Good stuff from RC Sproul, Jr...
Where do you get from the Bible the idea of small churches? I am a part of a big church, about 4,000 attenders, and have listened to some of your basement tapes which have set me to thinking. I have talked to people I go to church with and they say I am either crazy or I want to be a part of a cult because I would like to be a part of something in the same vein of your church. So I would like to know how you argue the small church model from the Bible.
I would not want to be in the position where I would have to argue that large churches are sinful. The Scripture isn’t that clear. Our decision at Saint Peter to begin new parishes when we reach a certain size we would argue is strategic, rather than strictly moral. That is, our best guess is that with smaller congregations we believe we are better able to fulfill our calling as the local church. The Scripture is replete with calls to love one another, to serve one another. There are myriad “one anothers” that as best as we can tell are better served when we begin by knowing one another. I honestly don’t know how well I would do in loving my neighbor in the pew if that I don’t know that neighbor. In like manner, the call of the elders to watch over the flock we believe, would be increasingly difficult as a church grows larger. When we worship with our neighbors, we have, it seems to us, better opportunity for deeper connections and deeper accountability. Sadly, both of these things tend to be characterized as “cult-like.” That is, when we actually exhibit the love we are called to have one for another, it looks so strange to the world, and that which is of the world in the church, that people figure we must be drinking some kind of kool-aid. When the church actually practices church discipline, it will soon be characterized as unloving, obtrusive and legalistic. That is not to say that this can’t happen in an unhealthy way. Rather the point is that the great majority of the church has lurched way far in the other direction. It is a profound blessing in my life, and the life of my family, that we get to worship with our neighbors. Every time I drive away from our house I hover over the horn on the car, waiting to give a passing greeting to other saints in our body. This morning one dear saint wanted to have a ten minute conversation with me. He made the three minute drive and we visited before breakfast. This same saint has often swung by to help me fix my mower. In the Mendota parish of Saint Peter church, eighty percent of the congregation lives within an eight mile radius. The other twenty percent are within fifteen miles of each other. We don’t just see each other on the Lord’s Day, and not because we have lots of programs at church. Instead our lives are lived together. In the end we do not keep small parishes because we have to. We do so because we want to. There are disadvantages as well. We tend to be rather pastor heavy and building light, since we want our parishes to have parish pastors if possible. We can miss the beloved members of other parishes, though we also try to have events where the parishes gather together. We can fall into petty competitiveness, though we work hard against that. (But, it should be noted for the record that the last time we played against each other the smaller Mendota parish put a hurt on the Bristol parish in softball.) We are grateful for the decisions we have made, for the direction we have chosen. We are not, however, willing to argue that people who have gone a different route are out to lunch or weaker Christians.
RC Sproul, Jr