Jesus and Small Congregations

I went out for a pint with this guy last week and had an interesting conversation over the recent discussions on this blog regarding the pastorate.

He made an interesting point with John 10. There, Christ talks about the shepherd and his flock. 10:3-5 says:

3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

The key to this passage is that Jesus knows his sheep and vice versa. How can this be true of a church where the size of the congregation is over 1,000? In those contexts, the only people that pastors get to know are the leadership team and those contemplating suicide.

Tentatively, I’d like to see a movement back towards small congregations. It is much easier in these contexts for pastors to actually function like pastors. There aren’t the same temptations to adopt a business model to deal with the increased intake (e.g. you wouldn’t have to go through the headache of purchasing a new building). Given Malcolm Gladwell’s research in The Tipping Point that the maximum number of people for a group to function effectively and happily is 150, I’d recommend that growing churches plant new churches if their numbers rise instead of building a centralized beast.

Eugene Peterson is a sage for these issues. In an interview I read recently, Peterson said that he would never allow his congregation to grow over a number where he felt he didn’t know everyone anymore. Peterson embodies John 10:3-5. No wonder he’s called “the pastor’s pastor.” Perhaps Peterson should replace Leithart as the patron saint of this blog … but Andrew would probably have an issue with that.