May 18, 2009

Can A Church Get Too Large?

I was browsing around The Upper Room and Sojourner asked this question in response to Mike's posting about the difficulties of the multi-site church. It tweaked my sensibilities and raised the bile in my shepherd's stomach. Can a church get too large? In a word, yes.

When a so-called pastor has zero contact with the flock which he tends I question the ability of such a pastor to truly know and meet the needs of that flock. How can the pastor of a multi-site church possibly speak to the hurts and hopes, dreams and disappointments, aches and achievements of people he never sees or knows? Certainly there are some truths that speak universally to people in all conditions but there are moments that a word needs to be personally spoken from the heart of a pastor to the need of a person.

I not only think this to be an unhealthy arrangement for the flock but I think it unhealthy for the pastor as well. I find it incredible that some pastors intentionally wall themselves off from the very ones they are called to serve. How sad that such a pastor will never know the joy of watching God's story unfold in all it's intricate beauty in an individual's life. I wish that every pastor could spend some of those seemingly endless hours in hospital waiting rooms with anxious families. What a tragedy that many pastors will never know the glorious burden of walking with families through days, sometimes weeks, of grief or extreme crisis.

When a church grows so large that it needs a mayor instead of a pastor (that is a direct quote from a pastor of a large church in my state) I believe that maybe, just maybe, it has gotten too large. One of my mentors laid good foundations for me with this bit of wisdom, "The minister reminds people that God is with them. In many ways your physical presence as their minister reminds them in a tangible way that God is there also." If a pastor is nothing more than an image on a screen or a celebrity seen from a distance how can an individual know the intimate relationship pictured by the notion of a shepherd? After all, our word "pastor" simply means shepherd. To borrow an image from Lyn Anderson, the shepherd must smell like sheep otherwise he's probably not a shepherd.

Paul makes a startling statement in 2 Corinthians 2:15-17,
"In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation - an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. This is a terrific responsibility, Is anyone competent to take it on? No - but at least we don't take God's Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ's presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can." (The Message)

So many things to consider here but I will restrict my thoughts to one question, if the pastor is so far removed that the people he serves cannot smell the aroma of Christ in his life is he really pastoring or is he doing something else? You've gotta' be pretty close to someone to smell them.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Very well said, It took me over 4 months to get a sit down appoitment with a well known "Pastor" in Birmingham. I've been told I was lucky the wait time was only 4 months!!