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Learning to Love the Large Church

Large churches and small churches have a lot to learn from each other.

"What book are you recommending now to the average workaday pastor?" asked my friend, who is hardly an average pastor. A church with a four-digit membership roll is enormous in an America where most congregations are still small.

My answer surprised me: Eugene Peterson's new memoir, The Pastor. Not because it's not great – it is a powerful piece of theological storytelling about a life that has influenced all of North American Christianity (don't believe me? Heard of The Message?). And my friend's response surprised me more: "It sounds like Wendell Berry. I love Berry."

Why should a pastor of a church of 1,500, and an employee at a leadership institute that invests in large congregations, both love Berry and Peterson? Both are theologians and poets who love the local, the regional, the particular, and loathe the large, the abstract, the anonymous. A theologian-pastor friend once opined to me that he couldn't imagine a faithful church of more than 200 members. How can you really know more ...

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