When I first read these words “Where young Christians should go to church and why” I thought to myself, “They can go wherever they want to!” As I read on, I realized that the person making the recommendation was one of the leading Christian churchmen of our time, and so I kept reading. Let me share what I learned with you.
This past fall Dr. Eugene Peterson celebrated his eighty-first birthday and was interviewed on that great occasion. Besides being a past Hebrew and Greek professor, the founding pastor of Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, MD where he ministered for 29 years (anything but a small congregation), the author of The Message translation of the Bible in its many editions, and some 20 other books, he has been the constant counselor of young people throughout his ministry. That background and lifelong ministry experience caused me to stop, take seriously what he had to say, and meditate on why he said it.
The interview was with Jonathan Merritt in his blog On Faith and Culture, Sept. 27, 2013. When asked, “What do you tell young Christians who are longing for a deeper and more authentic discipleship?” Peterson responded,
“I tell younger Christians who long for a deeper, more authentic discipleship to go to the nearest, smallest church and commit yourself to being there for six months. If it doesn't work out, find somewhere else. But don't look for programs or entertainment, and don't look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place... Sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes pastors are just incompetent and some are flat out bad. But it is a better place to start out than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.”
Now the question is why would an experienced person such as Dr. Peterson feel so strongly and what reasons are behind his strong and exclusive convictions? I think what is in the good pastor's mind is that the young or newly saved Christian is like a newborn baby. An infant needs close attention, watchful care, immediate help, loving and familiar faces around all the time, a steady routine that is not a hassle, and regular feeding. The simple fact is that the smaller the church, as long as it is functioning properly, the more likely all these needed items will be present in abundance for the new or young believer.
The smaller congregation specializes in TLC [hands on authentic and caring relationships] and that is what we all, young Christian or older saint, thrive on.