on large churches

Eugene Peterson shares in his book, The Pastor: A Memoir,  a letter he wrote to someone who abandoned a study group he was in for a pastorate in a large congregation (the quote is only a portion of the letter):

I certainly understand the appeal and feel it frequently myself.  But I am also suspicious of the appeal and believe that gratifying it is destructive both to the gospel and the pastoral vocation.  It is the kind of thing America specializes in, and one of the consequences is that American religion and the pastoral vocation are in a shabby state.

It is also the kind of thing for which we have abundant documentation through twenty centuries now, of debilitating both congregation ad pastor.  In general terms, it is the devil’s temptation to Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple.  Every time the church’s leaders depersonalize even a little, the worshipping/loving community, the gospel is weakened.  And size is the great depersonalizer.  Kierkegaard’s criticism is still cogent: “the more people, the less truth.”

The only way the Christian life is brought to maturity is through intimacy, renunciation, and personal deepening.  And the pastor is in a key position to nurture such maturity.  It is true that these things can take place in the context of large congregations, but only by strenuously going against the grain.  Largeness is an impediment, not a help  (133).

What do you think?

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3 responses to “on large churches

  1. I totally agree, because by doing so now the pastors are promoting a consumerist mentality. And anytime the focus is simply on what I can gain, I think that we go against the heart of the gospel.

    Love the excerpt of the book and I love Peterson’s heart. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I was at a district conference last week that promoted this mentality of large churches, multi-site churches, etc. I’ve never felt so lost in ministry in my own denomination before. I might as well have a funeral for my church and join some megachurch staff somewhere and hope they’ll let me sweep the floors! 😉

  3. It’s always good to hear someone who has the potential to be a large church personality hold on to what he believes is best for the gospel.

    No doubt many of us criticize those who lead these mega churches but only because we don’t have the qualifications to be asked to lead them, and since have not faced the temptation to.

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