Wild Mountain Thyme isn’t likely to win any Academy Awards, but it’s a fun date movie about an Irish woman named Rosemary who longs to win the heart of her hapless neighbor, Anthony. It’s a fun and scenic movie to watch.
I wasn’t expecting to think much about any of the themes of the movie, but one theme did make me think. Anthony’s cousin Adam visits Ireland from America.
“How many acres do you have?” he asks Rosemary.
“I don’t know,” Rosemary replies.
“How do you not know how many…”
“It’s just a number, “Rosemary says.
“But I’m all about numbers,” the American replies.
Later, on the plane to visit Ireland again, Adam complains to a fellow passenger about the Irish. “They can never really seize the day, make a move.”
“Well, it’s Ireland. You’ve got to be careful. You don’t want to call attention to yourself.”
“But I like attention,” Adam replies.
“Of course you do. You’re an American.”
Two Ways to Lead
Using stereotypes, the movie highlights two ways of approaching the world.
One measures things, wants to get things done, and craves a bit of attention. In North America, we love this kind of leadership. One of the highest compliments you can pay to a pastor is to call him entrepreneurial. We tend to value big churches over small ones, and fame over obscurity.
But there’s another way to live: to do the work God’s put in front of you without making the size of one’s church the most important thing about it, and without longing for something bigger. “Your present congregation is close to ideal in size to employ your pastoral vocation for forming Christian maturity,” wrote Eugene Peterson. Maybe the size of our church isn’t an accident, and isn’t a barrier to the work that God wants to do.
Wild Mountain Thyme is a date movie. It’s not intended as a cultural commentary. And yet it touched on something that’s on my mind: how we see work that’s important to God but insignificant in the world’s eyes.
What Matters More
We’re tempted to ask how big a church is. But the size of a church is not correlated with the health of a church. Some big churches are healthy; some aren’t. Some small churches are healthy; some aren’t. We can celebrate and measure other things than simply the size of the church.
We’re tempted to look for the pastors who make it happen. Praise God for pastors who possess unusual talents and have extraordinary influence — but I no longer assume that’s a good thing in itself. I’ve seen too many impressive leaders crash and burn. Praise God for the unimpressive pastor who knows how to love and serve well and has a track record of long-term faithfulness.
If we look carefully, we can spot beauty in pastors and churches that aren’t big and where numbers don’t impress. Sometimes these churches possess more beauty and life than the ones that get all the attention.
In the fictional Ireland of Wild Mountain Thyme, the acreage of a farm isn’t the most important thing about it. “How big is your church?” is a valid question, but far from the first question we should ask. Some qualities matter a whole lot more.