March 11, 2013 by Jason Hood
Gilbert Meilaender, being prophetic at First Things. The first lesson: stop obsessing over uniqueness more than unity.
If we Lutherans ourselves were clearer that to be Lutheran is to claim the catholic tradition as ours, we would avoid some of the mistakes that have gone a long way toward hollowing out Lutheranism in this country. In particular, we could get rid of the annoying tic that leads so many Lutherans to try—constantly—to articulate something distinctively Lutheran (a sure sign we are worried that our continued existence cannot be justified and, irony of ironies, must seek to accomplish that justification ourselves).
What is distinctively Lutheran is to think of ourselves first as catholic—as catholics who found at a certain point in history that they needed to reform the Church and, in the process, became independent churches themselves….
Secondly, and building on the first point:
“Taken by itself, as the whole of Christianity, the Lutheran corrective produces the most subtle type of worldliness and paganism.”It is, unfortunately, not hard to illustrate what Kierkegaard had in mind. If I am an inattentive, thoughtless, or even abusive husband and father—and my neighbor is just the opposite, an exemplary husband and father—what Lutheranism too often has to say to us is exactly the same: that before God we are sinners in need of justifying grace. And if I want help to become more like my exemplary neighbor, the message is likely to be precisely the same: that I am a sinner in need of grace.
All of which is, of course, true. But it is not the only theological truth, nor the one that always best suits our condition. A theology that has learned to speak in such a monotone about grace—always as pardon but not also as power—gives no guidance or direction to the serious Christian. The Christian life, engaged only in constant return to that pardoning word, goes nowhere. A theology that has learned to speak in such a monotone about grace—always as pardon but not also as power—gives no guidance or direction to the serious Christian. The Christian life, engaged only in constant return to that pardoning word, goes nowhere. Even as profound a theologian as Helmut Thielicke, whose Theological Ethics is to my mind the richest example of modern Lutheran ethics, could think of ethics only as a prolegomenon to preaching—only, that is, as the means of exposing the need we all share for the proclamation of the gospel’s pardon.
The corrective that was once needed for a church that had come to think of penance simply as a balancing of accounts has been made into a norm, producing exactly the opposite of what was intended. . . . When “paradox” becomes our first and last description of the Christian life, it has become a substitute for serious thought—and, worse still, for discipleship.
Near the conclusion, a recapitulation and summation:
The distinction between law and gospel, so powerful for the care of souls, gets turned into the organizing principle of an entire theology—a distinctive theology, to be sure, but one that, as Kierkegaard saw, “produces the most subtle type of worldliness and paganism.”
January 26, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
“Leadership and Church Size Dynamics: How Strategy Changes with Growth,” by Dr. Timothy Keller
If you’re a pastor and haven’t read this piece from Keller yet, then you need to do so. In the article, Keller discusses the various dynamics of small, medium, and large sized churches, and how each size necessitates its own leadership culture. Having served in a small church (225 people), a larger church (13,000 people) and now a medium/large sized church (1,000 people), I can affirm that he knows of what he speaks. Important, insightful stuff that will help you anticipate the challenges that inevitably come as you move from one size to the next.
Download a pdf of the article here.2 Comments
January 21, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Earlier this week my pastor, James MacDonald, along with Mark Driscoll, went to Haiti to see firsthand the devastation of the Haitian church. The two of them have teemed up to launch a new ministry called Churches Helping Churches. I strongly encourage you to consider putting your relief efforts behind this new initiative.0 Comments
August 1, 2009 by Gerald Hiestand
Carl Trueman thinks so. Trueman, whom I always enjoy reading, has an interesting article in the latest edition of Themelios (the free on-line journal of the Gospel Coalition) that touches upon the ideal size of a local church. My friend and fellow SAET board member Owen Strachen noted the article on his blog and I interacted with it a bit on his site. But in as much as I had more to say than should be said on someone else’s blog, I’ve combined my comments, revised them, added another layer, and have transferred them here.
In advocating the small church model, Trumeman writes,
Second, church involvement brings with it a natural accountability at a very practical level. Here I guess I show my strong preference for smaller churches. I cannot prove from Scripture that a church should never consist of more than three hundred or so people, but I would argue that a church which is so big that the pastor who preaches cannot know every member by name, and something about their daily lives, needs, and struggles, is a church where the pastor cannot easily fulfill the obligations of a biblical shepherd of God’s flock. Put bluntly, I want to be in a church where my absence on Sunday will soon be noticed and where the pastor or elders can draw alongside me and ask the pertinent questions.
