The Megachurch vs. Minichurch: Do Popularity and Growth Really Matter?

Churches vector,  Baobaby Studio /

Churches vector, Baobaby Studio /

“God is doing amazing things!” is the Christian way of saying, “Look, we’re popular.”

The idea that faithfully following God’s will is associated with people attending (or donating to) churches, ministries, and organizations is a fallacy that can be debunked by simply looking around us. Islam is growing, Mormonism is growing, and so is Kim Kardashian’s Twitter following. They could all use the exact same logic: that popularity equals success. If we gauge God’s favor by the numbers of followers we have then Justin Bieber is probably God’s newly anointed prophet. 

But Christians are addicted to popularity. Denominations focus on church planting, pastors obsess over attendance, budgets rely on congregational turnout, and we pay special attention to Christian leaders who are famous.

In a Westernized culture captivated by success and money, we often make judgments based on the size of a church — or organization, ministry, and community. But our preconceived opinions are often wrong.

God, a Tornado, and John Piper’s 'Satanic Theology'

John Piper's Tweet

John Piper's Tweet

Many of my liberal friends never call themselves “Christians.” Their hesitancy is usually a reaction against conservative Christians who, let’s face it, are an embarrassment to the name. You know what I’m talking about – those who make crazy claims like natural disasters occur because God is angry at homosexuals. And then there are those who use phrases like, “legitimate rape.

Influential pastor John Piper provides the latest example. While most of my friends on Facebook and Twitter lamented the devastation wrought by the Oklahoma City tornado, Piper decided to show off his biblical acumen with this tweet:

"Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead." -Job 1:19

Piper’s tweet is a bit ambiguous. His reference to Job doesn’t say that God caused the tornado, but Piper has historically claimed that God causes these types of disasters. In fact, this wouldn’t be the first time Piper has tweeted something so theologically insensitive. A few years ago Piper claimed God caused a tornado in Minnesota because God was angry at homosexuals. Piper’s god is a fickle Cosmic Jerk.

Power of a Personal Pronoun: 5 Suggestions for Gender Inclusivity

Male & female figures, StockThings/

Male & female figures, StockThings/

I remembered after the first lecture I came home and told my husband about the pronoun, but as I read through all 20-something lectures, I noticed it again and again. I was the theologian; was the believer.

Was this difficult for my professors to do? Did it take lots of conceding to women’s different or special needs? Or, rather, was it a possible and reasonable upsetting the “status-quo” that still often tells us that “he” or “man” means everyone and that I’m just too touchy if I refuse to accept that.

This small kindness was, I think, one of the best things about my first semester of seminary. These two white men — one in his early 60s and one in his early 30s — were incredibly intentional about the female pronoun being the “default” for the generic personal pronoun.

New & Noteworthy

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher by Sue Halpern / Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration by Kristin E. Heyer / Skipping Stones / In the Footprints of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

Mark Driscoll: Gas-Guzzlers a Mark of Masculinity

Mark Driscoll, Photo by James Gordon, Flickr.

Mark Driscoll, Photo by James Gordon, Flickr.

One of us was in Seattle this past weekend to speak at a meeting of biblical scholars. The subject:Evangelicals and the Environment. Seattle was stunningly beautiful, with ample sunshine, clear skies, and an occasional happy breeze. Having grown up in nearby Tacoma, seeing majestic Mount Rainier for the first time in a long while brought back memories of this silent guardian from childhood.

Alas, while it was sunny in Seattle, it was theologically cloudy in Dallas, where one of Seattle's famous residents — young, hip pastor, Mark Driscoll — was speaking at a major evangelical conference: Catalyst. By many accounts on Twitter and in the blogosphere (see Nate Pyle's blog), Driscoll said:

"I know who made the environment. He's coming back and he's going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV."

And after presenting his driving credentials, Rev. Driscoll reportedly added:

"If you drive a mini-van, you're a mini-man."

An Open Letter to Rob Bell

Rob Bell's new book "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"

Rob Bell's new book "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"

This letter was written on a plane a week ago. I posted it originally on Facebook as a status update. Out of curiosity I took a gander at it again and decided I wanted to share it here. Things are so fluid on the Ol' F-Book that I thought keeping it here would be good to do. Rob's new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, offers someting new and something familiar all at once. What I think Rob is doing is not so much giving us new ideas (though, given some of the ecclesial silos many of us have been reared in some of these ideas might seem new). Instead, Rob is lending his voice to many Christians. His pastorally framed theology is just the kind of thing many people have been clamoring for these last several decades. My grandparents would have loved his new book. So would have their parents. I kid you not.

This book is not about a "new" thing. It's simply about God and how we come to know God in this world. 

SNL’s 'DJesus Uncrossed,' Mark Driscoll, and the American Worship of Satan

Screenshot of SNL's skit, DJesus Uncrossed. From

Screenshot of SNL's skit, DJesus Uncrossed. From

Whenever I talk with people about Jesus and nonviolence, a curious thing happens. Someone will inevitably raise his hand (and it’s always his hand), call me a wuss, and then accuse me of making Jesus-Christ-Our-Lord-And-Savior into my own wussy image.

First, the accusation that I’m a wuss is totally true. No one can surpass my wussiness. I run from confrontation, and if I ever get into a fight my money is on the other guy.

Now, to the second accusation that a nonviolent Jesus is a projection of my own wussy imagination: That is false and, in fact, the reverse is true – a violent Jesus is a god made in our own image. As a self-professed wuss, I would love a bad-ass-machine-gun-toting Jesus who violently defends me against my enemies. I want the Jesus depicted in Saturday Night Live’s sketch DJesus Ucrossed. (A sketch satirizing Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.)  As David Henson brilliantly states in his post “DJesus Uncrossed: Tarantino, Driscoll and the Violent Remaking of Jesus in America,” the sketch “pulls back the curtain and shows us just how twisted our Jesus really is: We want a Savior like the one SNL offers. We want the Son of God to kick some ass and take some names. Specifically, our enemies’ names.”

David goes on to quote Mark Driscoll, a megachurch pastor from Seattle whose theology of hate has had a major influence on American Christianity. Driscoll states,

In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.

Satan and Hell: A Brief History (Part 1 of 2)

Garden of Eden depiction, Robynrg /

Garden of Eden depiction, Robynrg /

(I was invited to take part in a debate about hell at a university recently, but unfortunately, the dates don’t work with my schedule this time. But since it’s an interesting topic, and one about which many folks have questions, I thought I’d share a couple of short essays I’ve written on the subject.) 

While Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the first to preach about hell and condemnation, his ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ sermon in 1741 crystallizes the beginning of a modern movement in the church. Edwards employed fear of punishment as a primary means for conversion and doctrinal adherence. Meanwhile, his congregants fainted in the aisles and clung to the pews to avoid being dragged down into the abyss.

We can argue day and night about whether fear-based theology is effective, biblically accurate, or even necessary. But it’s worthwhile to consider where our contemporary ideas about hell and Satan even come from.

Today, we’ll begin with Satan; we’ll save hell for tomorrow.