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Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture
Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture
Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture
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Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture

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Among followers of Jesus, great is often the enemy of good.

The drive to be great—to be a success by the standards of the world—often crowds out the qualities of goodness, virtue, and faithfulness that should define the central focus of Christian leadership. In the culture of today’s church, successful leadership is often judged by what works, while persistent faithfulness takes a back seat. If a ministry doesn’t produce results, it is dropped. If people don’t respond, we move on. This pursuit of “greatness” exerts a crushing pressure on the local church and creates a consuming anxiety in its leaders. In their pursuit of this warped vision of greatness, church leaders end up embracing a leadership narrative that runs counter to the sacrificial call of the gospel story.

When church leaders focus on faithfulness to God and the gospel, however, it’s always a kingdom-win—regardless of the visible results of their ministry. John the Baptist modeled this kind of leadership. As John’s disciples crossed the Jordan River to follow after Jesus, John freely released them to a greater calling than following him. Speaking of Jesus, John said: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Joyfully satisfied to have been faithful to his calling, John knew that the size and scope of his ministry would be determined by the will of the Father, not his own will. Following the example of John the Baptist and with a careful look at the teaching of Scripture, Tim Suttle dares church leaders to risk failure by chasing the vision God has given them—no matter how small it might seem—instead of pursuing the broad path of pragmatism that leads to fame and numerical success.

Дата выпуска2 сент. 2014 г.
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Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is  the pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kansas and the author of Finding God's Story in the Midst of Extremes and Public Jesus. Tim and his wife, Kristin, live in Kansas City with their two boys, Nicholas and Lewis.

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    Shrink - Tim Suttle


    Shrink is an honest book. It is the confession of a pastor who longed for and worked hard toward becoming a great leader, taking successful pastors as his model. Eventually, he came to recognize that greatness is not a Christian aim. To adapt words of Jesus, there is one who is Great, and he isn’t anyone’s local pastor. Leadership in the mode of Jesus is not what most think; rather, it is cruciform (to borrow the words of Michael Gorman, one of America’s finest New Testament scholars). Or, in Tim Suttle’s memorable words: Great is the enemy of good. Think about that. Tim is turning everything upside down.

    Shrink is an important book and here’s why: Tim Suttle wants us to focus on the church—the local church, the kingdom of God at work in the here and now in your local situation. He’s not trying to change the world or invade Washington, DC, with new strategies and finer voting plans. Instead, he wants to see a kingdom-kind-of-life established at the local church level. This may spread all over the land, but spreading over the land is not his passion. His passion is faithfulness in the local church. I love that emphasis because, like Tim, I’m tired of global visions that suck the energy out of the local church, of plans to change the world that ignore the local church, and of hopes to be significant at the expense of being faithful in the context of the local church.

    Shrink is an intelligent and intelligible book. Tim Suttle is one of the young pastors I am reading and hearing about who are not reading leadership literature—they are reading the Bible and theologians who are working the Bible hard to make it speak to our world today. So we hear from Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, Jürgen Moltmann, Barbara Brown Taylor, Dallas Willard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, N. T. Wright, and—you may have guessed it—Eugene Peterson, who are all thinkers I love and have come to appreciate.

    Shrink, I’m thinking, will be the go-to book for young pastors who want to jump off the treadmill of bigger, better, faster, and stronger and who instead want cruciform love, justice, peace, and authenticity emerging from the local church. Here smaller just might be the way to go.

    Scot McKnight

    Professor of New Testament

    Northern Seminary


    The idea for this book grew out of an article I wrote for the religion section of The Huffington Post called How to Shrink Your Church. The reason I get to write articles such as this is because Paul Raushenbush is generous and kind and has extended his generosity and kindness to me. Thank you, Paul. I will be forever grateful for you and your great family.

    That this newspaper article became a book involves more generosity and kindness. I am so thankful to Ryan Pazdur at Zondervan for seeing value in a book like this. For advising me, listening to my ideas, critiquing them, and helping me to refine the vision for this project I am surely in your debt. I appreciate your expertise and support, Ryan. Thanks to everyone at Zondervan who worked on Shrink, especially to Verlyn Verbrugge, who offered sound advice and key changes at a critical point in the process. I am so grateful to you all.

