I love this paragraph from James K.A. Smith’s new book On the Road With Saint Augustine:
Let your eyes skate past the megachurch industrial complex and take note of the almost invisible church in your neighborhood that you’ve driven past a thousand times without noticing. Check on it some Tuesday night, and see if there aren’t lights on in the basement. Maybe the food pantry is open. Or the congregation is offering financial management classes or marital counseling for couples who are struggling. It might just be the choir practicing, giving some souls an appointment to look forward to each week that pulls them out of their loneliness.
I drove past one of those churches last week in a small town in Ontario. I first knew the church when it was small (around 30) and relatively unloved, a group that resembled David’s early followers: “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul” (1 Samuel 22:2).
Thirteen years later, the church has grown, and so have the people. I sat with the pastor and listened over coffee to what God has been doing. It’s still messy. It’s still an almost invisible church. The room can hold a hundred no matter how they configure the church. You would probably never visit that church or town except by accident. And yet God is there.
If I’m right, this story is being repeated in tens of thousands of churches, mostly without anyone noticing.
I’m not against big churches. God is at work there too. My point is simpler: We tend to think that God is at work somewhere else. We spend our time wishing that we could be part of what God is doing, all the while missing what God is doing right under our noses because it looks small and insignificant and because it’s hard work.
We need pastors who are to their churches what Wendell Berry is to farming: who stay connected to place, enjoy the pleasures of simple ministry, who resist industrial, mechanistic forms of pastoring, and who find joy in that calling. Eugene Peterson has died; Zack Eswine can only write so many books. I suggest we go about living what they wrote about while we wait for the next great writer to remind us what pastoral ministry is about.
I heard Rosaria Butterfield say that she would rather stay home and cook a meal for her neighbors than travel to a conference and speak to a crowd of thousands.
My proposal: we as pastors commit that we would rather stay home and prepare a meal for our congregation of 30 (or whatever that number might be), completely out of the spotlight, than worry about increasing our follower count or looking for opportunities to serve elsewhere. Love a ragtag group of misfits for
To paraphrase an old saying, God must love almost invisible churches because he made so many of them. So we’d better start to love them too.