All the discussion about the church and celebrity culture motivated one person to write the following to me, which I reproduce here with permission. I should also add that I do not know to which church he is referring:
"Pastoral care, you might say, is my greatest concern for the church. Preaching, sacraments, prayer, worship - all critical components to it - but actually spending time with your people (as elders), knowing them, ministering the Word of God in encouragement and rebuke without a row... well... this is a lost art and, apparently, one that few people see any need for anymore.
"I worshipped this Sunday with my in-laws at their home church which is pastored by a man featured at this year's [conference name supplied] with 6000 of my closest friends. My father-in-law has been dying for five years (renal failure) and is very likely within months of his death. I can't get a pastor or elder from this congregation to come and visit him once, let alone make it a weekly priority to help him die well - in the full confidence of the Lord Jesus. But there's time, mind you, for (yet another) conference."Read the rest.
Over the course of 12 years I have worked for three different churches all over 1,000 people in attendance. I now work for a church of 70. I understand the differences between big church and small church. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both. It seems that for Dr. Trueman, big church has few advantages and small church is the way to go. In some ways I agree with him. But I'm not sure that simply saying, "Churches should be small enough for one or two pastors to care for all the people" is a workable or realistic solution. It will be a great solution for some but for others, we are going to have to think more creatively within the Biblical boundaries that God has given us. We all agree that having structures of pastoral care for our people is a very good and necessary thing.
I would love to hear Dr. Trueman speak to one such as John Piper or Tim Keller or Matt Chandler about this issue. I know that Piper never went looking for fame and celebrity as a pastor. It simply has happened. God has gifted him in such a way that people are attracted to what God is doing through him and want to be caught up in the wind that the Spirit blows through his life. I know there is whole generation (my generation) of men and women who have been forever altered by his preaching and teaching.
What is John supposed to do? People ARE coming to his church. That is not up for debate. His church is going to grow and keep growing. What is the solution for those that God has gifted to have a huge church without ever even trying to have a huge church? Are they just supposed to turn people away at the doors? Cap attendance?
I have heard Dr. Trueman repeatedly identify the problem but I have not heard him offer any solutions to pastors like John Piper and Tim Keller who, as a fact of life, will simply have huge churches. What is the solution for these men specifically?
As one of the pastors of a very small and very young church in Madison, WI, here are some of the things that we might offer as potential solutions that might help deal with this problem. We may stay small for a long time but if God brings growth we want to have structures in place that allow us to grow in a healthy way. These are by no means original to us and they won't solve everything but could greatly alievate some of the concerns that Dr. Trueman raises.
1. Our leadership development, especially as it pertains to leaders of small groups, is of the utmost importance. If our small group leaders are bad, our whole church will be bad. If our small group leaders are strong, loving, pastoral, gospel-centered men, we'll be a strong, loving, pastoral, and Gospel-centered church. A pastor who has a large church and neglects leadership development of his people will be asking for big trouble in reference to pastoral care. How could one pastor think that he could do it all effectively?
2. Our small group leaders, in some sense, have to be thinking and acting like pastors. When I sit down and describe the job description for a new small group leader I want them to know that it entails more than just facilitating a good discussion each week for 90 minutes. I ask them questions like, "Do you have space in your life to minister to the couple in your group who just had a miscarriage? Do you have space in your life to develop a small group apprentice who will take the next group when your group expands and divides? Do you have time in your life to address the daily pastoral care issues that come up for your small group?" Now certainly I and the other elders at The Vine will be involved in much of this care with the small group leader (like a marriage falling apart or a miscarriage, etc) but we want to empower our small group leaders to create a small community of care, evangelism, and shepherding that is reflective of the ideals of the larger church community.
3. Having a plurality of teachers or up-front leaders might be a good solution. We are 11 months in on this model at The Vine and thus far (I know it is VERY early) it seems to be working well. When there is a rotation of preachers and teachers is it hard to fixate on one guy and make him "the man". But again, for some guys like Mark Driscoll or Piper or Chandler, they have been gifted in such unique ways that they'll always rise above. This is who God has made them to be. We shouldn't shame these men because they can't name everyone in their congregation.
4. Trueman's article speaks to the need for church planting. We should be constantly raising up new leaders and sending them out and sending some of our people with them when we can. But it won't solve the problem. If people want to hear mega-pastor preach then it doesn't matter how many churches he tries to plant, they will simply show up to hear him preach at his location. I think we need to make room in our understanding of the church to give grace to those who are uniquely gifted and will thus attract a unique following. If that person is really that gifted shouldn't we allow people to be exposed to their ministry? His people might be selfish consumers but they might not be as well. There is probably much grey in everyone's motives and we should pause before assuming we know the heart.
5. In the end, big or small, we have to be committed to the care of our people but if we are caring for our people as we should our churches are going to grow. Real care for Christian people implies that we'll be shepherding them to look outward as well as inward. When our people look outward and see the "fields are white" then our churches are going to grow as God supplies the growth. In a sense, all true Biblical churches should be living in the tension of what to do with a church that is experiencing growth that might feel somewhat unmanageable. Some churches will do this really well and some will have more challenges in this area but the greater concern might not be "How do I care for my small flock?" but rather, "If my flock is consistently small over the course of decades, why is that the case?" Is it because God is simply not choosing to draw people to himself at this time and place or is it because our people are not sharing their faith and embracing the mission that God has mandated for his church? Pastor, do you lead your people with an inward AND outward focus? These are important questions for all church leaders to answer.