    Tim Keel and Mike King: I am blessed to have friends like you who know what a vulnerable thing it is to lead and to put pen to paper. Your friendship came in the nick of time, and has become such a source of hope and strength for me . . . I’d be in the deep weeds without you.

    With a grateful heart I send my love and thanks to:

    The AMO, Craig Babb, Marta Gillilan, Chris Jehle, Garret Lahey, and Dan Wilburn: thank you for your friendship. Redemption Church staff and elders: I’m so thankful to be serving alongside you in this precious church. Thank you for allowing me the time to write. To Redemption Church: what a beautiful and rare bunch of ragamuffins you are; thanks for never holding anything back as you chase the kingdom of God and pursue faithfulness. Our common life gives me hope. It is a gift to be your pastor.

    To my family, Mom and Dad, Jeff and Amy, Kenny and Amy, Oliver and Christy, Pete and Rosie, Matt and Courtney, and all my nieces and nephews: I think about you guys constantly and feel so blessed to be part of such a loving and faithful family.

    To Isaac Anderson, Scott Savage, Rustin Smith, Katie Savage, Jon Bowles, Ryan Green, Jovan Brown, Chaim Carstens, Jeff Suttle, and Bill Hill: thank you for being such good friends, and for the many conversations about life, ministry, theology, and writing.

    I save my final thanks for Kristin, Nicholas, and Lewis Suttle. You guys have my heart. They need to make up a better word, because love just doesn’t seem like enough. Nicholas and Lewis, it is a such a dream to be your dad. You are constantly making life beautiful. I pray that you know how much your parents love you; that you will be blessed for the time you let me take away from you in order to write; that you will always be good friends; that you will learn how to listen to your own life; that you will never know a single moment that you don’t feel a part of the people of God; and that you will always have the courage to run further up and further in!

    Kristin, you still take my breath away. You keep this family together with your ceaseless grace and love. I might be the voice, but you are the beating heart of this family. The life we’ve built together — you, me, the boys, this church, these friendships — it feels so rich and substantial, like ballast for the ship, the weight of which allows us to hang the sails out there and chase the horizon. I cannot see the future, but I dream about it. And when I do, I dream that our days will stretch out like the ocean just as far as the eye can see. They roll and tumble and flow — filled with love and music, laughter and art, pain and grit, sons and daughters, life and death — then they soften into each other, and then into eternity. And when forever comes to swallow up time, when the earth and sky coming crashing into the sea, and you and I and everyone we love washes up on the other side, I know this for sure: you will have been my favorite part of this life; the truest gift I have been given . . . for which I am overwhelmed with gratitude.


    I could die in peace, I think, if the world was beautiful. To know it’s being ruined is hard.

    — Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

    I love the church.

    I believe in the church.

    I believe in the church maybe more than I believe in any other thing in this world. The church is the surest sign I know of that God loves everything he’s created; that God is not done with the world. The church is the singular reality bearing faithful witness to the truth that God has not left us here to struggle all by ourselves. God has come for us, to heal our broken hearts and this precious creation no matter how long it takes.

    But the church is facing a huge problem, and it is not a problem of resistance or secularity, nor is it a problem of the culture’s hostility to the gospel. It is a problem of our own making. We have become enamored with size. We have become infatuated with all things bigger, better, stronger, higher, and faster.

    Famed American author, poet, and farmer Wendell Berry often writes about the rhythms and cycles of a well-run farm. The problems Berry sees facing the farm and the farming life mirror the problems facing the church in our time. When I read Wendell Berry’s work, I cannot help but think he is teaching me how to be a pastor. When Berry writes the word land, I think parish. When he uses the word farm, I think church.¹

    In his wonderful novel Jayber Crow, Berry tells the story of a father and his son-in-law who had different approaches to farming as well as to life. The father — Athey Keith — worked the land with a sense of pastoral reverence. Athey was an older man by the time the story was told. He’d been learning under the tutelage of the land for all his life. Athey recognized that there was an order to the land; there were patterns and cycles that had to be observed. Those patterns and cycles were determined by nature and should be respected. Athey believed that humans could not impose their own patterns and cycles on the land without damaging it.

