Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review: Imagining the Small Church

When I was small my mother always told me good things come in small packages. She was right most of the time! For the past thirteen years I have pastored a small(ish) parish of about fifty adults. At times we got as big as 78 and when I arrived we had about 30 or so. After looking around I found out that we were not unique. More than half the congregations in our country have under 100 souls. Astounding. So many times I compared our parish with the "big steeple" parishes in town; you know, the ones with the fancy stone or brickwork, the large halls and rectories (manses/parsonages), and of course the belltower. 

After a while though I realized that my job as a pastor was not to turn my parish into a "larger, bigger and better" congregation but to love them, care for them, console them, and love them the best that I could. If we grew in numbers, fine. If our collections increased, fine. But I could not loose track of my main job as a shepherd and to love the sheep under my care. 

Unfortunately however most national Church bodies, including seminaries, graduate schools, and denominational boards use the "large parish" model as the "example" for all of us. We are told time and time again that we must "grow" and "expand our budgets" and "have lots of programs." Well, my motto is live and let live. 

For years there have been small parishes, mostly in rural areas but also in suburban ones too, who have done good work. 

I am grateful for Rev. Steve Willis' new book Imagining the Small Church: Celebrating a Simpler Path (Herdon, VA: Alban Publishing, 2012). Willis is the pastor of the Virginia Presbyterian Church in Buchanan, VA. He has pastored small churches for most of his life. 

Don't let the small size of this book distract you from the content inside! Willis writes is a fine down to earth style which is so different than many of the dense theological books written on parish growth, evangelism, and mission. Willis writes as if he were in the room with you, offering advice to pastors sitting around drinking coffee and sharing.

The book is divided into seven chapters: 


Each chapter deals with a certain aspect of small parish life. I especially liked the stories which Willis told as jumping off points in the book which served as illustrations emphasizing his main points. 

One might think that Willis argues that a small parish is "better" than the large "big steeple" parishes across the country, but he doesn't. He argues that national Church bodies need to take a long hard look at how small parishes work since in the future these large steeple parishes will have to re-think their own existence as memberships shift and financial income decreases. In many ways the small parishes are lean and mean! We have little overhead, no mortgages, and no paid staff except for maybe the pastor. Some small parishes don't even have a full time pastor, they might have a lay minister or maybe a pastor who works part or full time outside the congregation. 

I read this book with joy and wanted to underline almost every sentence. Each page I wrote down notes or personal reflections since Willis spoke directly to my situation. For years I was looking for resources which confirmed my own thoughts about pastoring a small congregation. I just wish that he included some additional resources for small parish ministry in the Notes section since many of the ones he mentioned I was already familiar with. 

Imagining the Small Church is a great resource for students currently in pastoral formation in seminaries. Even thought many seminarians will wind up in a medium or large church, the majority will most likely wind up in a smaller congregation which means less resources, income, and benefits. Pastoring a small congregation often means more headaches too since the brunt of the work may fall on the hands of the pastor. But there are plenty of joys too; more connections and relationships with parishioners, more time to learn about life together and share faith and fellowship, and to grow in Christ. 

I hope Willis keeps writing and reflecting on the nature of the small parish. He may feel like a prophet preaching to the wind but there are many out here who need to hear his voice. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book Review Coming Soon

I'm looking forward to reviewing Dr. Bradley Nassif's new book Bringing Jesus to the Desert (Zondervan, 2012). This book is chock full of pictures and maps, a great resource for people interested in learning more about the early Christians and the Middle East, particularly the "Holy Land."

For more information about Bringing Jesus to the Desert click here 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Thanksgiving Sermon

A few weeks before he died, Father Alexander Schmemann gave his final sermon which you can read below.

I wish everyone a blessed Thanksgiving holiday this week. Safe travels to everyone who is traveling.

Sermon from Father Schmemann

Thank You, O Lord!

Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.
Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.
Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the “one thing needed;” Your eternal Kingdom.
Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to Worship You.
Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.
Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.
Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.
Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.
Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Blog Interview

Today my friend and colleague Dr. Adam DeVille posted an interview that he conducted with me a few weeks ago. If you are so inclined you can find the interview in the link below.

He asked me a lot of questions and I told him that I felt that I was beginning volume 2 of my Schmemann series! Adam is a top notch professor and writer as well. His new book on sexuality and theology in the Eastern Church will be available sometime in 2013.

I am very grateful for the kind comments that I am receiving for the book. Father Alexander had many students and friends across the Christian Churches. I am grateful for their support too.

Click here for the interview with Adam 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Book Review Coming Soon

I look forward to reviewing this new book by my friend and colleague Tom Dykstra. Recently published by OCABS, the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies, Dykstra questions Mark's place in the Canon and the issue of what Mark says about "the gospel."

Look for this review in the weeks to come.

For more information about the book click here 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Review Coming Soon

I look forward to reviewing this new book, a collection of essays in honor of Prof. Maxwell Johnson, a liturgical scholar who teaches at the University of Notre Dame. I have enjoyed Prof. Maxwell's books, especially his collection of essays on the Church year called Between Memory and Hope.

This book looks like a great resource and reference for liturgical theologians, clergy, and anyone interested in the intersection between liturgy and pastoral ministry.

For more information about the book click here 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book Finally Available!!!

I am proud to say that my new book, whose cover page you see on the right is finally available from It sure took a while since the book was out in September, but finally after waiting 8 weeks here it is.

Please fee free to pass on the information to your pastor, to friends or whomever you think would enjoy reading a book on Father Alexander's theology of ministry.

Click here to order your copy of Church, World, and Kingdom 

Click here to read more about the book from the publisher website