Earlier today I suggested that someone might want to transcribe John Piper and Don Carson’s answer with regard to pastors of smaller flocks. I’m grateful that Ranger volunteered. Here is the exchange from the speaker panel:
JT: John, a question for you, I imagine that a lot of pastors who may be here could be discouraged in the size of their church. They see you talking or Mark Driscoll and he preaches substitutionary atonement and 800 people come the next week, and they preach substitutionary atonement and 8 people leave the next week. What sort of encouragement would you give to the small-town pastor or to the rural pastor who feels like for them to make a difference they have to drop everything and move to the city, that to make a difference for Christ they have to do something like that. What sort of encouragement would you give to those churches?
JP: I would say that feeding the flock of God is the most precious and high calling in the world. Peter said to Jesus three times: feed my sheep, feed my sheep, feed my sheep and don’t ever give up. There’s always room for growth, we can always do better. I come away from conferences like this discouraged–I mean, don’t you? Everyone of these guys discourages me. I just think, “I’m not doing that well, I’m not doing that well, I’m not doing that well.” So, well, you know, that’s life.
It’s a great thing to rest in the calling that God has given you and to cherish the Word of God. To study it and to explain it and to apply it and to exult over it is the highest calling that I know of. Now, there’s got to be witness in rural areas. I mean, it would just be absurd, and Tim Keller would be the first to say so, that we don’t have churches in small towns, or that we don’t have churches in the country. He’s outraged at the abandonment of the city. Something’s askew when evangelicals leave the city. It’s not that everybody should go to the city. What’s wrong is, that, why there’s been such an exodus. What’s going on there? That needs to be redressed. Now, there’s enough people in this room right here to fix those problems. We can have churches in the small towns and churches in the big cities. So, God calls people in different ways and He gifts people in different ways. And there are pastors who flourish in a small town.
And you have to have different expectations in a small town. Because, say you have 800 people in this town, and you’ve got a charismatic church, you’ve got a Roman Catholic church, Lutheran church, and you’ve got a Baptist church and you’re the Baptist pastor. Everybody’s aligned already, the lines are drawn. Everybody knows where everybody stands. There’s, you know, ten families who don’t go to church anywhere. And everybody knows who they are. Now, what is a ministry like that supposed to look like? Faithful, loving exposition, feeding, growing up, reaching out, forming relationships. It’s gotta look different.
You can’t be beat up by an urban pastor who says you’ve gotta go out and dress this way–everybody dresses the same in this town, absolutely, everybody’s the same. Be encouraged that God loves rural people, and He loves His church in rural situations. And God loves His Word and the faithful exposition of His Word, and God loves the faithful showing up at a funeral or a bedside. God loves all those things. Every place has its challenges. Sometimes I think I’d just like to go there and end my days with a flock without all of the complications of suburbs and campuses, and multiple worship services, and staffing that cuts this way and this way and you’re trying to draw charts that make sense and have small groups all over the place. Wouldn’t that be nice if the church was just a small group, and you knew everyone by name? That’s a glorious calling.
DAC: There are different degrees of gift. If we’re doing something wrong that we can fix within the calling and gift God has given us, and a conference like this helps us fix it–just one or two small things–then in addition to the encouragement from the Word that’s a good thing.
But on the other hand, I was brought up in French Canada. As recently as 1972, in a population of 6 and a half million, there were about 35 or 36 evangelical churches, none with more than forty people. Between ‘72 and ‘80, the churches grew from 35 to just under 500, many with hundreds. But my father was a church planter through all of those lean years when Baptist ministers alone spent eight years in jail for preaching the gospel. The charges were always inciting to riot or disturbing the peace, but that’s what it was. We kids would get beaten up in the fifties because we were “maudite protestant,” “damn protestants.” In all those years, my father saw virtually no fruit. I remember many times in tears for his people. In ’72, when the turn came, he was already 61 and the leadership passed off into different hands, and I know that in that period of growth, he felt that he had largely been put on the shelf. But when he died at the age of 81, even though he still felt that way, most of the church in Quebec viewed him as the grand old man, because he had been faithful in the lean years.
There are people that go to Korea in 1900 and see over a quarter of the population evangelical today. And there are people who go to Japan, who at the same time, and no place on God’s green earth sees the church growing slower than in Japan. What are you going to do, say all the ones who went to Korea are spiritual, particularly loved of God? The ones in Japan aren’t blessed of God? God works on an entirely different scale. He work on another scale.
I made a resolution when I was a young man, that I would never, so help me God, for the rest of my life, ever accept or reject any invitation whatsoever on the basis of either size or honorarium, and I have kept that promise. Otherwise, you will only wind up going to bigger and bigger and bigger things. There’s something dishonorable about that when Christ comes for the poor and the needy and starts with 12 and one turns out to be a traitor, another denies him, and the rest run. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Don’t let this crowd fool you. Learn the best things from it. Rejoice in the encouragement, rejoice with those who rejoice, and if you are less gifted, be faithful where you are, and be thankful.