, this was my third trip to Southeast. I have also had the privilege of attending their worship services there occasionally, and for a brief period of time my sister called this congregation home. I have yet to see any church more committed to excellence than Southeast. Whether it is their music, videos, teaching, preaching, greeting visitors, childcare or simple building maintenance, Southeast is committed to doing everything with excellence. Why? Some say it's a show. Others say it's all to get numbers. But when you talk to the leadership, the real reason is because they love God and want to give Him the best they can humanly offer. In other words, it's about worshiping God. I challenge you to approach every task as an act of worship. Meeting a deadline is being obedient to your boss, a principle found in scripture. Do it, not because you might get fired, but because you love God and desire to obey God. Not only will you meet the deadline, but you will do better work. This principle applies to everything, from family to financial to free time, everything can be an act of worship to God and thus it deserves your best effort. When this principle is applied and practiced in our churches it results in a congregation that not only works together, but worships together, and that unity attracts people to the God we worship.
LESSON 4: It's God's Church. If there was any one thing that struck me more than anything else, it was the humility of the elders and lead ministers. Not one of them had the attitude of, "That's the Southeast way!" or "Look what we've accomplished." Rather, they were humbled that God had used them to help build what is now the largest church in our brotherhood and one of the largest in the world. They all gave credit to God, and continually mentioned how they always sought God's will above their own in each and every situation. God honors such humility, and we would do well to remember that the Church is God's. Our opinions should take a backseat to what Christ desires for His bride. Jesus once said, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." More than once I have heard of or even experienced the damage that can be done when the "vocal minority" forces their agenda above God's in a small church. Let's not play politics and give to God what is rightfully His to begin with.
LESSON 5: Truth matters. It's human nature to second-guess success. When an athlete has a better-than average year we wonder if he's using steroids. When somebody strikes it rich on a business deal we assume they had insider information. Even long and sustained success brings out the inner skeptic as we question business practices and integrity. Unfortunately the same is true of churches. We see a large church and are tempted to assume they have compromised on some Biblical truth. It was refreshing to see such a large church that had so many "traditional" elements. Many of our churches have done away with the invitation at the end of the service. "We address those issues in small groups, etc." is the explanation given. Not at Southeast. They still believe in the power of preaching, and offer an invitation. Some of our brotherhood churches have adopted the denominational practice of having "baptismal services." Now in a church plant or building where a baptistry is not readily available, this is understandable. But Southeast believes in having baptisms as part of their worship service. Not only is it an act of obedient worship, but it becomes a teaching moment for all who are in attendance. I was privileged enough to witness 6 new births into Christ. Southeast's commitment to truth stands as a testament that truth does not need to be compromised in order to achieve growth.
These are just a few things I picked up while in Louisville. I already find myself looking forward to next year!
Some more pics from my trip are below.
The Main Worship Auditorium, seats 10,000+
Exterior of the Worship Center, all 7 stories
One side of the Student (High School) Center, aka "the Block"
The other side of "the Block." Seats 1,000+