    On the other hand, the son-in-law, Troy Chatham, was determined to be the picture of a modern industrial farmer. Troy seemed to believe that the farm existed to serve his wishes, not the other way around. Patterns could be imposed on the land, and natural cycles could be altered or ignored. Every inch of land had to be plowed. Limits had to be pushed and expanded. Every dime of capital had to be leveraged or spent. Troy’s goal was always bigger, better, higher, faster, and stronger.

    Athey and Troy couldn’t be more different. Their approaches to farming, and to life, stand in stark contrast. As Wendell Berry explains, Athey said, ‘Wherever I look, I want to see more than I need.’ Troy said, in effect, ‘Whatever I see I want.’ What he [Troy] asked of the land was all it had . . . he was speaking as a young man of the modern age coming now into his hour, held back only by the outmoded ways of his elders.²

    Sadly, in Berry’s story, time was on the side of youth, and Troy’s approach to farming began to overtake his father-in-law’s. Athey would make his anxious son-in-law walk the land. He’d show him the outlines of the plow furrows and teach him to appreciate the way the land sloped and how the water should run. He showed him the next year’s cropland, now fallow, and the land slated for the year after that, explaining to him the patterns of the farm he had discovered over decades. Athey tried to teach Troy the value of a good garden, of pasture for the milk cows, and grain for the hogs, and he showed him how to cut firewood from the fence rows without depleting them. Troy’s only response was, We need to grow more corn.³ Berry explains Athey’s reaction:

    This brought Athey to a stop. The law of the farm was in the balance between crops (including hay and pasture) and livestock. The farm would have no more livestock than it could carry without strain. No more land would be plowed for grain crops than could be fertilized with manure from the animals. No more grain would be grown than the animals could eat. Except in case of unexpected surpluses or deficiencies, the farm did not sell or buy livestock feed. "I mean my grain and hay to leave my place on foot," Athey liked to say. This was a conserving principle; it strictly limited both the amount of land that would be plowed and the amount of supplies that would have to be bought.

    There was between Athey and his son-in-law a fundamental difference in how they viewed the vocation of farming. Berry says, Athey was not exactly, or not only, what is called a ‘landowner.’ He was the farm’s farmer, but also its creature and belonging. He lived its life, and it lived his; he knew that, of the two lives, his was meant to be the smaller and the shorter.

    Troy did not share this view. Berry writes:

    Troy went into debt and bought his new equipment because he didn’t want to be held back by demanding circumstances. He was young and strong and ambitious. He wanted to be a star. The tractor greatly increased the power and speed of work. With it he could work more land. He could work longer. Because it had electric lights and did not get tired, he could work at night. . . . And so the farm came under the influence of a new pattern, and this was the pattern of a fundamental disagreement such as it had never seen before. It was a disagreement about time and money and the use of the world. The tractor seemed to have emanated directly from Troy’s own mind, his need to go headlong, day or night, and perform heroic feats.

    What Athey — the older and wiser of the two — seemed to understand, which his son-in-law did not, was that it is a sin to disrespect the rhythms of nature and God’s created order. Troy’s deep disrespect of his elders was eclipsed only by his disrespect of the land, which had now become a means to his own ends. Once you make that trade, you place yourself on a collision course with reality as God has created it. And reality will always win, eventually. The earth will lie fallow one way or another until the rhythms of nature and life and humanity are once again respected. What Athey understood was that farming was never meant to be about production, but about stewardship.

    What Berry writes about the farm is true of the church. What he writes about the land is true of the parish, because tending a farm and tending a church are similar enterprises. After all, they are both the necessary work of the people who have been asked to care for this world.

    The church, like a healthy farm, has limits. The pastor/church leader has certain responsibilities to the health of the church and the community in which it lives. For it is not our creation, it is God’s. The church was here before we got here and will outlast every single one of us. Our job is stewardship: to leave the church better than we found it, and to cause the church to serve the world around us, not the productivity demands of the leadership.