I want to be in a church where the eldership takes note if my behavior towards my wife or children is sub-par on a Sunday (hinting at much worse in private). I want to be in a church where I pray for the leadership and where they pray for me—not just in a generic sense of being part of the membership, but informed prayer based on real relationships. In other words, I want to be in a church where my pastor is, well, my pastor and not just that guy who is preaching over there in the distance on a Sunday morning. Put yourself in a small, faithful church, and the pastor is more than likely to hold you accountable to the basics of Christian belief and practice.
I’ve pastored in both a small, rural church (250) and now in a large, urban church (12,000). Both have advantages and disadvantages. I feel a bit of what Trueman is talking about, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the extent to which true community and pastoral shepherding is possible in a large church context. Of course, not everyone in our congregation knows our senior pastor. But we have a robust ministry staff, and once you include the elders and volunteer shepherds (e.g., small group leaders, small group coaches), the shepherding gap isn’t as problematic as one might think.
In many respects, this whole discussion hinges on one’s understanding of discipleship and its relationship to pastoral ministry. Trueman’s critique of the large church (i.e., any church over 300 adults) strongly suggests that the pastor (or elders) of a local congregation must serve as the primary, direct pastoral care-giver for each member of the congregation. But I’m not certain this is either self-evident or biblical. Clearly the eldership of a local congregation must assume final responsibility for the health of the church it oversees. (The manner of this oversight would vary in relation to a church’s polity—particularly as one moves toward an Episcopal structure, etc.). But must the discipleship of each congregant be directly overseen by the eldership? I’m inclined to think the New Testament model of discipleship suggests otherwise. The burden of pastoral care isn’t only for pastors; every member is called to mutual ministry.
Second Timothy 2:2 is a helpful proof-text here. We are to be disciples who make disciple who make disciples, etc. The expectation and example of both Paul and Christ is that every true disciple will be engaged in the process of making disciples. In other words, the mandate of a true disciple is not simply to get one’s own house in order, but to help one’s neighbor get his house in order as well. And indeed, this is not a small part of discipleship. A primary means by which a Christian grows in grace is by being a channel of grace in the lives of others. At the end of the day, we can’t separate personal piety from Great Commission ministry. If I’m to grow as a disciple, I must be about making disciples. In fact, the “filling of the Spirit” in the New Testament is almost always tied to Great Commission ministry. If the people in our churches are not realizing the full sanctifying power of the Spirit, it may be because we’ve not asked them to embrace the Great Commission’s mandate of making disciples. “Bearing each others burdens” is a necessary part of what each member of a local congregation needs to be about—not only for the sake of the other members, but for their own sake as well.
Thus the New Testament vision of pastoral leadership is one in which the pastor equips others who equip others who equip others, etc., on down the line. In short, the job of a pastor is to reproduce himself. If our congregants are to engage in the discipleship making process, we as pastors must carve out room for them to do so. But if the eldership of a church insists on being the only real force for pastoral care and discipleship in its church, then at some point the biblical mandate given to all Christians to make disciples is stifled.
This isn’t, of course, to say a church must keep growing and growing numerically with no end in sight. Maybe a spin-off is the best option in some circumstances (though logistically tricky when a church is sub 500 people). I’m certainly not anti-small church. (In fact I miss it sometimes.) And there is no reason why a small church can’t live out the vision of discipleship I’ve mentioned above. But I do think we need to be careful about intentionally settling for smaller, as though smaller is always better. There are, I’ve found, less benign reasons for choosing small over big.
When I think back to my own time in a small church context, I recall using logic identical to Trueman’s to explain our smallness. We wanted to be small, we said. It’s the best way to do ministry, we said. But in hindsight, I think something else was at work. As long as we considered big church to be an ineffective way to do church, we never needed to feel overly burdened about why we weren’t reaching more people for Christ. I’m in no way imputing such motives to Trueman (or others who pastor small churches). No doubt he and others who share his view have a more mature perspective. (I say this sincerely.) But I do think this is something every pastor should give a moment of reflection to. Those committed to the small church model must be very careful not to adopt the small church model as a subtle way of justifying a lack of vision and intentionality in reaching the most people possible for Christ. The large church, for all of its hang-ups (both potential and actual) became large (at least in part) because it possessed a grand vision to reach as many people for Christ as possible. Of course, this doesn’t mean every church needs to be large. God blesses in differing measures, and some soils are not as easily tilled as others. But the small church pastor who contents himself in his smallness and has no thought of reaching people beyond those already in his congregation…well, something about that doesn’t square well with our Lord’s directive.
From what I have seen, as far as the capacity to shepherd is concerned, in the end it doesn’t really matter if a church is big or small. What matters is whether the leadership of a local church intentionally calls upon, equips, and enables its congregants to shepherd one other.
Thoughts, anyone?1 Comment