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My Dear Shepherds,

For the last 22 years I served the Village Church of Lincolnshire in the northern suburbs of Chicago with Sunday attendance of about 175. In all those years that number didn’t change much. That, for me, was a problem because I could not escape the sense that my success as a pastor depended on our church getting bigger.

I shouldn’t put it this way, but the competition was tough. I’d tell friends, “I pastor in the land of the giants”—huge, multi-campus congregations all around us. When I was new there, a pastor friend warned me, “That giant sucking sound you hear is Willow Creek.” To be perfectly honest, I never really wanted to pastor a big church, I just wanted to preach to a lot of people. But we never even made it to two services.

When I came I assumed that if I did my job well God would give the increase and, in a way, he did. We had unusually high turnover, sometimes 20 percent in a year, mostly due to students, corporate ...

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