For years, I’ve enjoyed reading Eugene Peterson. Peterson is best known for his books and for The Message, a unique translation of the Bible into modern speech. What has fascinated me most about him is the fact that he was a pastor for one local church for 27 years. A 27-year tenure for a pastor in one church is a rare commitment in today’s culture.
Just the other day, I listened to a podcast called “On Being.” This particular episode featured a conversation between Krista Tippett and Eugene Peterson, “Entering What Is There”. By now, Peterson is in his late 80’s and attends a small, 80-member church in a rural town of Montana. He now has had ample time to look back on his pastoral career. Towards the end of the podcast he offers advice to those looking to pick a church.
PETERSON: Go to the closest church where you live and the smallest. After six months, if it isn’t working, go find the next smallest church.
TIPPET: What is it about small rather than big?
PETERSON: Because you have to deal with people as they are. You’ve got to learn how to love them when they are not loveable.
I’ve worked in three different size churches; small, medium, and large. Each has had its strengths and weaknesses, its beauty and its flaws.
I now pastor the smallest church I’ve ever been in. Certainly, we hope to grow in our number, influence, and depth. But there is something beautifully communal about small church. For better or worse, we know each other’s names, strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies. We know well and are known well.
Our culture is one of isolation, independence, and anonymity. We deeply desire community, but are afraid to let people in. We play this tug-of-war with community in our hearts.
Maybe, a little small church is just what we need.