The Grasshopper Myth

The Grasshopper Myth

April 21, 2015 in Pastor's Perspective


I enjoyed The Grasshopper Myth. I thought it brought a good balance to some of the discussions I have heard or been part of regarding church growth, church health, and related topics.

I particularly enjoyed chapter 12, where Vaters outlines the emotional stages many pastors go through as they wrestle with the realities of ministry. I’ve gone through those, and I have many friends who also have experienced them. Recognizing those patterns can help pastors navigate them in a healthy way rather than being overcome by them.

I also think Vaters’ emphasis on finding out what you are supposed to be doing, and then his encouragement to do it, is good advice for a leader of any sized church or organization. When this sense of purpose is clear, the temptation to look at others or compare yourself to others isn’t as strong. It’s much easier to bless others when you have clarity. You no longer see them as competition or as reminders of your own lack of ability or impact. Thus, you can celebrate their successes while giving yourself fully to what you have been called to do. I call that a win!

At times I found myself resisting Vaters’ ideas, perhaps because I am growth-oriented. What helped me embrace what he said was his honest recognition that some churches are small or lack growth for reasons unrelated to the pastors’ abilities as well as his acknowledgment that, sometimes, pastors can be lazy, incompetent, or simply fail to do a good job. Those are realities. I’ve had to face them in myself. I would never want to presume to know which is the case for any other person, but recognizing that both are true was important to me. It also underlined the importance of being honest with ourselves.

Finally, I thought Vaters’ point about the abundance of small churches was well made, especially when he pointed out that it just isn’t reasonable to think that all of those pastors of small churches are failing. I know many pastors who appear to live under some guilt or condemnation because they have received the message that they are somehow lesser because they don’t have a larger church. This is ridiculous! We need to develop a healthier perspective on pastoral success, and I think The Grasshopper Myth contributes to that.

So what did you think? Do you struggle with the “grasshopper myth?” Do you find yourself struggling with comparisons? Please share your insights and perspective with us!

  • Jerry Stephens 17:37h, 22 April

    I’ve been in both big churches and dinky churches. Once upon a time I was part of the senior pastoral team for the largest church in our denomination. Right now I’m pastoring what I’m told is the smallest church in our denomination in the state.On a good Sunday we have about 50 souls. To get here you have to travel all the way to the edge of the earth, turn right and we’re just little ways down.

    Don’t get me wrong. I loved what I used to do but I wouldn’t trade it for where I am now. There are several reasons for that including my wife & I are both country folk and feel more at home here. But the biggest/best reason of all is that I’m where I am convinced God wants me. Imagine that. I came here solely because God sovereignly placed me here in a way that even I couldn’t miss(!).

    Attendance has grown a bit in the year I’ve been here (from the low 30s to 50-ish) but more importantly I’ve seen genuine spiritual growth both individually and collectively. Isn’t that the point? I am of the opinion that the goal is (as Paul said in Colossians 1.28) to present everyone mature in Christ. If that is truly the goal (and not, per se, building a mega-system) then we have to have smaller churches to reach all the Jesus-loved folk out in the sticks and down the street. I’ve heard it said that it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. Me and my flock–we’re small church folk and we like it like that!

    This book says out loud much of what I’ve been saying under my breath for a long–but Vater says it much more eloquently. He also shared more than a few thoughts that had never occurred to me.

    I appreciate that he does not bash church growth advocates and large church proponents. Even more I appreciate that he kindly and gently (and very capably!) refutes their mantras. I share his view that much of the ‘theology’ of the church growth movement is more informed by business/organizational theory than it is by scripture. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it does deprive it of its pseudo-sanctification. Frankly, (IMO) some of it is actually contrary to biblical teaching and needs to be confronted. Vater has restored a much needed balance to the conversation.

    I’ll be picking up a copy of the book to dig a little deeper.

    • Nathan Ovitt 22:15h, 23 April

      Thanks for sharing Jerry. It really is an amazing thing when you can operate from the bedrock of certainty that you are where God directed you to be. I have had a cross country move that was so clearly directed by God that there was really no question about what God wanted. The true question was whether my wife and I would be obedient. We were and God provided for the journey. That same clear call also helped me to weather some heavy storms in the new place- I was certain I was where I was supposed to be!

      Keep up the good work!

  • Larry Dennis 17:56h, 22 April

    As a judicatory with oversite of 140 churches this is a bitter pill to swallow. Wonder where we would be today if Jesus and Paul would have bought into this philosophy? The need for strong, healthy, vibrant, missional churches has never been greater.

    • Nathan Ovitt 22:05h, 23 April

      Hi Larry,

      You said, “this is a bitter pill to swallow.” Will you expound on that a little? I am very interested in your thoughts, especially concerning the oversight of so many churches.


    • Jerry Stephens 09:17h, 01 May

      I would also be interested in a more extensive explanation.

      Are you saying that smaller rural churches cannot be strong, healthy, vibrant, missional churches? We are a smaller church but I consider us strong, healthy, vibrant and missional. I don’t think those qualities are a consequence of attendance figures but of something much more important–the presence of and response to the Holy Spirit who seems to not be a respecter of building size. I hope that doesn’t sound defensive or haughty–I certainly don’t mean it that way. I’m just saying that from the very beginning the Lord has seemed to bring his presence and favor to churches large and small when they are devoted to his Lordship.

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