I struggle with church size. I was not raised in a large church but I currently attend one. I love my church and my pastors all of whom I know on a first name basis. I can and do, however, see the dangers of large congregations and insulated ministry. Even in a blessed and faithful church, such as mine, the danger of becoming out of touch, and impersonal is ever with us.
Carl Trueman writes of this problem in a blog post entitled, Life Together-or-Maybe Not,
The more successful a pastor, the more his time is spent doing little more than honing his writing and speaking skills. Ironically, in the past this was not the model of pastoral success; and neither did the increasing wider importance of a pastor necessarily take him away from daily pastoral duties and distance him from his people. For example, Luther not only ran the Reformation, he also had time, at the height of his international influence, to write a treatise on prayer for his hairdresser, a man called Peter, when the latter told him he was struggling in his devotional life. Richard Baxter, second only in importance to John Owen in seventeenth century Puritanism, spent much of his time visiting his people and getting to know them, so that he could pastor them more effectively.
It is sort of a modern invention for truly successful pastors to buffer themselves from their congregations. These buffers, some may contend, are in themselves a part of the church structure ordained in the bible (e.g. Elder’s, Deacons, etc.). While it is certainly true that a pastor must give himself to the ministry of the word and of prayer and going to pray for Aunt Suzie’s bunions is something that can be delegated, there is a higher point at stake here. Carl Trueman further explains,
I was reminded of a passage in Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. OK, I’m aware that these days quoting Bonhoeffer is like quoting Bono: you have to do it if you want the soul-patched thirty-somethings to take you seriously. But, unlike quotations from the sayings of the insufferably pretentious and self-promoting Bono, the words of Bonhoeffer do not just sound as if they mean something; they often really do mean something. This is the passage: `The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.’
There is a great temptation these days to listen — to what the culture is saying, to what the postmoderns are saying, to what the world is saying — to put it bluntly, to what people who don’t give a tinker’s cuss for Christ or his church are saying. It would be tragic and a travesty of New Testament church life if, in spending so much time listening to everybody else out there, pastors ended up with no time on their schedule to listen to the voices of their own people.
This is the heart of the matter. Does your pastor have enough concern for you to give of his time to listen? I don’t mean you showing up at church spur of the moment and expecting an hour and a half appointment. I mean if you have a real concern and you call ahead and make an appointment, a courtesy shown to most cable tv installers, can you enjoy the uninterrupted and undivided ear of your pastor? I hope the answer to that question is yes. If it is not then maybe, just maybe you need to be the one that prays for your pastor and endeavors to help him become that man. If you are a pastor and you struggle with being that kind of man, then maybe you need to see how to rearrange your schedule so that you don’t miss this worthy investment of the time you have been given.
HT: Tim Challies