Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Big Churches Diminish a Pastor's Influence


                                                            (Comerica Park in Detroit)

Eugene Peterson's The Pastor will kill the false self as quickly as anything I've read. That's good for me, since the true self sleeps better with the mask off.

Peterson describes a pastoral colleague who changed churches for the wrong reasons. He wanted to pastor a big church rather than the small church he had. The big church, he thought, would "multiply his effectiveness." Peterson wrote him a letter. I will paraphrase it.

You want to pastor a big church to satisfy your own ego, not to "pastor" people. "Big" churches are the kind of things America specializes in. The consequence of such mega-specialization is that American Christianity and its pastors are a mess.

Jesus was tempted by "bigness" and rejected it. Because size is the great depersonalizer. As Kierkegaard said, "the more people, the less truth."

Jesus-followers are only brought to maturity through intimacy, renunciation, and personal deepening. Pastors are there to nurture such maturity. Yes, things can happen in big churches, but only by strenuously going against the grain. Largeness is an impediment, not a help.

Americans try to find meaning in three ways: 1) through the highs of alcohol and drugs; 2) through the ecstasy of recreational sex; and 3) through the ecstasy of crowds. Pastors often speak against drugs and sex, but want crowds like people want drugs and sex. This is probably because they get so much ego benefit from the crowds. But a crowd destroys the spirit as thoroughly as excessive drink and depersonalized sex. It takes us out of ourselves, but not to God, only away from him.

We want, as pastors, a big church to escape self-boredom and core-unfulfillment (even though Christ is in us). A crowd is an exercise in false transcendence upward, which is why all crowds are spiritually pretty much the same, whether at football games, political rallies, or church. 

"Crowds" are probably a worse danger for pastors than drink, drugs, or sex. What's needed, what "church" is really meant to be, is a "community," not a "crowd."

Big churches actually diminish a pastor's influence.

When the "church growth" movement hit seminaries, Peterson and a few of his colleagues named it the "church cancer" movement having mostly to do with the American "lust for size."

(Linda and I are in our 29th year at Redeemer and getting know our people better.)