In his book Humble Leadership: Being Radically Open to God’s Guidance and Grace (Alban, 2007), N. Graham Standish tells a wonderful story that he heard from Frank Harrington, long-time pastor of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The Peachtree Church is one of the largest congregations in the PC(USA), if not THE largest.
Standish notes that Harrington told this story in the context of a talk in which he said that loving our congregations is the most significant thing pastors can do. To illustrate his point Harrington told this story:
A young pastor had invited Harrington to come and speak at his church in Oklahoma. Since he usually spoke at large churches, a large church is what he was expecting. The pastor “picked Harrington up from the airport and drove him several hours out into the country, all along exclaiming how wonderful and great his church was, and how it was on the verge of a tremendous renewal” (p. 112).
Along the way, Harrington continued to expect that they would eventually pull into the parking lot of a large suburban church. Instead, they drove deeper and deeper into the countryside. He began to realize that they were going to a church that was different from the ones he normally visited.
At last they arrived at a tiny rural church that had saved for over a year to be able to afford to pay Harrington’s speaking fee.
Harrington could sense the pastor’s great love for the congregation, and that it really was a tremendous church, a tremendous SMALL church. Standish reports, “Harrington discovered in that moment that it wasn’t the size of the church that mattered, but the strength of its love. He told us that if we love our churches, whatever size they are, they can become dynamic places of grace and God’s presence and power” (p. 113).
Amen, amen, amen!