“The Three "B's" of Bad Judgment”
Whenever I meet someone for the first time, even though I don't advertise it, it inevitably comes out in the course of conversation that I am a preacher. It is interesting to notice how different people react when they learn this. In the faces of some, there is a visible sense of dread as they realize that they may have offended me by their speech. The faces of others, particularly of professing Christians, light up at the thought of a fellow believer. Interestingly, in these conversations we talk less about the Bible and Jesus and more about the church. I've noticed a few reoccurring talking points that betray a warped view of God's church. We'll call them the three "B's" of bad judgment.
A church is not judged by the size of its BUDGET
Why people mention their church's yearly budget to me, I'll never know (I certainly don't ask!). But could it be that they judge their congregation's success on their wealth? God forbid. Earthly prosperity is not a sign of God's approval (Mt. 5:45). In fact, in some cases, even the wicked prosper (Psa. 73:3-5). Wealth has no bearing on an individual's standing before God anymore than it does on a congregation's. The Christians in Smyrna were poor but Jesus called them rich (Rev. 2:9). The Laodiceans thought they were rich but Jesus called them "wretched, miserable, poor and blind" (Rev. 3:17).
Whenever we are tempted to boast in our wealth, we would do well to remember that God chose the poor of this world to be rich (Jas. 2:5; 1 Cor. 1:26-29). The treasure we must be primarily concerned with is heavenly in nature (Mt. 6:19-21). If God has blessed a congregation with a large budget, he expects that money to be used to further his kingdom work (Acts 4:32-35; 11:27-30; etc.). Wealth is certainly a blessing from God but we are consistently warned against trusting in it (Psa. 52:7; 62:10; Prov. 11:28; 1 Tim. 6:9-10) and instructed instead to trust in God and be generous (1 Tim. 6:17-19). A church's budget is not proportional to its standing before God.
A church is not judged by the size of the BUILDING
A church's building is another highlight to many conversations. "We're expanding our building" or "We had to move and build a larger building" or, less frequently, "Our building is falling apart." Though Christians need a physical location to meet together, the quality or size of the meeting place is not nearly as important as we think. Christians met in a variety of places in the New Testament. They met in the houses of Aquila and Priscilla (Rom. 16:3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19), Nympha (Col. 4:15) and Philemon (Philemon 1:2). They met in public spaces like the school of Tyrannus in Ephesus (Acts 19:9), by a river in Philippi (Acts 16:13) or in the town synagogue (Jas. 2:2).
Christians are commanded to assemble to worship the Lord regularly (Heb. 10:25; Acts 20:7, etc.) but Jesus is less concerned with the "where" and the "outside" and more concerned with the "who" and "inside" of worship (Jn. 4:20-24). A building is simply a means to an end. The minute it becomes something more significant to the church, that church has begun to emphasize the wrong thing. No one is advocating that congregations stop meeting in buildings or that they should allow their meeting places to fall into disrepair. Rather, we must not think that the quality or size of a church building is proportional to that church's standing before God.
A church is not judged by the size of the BODY
Probably the most common thing brought up by others is the number of people that attend their assembly. But God does not judge a congregation based upon the size of its membership. Also, just because a congregation is large (which is a relative measure; larger than what?) doesn't mean that everyone in attendance is faithful. There were only a "few" in Sardis who had not soiled their garments with sin (Rev. 3:4). Popularity is not a part of discipleship (Mt. 7:13-14). Elijah stood alone against 450 prophets of Baal. Micaiah stood alone against 400 of Ahab's prophets. Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb stood against the nation of Israel. Noah and his family stood against the entire world. Jesus was truly alone on the cross. Let's not make the mistake of thinking that a congregation's size is indicative of God's approval.
God is most concerned with the hearts of those who are gathered to worship him. In fact, some congregations compromise sound doctrine in order to appeal to a broader audience. A building may be filled with bodies but bereft of the Spirit. If God does not judge a congregation based on its size, why should we? Jesus himself says, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt. 18:20). However, this does not give us license to be slothful in our work of evangelism and be content with our "little" church. We should always be faithfully and diligently working for the Lord, trusting that he will cause the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7; Col. 2:19).
It's very easy to get carried away by focusing on the wrong things. The Corinthian church was wrapped up in this kind of bad judgment, judging with eyes "like mere men" (1 Cor. 3:3-4). If we measure our congregation against another in these earthly ways we are "without understanding" (2 Cor. 10:12). Instead, we must learn to see things as God does (1 Sam. 16:7). The Pharisees were "whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness" (Mt. 23:27) while Jesus, the King of Kings, "had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him" (Isa. 53:2). Don't judge a book by its cover and don't judge a congregation by appearances.