Large Church, Small Church

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This morning in my devotional reading, I finished the Gospel of John. After meditating for several days on the interchange between Jesus and Peter in 21:15-19, this morning I went on to the last exchange of the book—Peter’s question to Jesus about the apostle John.

Peter has just discussed his own love for Jesus. Keep in mind that earlier Peter implied his greater love for Jesus by promising that even if all the rest abandoned him, Peter would stand with him. Of course, Jesus went on to demonstrate Peter’s own weakness by abandoning Christ even worse than the others. However, this was not the end of Peter; it was also not the end of Peter comparing himself to other disciples. Jesus had just discussed Peter’s own love for him and the task Jesus was giving him: “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” and finally “Feed my sheep.” Jesus went on to predict that Peter would die and how he would die. Peter was greatly blessed by the Lord he recently rejected. He was promised a prominent role in caring for the church. Just as important for Peter, as Jesus had previously predicted Peter’s rejection, he now predicted Peter’s faithfulness unto death. Finally, Jesus reiterated the call of Peter with the oft used command “Follow me!” Peter was forgiven; he was restored; his call was reiterated; his end was predicted.

You would expect, with all of this, Peter to be satisfied. You would expect him to take his calling and be happy to walk forward serving the Lord, but we see a brief moment where it appears Peter’s nature comes out again. Peter, at this point, saw John and asked, “What about him?” Just as many times in the past, Jesus got direct with Peter. Jesus said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22 NIV). Jesus told Peter, “That’s none of your business.”

Rather than being concerned with what Jesus was or was not going to do with John, Peter was to keep his mind on what Jesus was going to do with him. In the same way, it is very easy for us to get concerned with what God is or is not doing with or through others and forget what God wants to do with or through us. It is especially difficult when we don’t have the blessing of being told the end, by the one who will bring about that end. We wander through life, with little knowledge of what the future holds. We only have the promises of scripture to stand on and the faith that Christ has plans for us. We see our own ministry and it is too easy, too tempting, to compare our own flock, our own field to that of others. It is tempting to weigh our value for the kingdom by comparing our work to the work of others.

One of the worst groups for doing this is pastors. We teach our people to work for God and be happy in that work, but trust the results to Jesus. Yet, in unguarded moments—and even some very guarded ones—we compare ourselves to others. I have experienced this in many ways. When two pastors meet they often start getting to know one another with two questions:

  1. How many people attend your church?
  2. How many people can your facility seat?

While we do not consciously compare ourselves to others, it is natural to make those calculations and in groups and associations of pastors you can almost see a pecking order develop, with pastors of larger churches coming to the fore and those of smaller churches being pushed to the periphery. When a group of pastors gather, this practice is so common and so pronounced I have taken to comparing it to the dogs getting to know one another—I’ll let you visualize that yourself.

This is unfortunate. Some of the best men of God, some of the most dedicated servants of the kingdom and, yes, even some of the most gifted teachers and preachers in the world are the pastors, elders and leaders who work in small churches. This is not to disparage the larger churches or to somehow turn the table to give greater value to the small church pastor. Personally, I think there is a place for the mega-church. The mega-church does some good that the small church could never do. However, when a pastor or church member judges a church by how it compares to another we lose something very important. We are each called to different fields; to different flocks; to different ministries. These callings are always based on God’s sovereignty. God sovereignly decides who will labor in what field and we as his servants can simply report for duty, grab the plow and start working. To look at the field another has been called to and compare oneself is demotivating for the pastor, degrading to the people served by him, and disrespectful to the one who called him. While it is normal for a pastor who has fifty people to look at the one with thousands and say, “I want that someday,” or for the pastor of thousands to look at the one with fifty and say, “I remember those days,” it is not right when the two compare themselves and conclude God must love one more or trust one more than the other, because of some innate condition in either of them. God does not decide your call because of what you are worth, but because He chose to call.

If God has called you to a field, keep your eye on it. If you are in a small church it is not because you are worth less than the large church pastor. If you are in a large church, it is not because of some greater value to the kingdom. God has chosen each to serve Him where he wants them. Put your hand to the plow and work. Let the master worry about what is being done in His other fields.

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