    A family farm is a holy thing — a small operation that still knows the value of the land, speaks the language of the land, and understands what the land needs. The church is meant to be a holy thing — which sees the value of the parish, speaks the language of the neighborhood, and understands what the community needs in order to flourish.

    My tribe is the evangelicals. We’ve been the industry leaders in developing best practices for the realization of the relevant, the powerful, and the spectacular church. Like industrial farmers, we have been so successful that we have actually moved the dial for the mainstream church as well. We have filled the cities and suburbs with monuments to growth without limits. But we have pushed in the wrong direction, and we have pushed too far. We have confused the very nature of what it means to be a part of the people of God.

    If we are going to be wise stewards of the church, we need to learn the lessons Athey Keith tried to teach his stubborn son-in-law, Troy Chatham. We will need to recognize what nearly all of our most celebrated contemporary church leaders have failed to teach us: that the church does not belong to us; it is we who belong to the church. We are not making the church; the church is making us. We cannot determine its success, its mission, or its outcomes.

    The church will outlive all of us, that much is certain. If we are going to leave the church better than we found it, we are going to have to rediscover the necessity of margin and the reality of limits. We are going to have to sit in silence for long enough to comprehend finally the word enough. We will have to strain to see the tiny seeds of faith at work in the world and hold them in our sweaty palms, hoping against hope that they will germinate and grow and feed us. And we are going to have to stop our incessant need to make things grow the way we want them to grow, whatever the price. In many ways that will most certainly be uncomfortable and challenging for us, because we are going to have to learn how to shrink.

    I am not alone in this belief. Many church leaders are now faced with a fundamental disagreement about time and money and the use of the world. All around me everyday in my church and my city, I work with people who have chosen the way of descent. They labor in beautiful obscurity and have the audacity to imagine a church that depends upon God for its future. These friends forego lucrative careers and the perks of the upwardly mobile in order to serve small congregations faithfully. They are straining to imagine a different future for the church.

    I’m writing this book in honor of those friends, to try and give my thoughts on where we went wrong; to think creatively about how to get back on track; to encourage others — maybe even you — to embrace the vision of the kingdom that this church and this world requires of us.

    Tim Suttle, Kansas City — Advent, 2013.


    1 I got this understanding of Wendell Berry’s work from a similar comment made by Eugene Peterson in his book Under the Unpredictable Plant (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 131. Peterson says that when Berry writes the word farm he substitutes the word parish.

    2 Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (Washington DC: Counterpoint, 2000), 181 – 82.

    3 Ibid., 184.

    4 Ibid., 185.

    5 Ibid., 182.

    6 Ibid., 184 – 86.

    Part 1



    TO BE


    Chapter 1


    Perfect is the enemy of good.

    — Voltaire

    On a chilly November night in 2011, an elite crowd of art aficionados and collectors gathered at Sotheby’s Auction House on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to try and grab a piece of art history. Sotheby’s caters to the most discriminating of art collectors, and although the wine and cheese are free, the art can really cost you.

    The auction was just a few minutes old when lot number 11 was called to the block. Named 1949-A-No. 1, this oil painting was the most anticipated item of the evening. Sotheby’s had aggressively outbid their crosstown rival Christie’s Auction House for the right to sell this and three other coveted paintings by the same artist. The massive canvas, nearly eight feet tall and six feet wide, was covered in thick, dramatic black oils, and deep, richly textured, velvety reds. A stunning photograph of the piece adorned the dust jacket of the auction’s official catalog, and the bidding started at twenty-five million dollars.

    The bidders: Christopher Eykyn (a well-known New York art dealer) had a mobile phone stuck to his ear with one hand, his other hand covering his mouth to avoid revealing the identity of the client on the other end of the line. Lisa Dennison (the head of international business development for Sotheby’s) was on the phone with an anonymous bidder of her own. It soon became clear that Eykyn and Dennison were both representing buyers who came to play. As the bid passed forty-five million dollars, all other bidders fell by the wayside, and the price continued to climb.

