"The Grasshopper Myth" by Karl Vaters. A Review.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
How do you perceive your small church? Do you see it's smallness as a problem to be fixed? Or is it possible that it is small by God's own design and in his delight? Karl Vaters, Teaching Pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, tackles these questions and many, many more in his heart-lifting 212 page paperback, "The Grasshopper Myth". The book's appellation comes from Numbers 13 when the twelve spies returned from reconnoitering the Promised Land, and ten of them recounted how tall and big everyone and everything was, and then exclaimed, "and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (13.33). Viola! The Grasshopper Myth!
Without being jaundiced or jaded, Vaters challenges our self-imposed expectations that gut many a minister, and asks all of the "wrong" questions. Why is small a bad thing when an overwhelming majority of our churches in the U.S.A. and the world have less than 250 congregants? Is it possible that small churches are the normal plan of God for a host of reasons? Can a small church be a great church? "The Grasshopper Myth isn't the result of being small. It comes from feeling small and believing those feelings" (51). Instead we need to recognize that "each church has its own mission and shouldn't try to duplicate the mission of another church, no matter how successful or large that other church is" (53). And further, "there is no place on earth where a Small Church won't fit" (142).
Though "The Grasshopper Myth" is ideal for church boards, elder boards, and other leadership groups, it is especially beneficial for pastors and ministers. The book looks into our pastoral hearts through (1) the lens of Vaters' own nearly-catastrophic-congregation-destroying story, (2) the grid of the church-growth programs that have been trumpeted for over four decades, and (3) the realities of Scripture and circumstances. From Vaters' own nearly congregation-destroying catastrophe, to the probing analysis of church-growth attitudes, to the very pointed chapters to pastors, the author brings a breath of fresh air and buoyancy for sinking ministers! In fact his chapter on "Stages In the Emotional Life of the Small Church Pastor" was spot on. I saw myself clearly in those pages, remembering well the disillusionment and high dudgeon during a particular season of my ministry.
If your pastor is downhearted and defeated, hand him a copy quick, and offer to meet for the next three weeks over a cup of coffee or tea to discuss the book (there is even a discussion guide in the back to help you do this). If you're a minister and about to quit, seeing the black clouds of Mordor looming over your ministry, and disgusted with where God has you, then get "The Grasshopper Myth" yesterday and pour over it today! This handy manual would also be valuable for a pastors' retreat or a book discussion in a ministerial alliance. So, if you can't tell, let me simply say it clearly: I recommend this book with all the verve I can muster!
My thanks to Karl Vaters for sending the copy of the book used for this review. The recommendation and reflections are mine, all mine! No one put me up to them, and they are freely and happily given.
Snag a copy of the book here: The Grasshopper Myth
Karl Vaters wrote a second book taking this subject further: "Small Church Essentials". You can read my review of that book here.
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