WHY I LOVE PASTORING A SMALL CHURCH (MOST OF THE TIME)
A SMALL CHURCH LETS ME GET INVOLVED WITH THE PEOPLE
(This is part 1 in a 3 part series entitled, “Why I Love Pastoring a Small Church (Most of the Time)” and is written as I have just completed pastoring the same small church for 30 years.)
In today’s ‘big is better’ world it can be hard to be a small church. More than half the churches in the USA have less than 100 members. The majority of Christians belong to these churches. Large churches, those over 1000, only comprise about 2% of the churches and 10% of the church members. Yet it seems all the focus and attention is on the large church. Yet Jesus Himself pastored a very small flock of about a dozen core families with some others coming and going. Some people love small other churches, others do not. I happen to be one of the ones who love them for I’ve been pastoring one for 30 years.
In order to be healthy in today’s climate, though, a small church must know why it exists and what its purpose is in the body of Christ. The church I pastor is a teaching hospital. People come who need love, support and training. The people are great at accepting and encouraging each other. My gifts are counseling and teaching. We minister in a way that a larger church cannot – as an extended family. We aren’t better than a large church, but we aren’t inferior to it, either. We are just different with different gifts and a different role. It’s important that the people in a small church understand their unique contribution and place, or they will just feel like they are trying to be a big church but badly failing.
People who come to a small church can’t hide. Everyone is known, everyone is needed, and everyone has a part to play. Sermons and programs can be fine tuned to current needs. I enjoy have interactive times during messages when I get feedback from the people. That keeps everyone involved and improves the quality of the communication. Needs and hurts are quickly picked up, and so are the times people stumble or fall. Not everyone wants this kind of personal involvement and accountability but for many it is the key to their spiritual growth.
Because I pastor a small church I am more like the family patriarch and less like a CEO. I get involved personally with each person in the church. And because smaller churches don’t require as much time and effort to keep the organization and administration going, I have time to be involved in other ministries as well. I have greatly enjoyed this over the past years. My church sees me as not just their pastor but as a pastor to the community. They are glad to see me get involved in activities outside the church; even those which take up time and will never directly benefit the church. I have greatly enjoyed the variety of ministries the Lord has allowed me to participate in: home schooling support groups, spiritual warfare ministry, yearly trips to India, World View camps for teens, marriage retreats, marriage counseling to those outside our church and many other involvements. I have been enriched and our church has felt good about being able to contribute to their community in many unique ways.
Small churches today may not communicate power, success, cutting-edge ministry or a great variety of programs for all ages, but they provide what every church of any size must provide: worship, fellowship, teaching and opportunities for outreach. Whatever size church God has you be part of, you are to be involved in the life and ministry of the church and those in it. Don’t compare your church with others, jut focus on seeing what you can do to help it and to sustain your own growth. There’s no greater institution on earth than the church of the Lord Jesus Christ!
A SMALL CHURCH CAN MAKE SUDDEN CHANGES
(This is part 2 in a 3 part series entitled, “Why I Love Pastoring a Small Church (Most of the Time)” and is written as I have just completed pastoring the same small church for 30 years.)
In some ways churches are like boats. A large church can be represented by an ocean liner, a small church by a smaller yacht. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. But when it comes to maneuverability, ability to change direction or turn around, the yacht has a great advantage over an ocean liner. That’s one reason I appreciate pastoring a small church. While larger churches can do some things we can as far as program variety is concerned, we can get into places larger boats can’t. We can make changes and adjustments quickly while it takes an ocean liner quite some time to slow down, change direction and start up again. When a special need or unique situation arises in our church or community, we can adjust to it quickly.
That is true in my own life as pastor as well. I don’t have a large list of regular responsibilities to keep the ship afloat and moving, so I can use my time where needed most. That can be things inside or outside the church. Because I work alone (no staff) I have freedom of schedule and privacy that many pastors lack. Of course I can’t take advantage of that privilege, but since I love my work and enjoy all I do I have no problem slacking off. My wife will tell you my problem is the opposite – working too much.
This flexibility also allows me to have time to use in areas where my spiritual gifts lie. All pastors have basic responsibilities to a church, if they are gifted in those areas or not, but my list isn’t so great that I don’t have a lot of time to put into areas I really love and where my gifts lie: teaching and counseling. I can study and research, plan and present messages without having to be forced to cut corners because of limited time. I can counsel and follow up with people because my schedule is my own to make and adjust. I can spend time during the day to compensate for evening and weekend activities.