    When the gavel finally dropped, the crowd at Sotheby’s erupted with applause for Dennison’s mystery client, who had placed the winning bid: $61.7 million.

    We are, of course, immune to any real shock when it comes to the world of high-priced artwork. What makes this story remarkable is not that a painting sold for over $60 million but that the artist is largely unknown. His name is Clyfford Still, and he is perhaps the most important American artist you’ve never heard of.

    According to The Art Wolf, an online art magazine, the top ten most expensive paintings ever sold are by, in order, Cezanne, Picasso, Pollock, de Kooning, Klimt, Munch, Jasper Johns, Picasso, Picasso, and Andy Warhol. The royal family of Qatar reportedly tops the list of auction purchasers for buying Cezanne’s The Card Players for a record $250 million. Rock and roll magnate David Geffen sold his prized and dramatic drip painting Number 5, 1948 — by the original hipster Jackson Pollock — for over $140 million. Some think Geffen sold it merely so he could hold the world record for the most expensive contemporary painting ever sold at auction, a record he held for some time.

    When the till tops $100 million, one expects to hear names with a bit of sizzle. Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso certainly qualify, but Clyfford Still? Yet, by the time the auction closed that November night at Sotheby’s, art collectors had coughed up a total of $114 million for four Clyfford Still originals. How is it that we’ve never heard of this guy?

    Clyfford Still was a pioneer in a movement called abstract expressionism, which was the first chiefly American artistic movement to capture the imagination of the entire art world. Abstract expressionism, also called the New York School, represented a rebellious break with conventional painting techniques and subject matter. The break grew out of a postwar cynicism that eventually developed into the full-blown artistic, intellectual, and philosophical movement we know as postmodernism. The break also managed to put New York City at the leading edge of art for the first time in history. Clyfford Still was the movement’s first great master.

    Still grew up in the Pacific Northwest and settled in San Francisco, where he was teaching art and painting mostly agricultural themes. In the late 1930s, he began to experiment by simplifying the forms in his paintings. (Forms are the actual subjects, like barns, farmers, etc.) Still’s forms became distorted — less realistic. Before long he abstracted the forms altogether, producing massive, dramatic canvases filled with pure emotive expressions of color and texture.

    It was a revolution.

    Still found instant success, with showings at the two leading galleries of the day: Peggy Guggenheim’s the Art of This Century Gallery, and the Betty Parsons Gallery. The art world had finally turned its jaded eyes to New York City, and they were looking directly at Clyfford Still. Critics loved him. His work was emulated, and his paintings sold for more than that of any of his contemporaries.

    He had everything an artist could want, when, at the very height of his success, Clyfford Still simply walked away. To avoid confusion, he wrote to his agent in the fall of 1951, I will tell you now that I am withdrawing my work from public exhibition.¹


    The story goes that Clyfford Still’s life was beset with insurmountable tension. On one hand, his entire artistic project called into question the culture of materialism, greed, and fame that personified the New York art scene. On the other hand, that self-indulgent, self-congratulatory bunch was celebrating him as their conquering hero. Still felt that the themes and purposes of his work were being undermined by his participation in the world of commercial art. To take their money, to receive their accolades, and to participate in the system would undercut the statement he was making with his art. Still felt he had no choice but to walk away in order to maintain his integrity. So he dropped out.

    Still moved with his wife and family to rural Maryland, bought a farm, and spent the next thirty years painting and working in relative obscurity. For the rest of his life, he sold few paintings and held only a few gallery showings.

    Here’s where the story gets interesting. When he died, Still left a remarkable handwritten will, in which he ensured his legacy: he would give all of it away.

    Clyfford Still’s estate, including 94 percent of everything he had ever produced as an artist, 825 paintings, and over 1,600 drawings, would be given to an American city that would agree to a few conditions. They would have to build a museum in which to house Clyfford Still’s entire collection, show it, and never sell or even loan any of it to other museums or collectors. His last will and testament ensured that his collection would never become part of the commercial art world he

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