Being small and flexible means I can change things on a moment’s notice, be it the order of worship or a regularly scheduled program. Our meetings and programs must be a means to an end and not an end in themselves. They are to serve us and not us serving them. So when a change is needed it is a simpler matter to make that adjustment.
I have elders to assist with the leadership, but basically a small church is a one man show. There are definitely down sides to that, like being expected to do anything and everything that needs doing, but there is a good side as well. I know a board is important to a healthy church in most larger churches, for the church becomes a business and must be run as such. However a small church is run more like an extended family. Most decisions are made by consensus in the normal flow of daily activities. As a family develops a system to make plans and decisions, so does a small church. I know church boards are necessary and important and am not criticizing any who have them, but I personally much prefer a small church family process. I can pull rank whenever needed, but for the most part I feel the church belongs to the people and they should have a say in all of it. I’m not made (personality wise) to work well with a board and as part of a staff. I’m definitely a Lone Ranger kind performer. That’s how I function best, and a small church allows me to do so.
For me, a pastoring a small church is a good fit. It took me awhile to realize that, but God knew it all along! He has you where you are for a reason as well, at least for the present time. Are flexible enough for Him to move you around where He wants you and to use you as He desires? Are you willing to make quick adjustments to meet new needs and situations around you? We all need to be living the Christian life as if we are paddling a kayak, not floating downstream on a barge.
A SMALL CHURCH HELPS SPIRITUAL GROWTH
(This is part 3 in a 3 part series entitled, “Why I Love Pastoring a Small Church (Most of the Time)” and is written as I have just completed pastoring the same small church for 30 years.)
I’ll never forget one of my first Sundays as pastor of Main Street Baptist Church having to slip out of the service during the singing of the opening hymn to try to unplug the toilet in the ladies room before the hymn was over. In some ways it was humorous, but in other ways showed some of the mental adjustments I would have to make to pastor a small church for 30 years. While some of my colleagues may seem pastoring a church that doesn’t grow but stays small as a ‘failure’ on my part, I’ve had to learn to see myself as a servant first and foremost. God is the one I serve and if He wants me to do that by trying to fix a toilet or by preaching a sermon, that is up to Him! There – I can say that now and mean it, but that wasn’t always the case!
Pastoring a small church stretches me and makes me grow because it has forced me to redefine the typical American definition of success. To me, success is being in the center of God’s will. That’s where I know I am and have been, so that means I’ve been successful in life. I can’t judge myself or others by size, numbers or dollars. I can’t see large churches as better than small churches or small churches as better than big churches. I must see them as God sees them – equal but different. That helps me see others the same way, myself included. It’s been good to help me grow in those areas.
As a small church pastor I am like a doctor who is a General Practitioner. I need to do it all. I don’t have any specialists to call in so I am involved with the budget, building maintenance, counseling, teaching, worship, evangelism, hospital visitation, funerals and weddings, children’s programs, teen events, singles ministry, church planting, greeting visitors, and whatever else comes up. I wear a dozen different hats on any given Sunday. I can’t say I like all the hats, but I like the variety that comes with being a GP. That doesn’t mean I don’t envy the specialist who just shows up to operate and then is done for the day. If I’d have had my choice I’d have been a teaching pastor so I could study all week, stand up on Sunday and teach, then go back to my study until next Sunday. That may be an unfair description of a teaching pastor, but that’s what I would have tried to do. Like they say, the ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people! I get along much better with books than with people. I’m not naturally a people person. But God knew that and so He wanted me involved with people, all kinds of people, every day of the week. I can’t hide from people, even if I sometimes want to. That’s stretched me and helped me grow.
Somewhere in my early years I started noticing that people were being impacted more by my life and example than by my teaching and preaching. That’s an awesome, humbling realization. I don’t want people to watch me and emulate me, just listen to me and do what I tell them! But that’s not how it works. So I have to be the kind of person I want them to be. That doesn’t mean some hypocritical way of acting just so. It means finding and maintaining that fine balance between being a leader others look up to while also being a human being with faults and failures just like everyone else. That is one tough balance line to walk! But God has been helping me and I know I can’t take one stop down that line without full dependence on Him. That stretches and helps me as well.
Pastoring a small church forces me to depend on Him for resources like money and helpers, two things small churches (and often larger ones as well) struggle with. It’s nice to look back and see how God has provided. Each difficulty has been an opportunity to trust. And if I’m going to tell my people to see their challenges that way I need to do so myself. That’s how God keeps me growing.
What is God doing in your life right now to keep you stretching and growing spiritually? Are you allowing Him to work and seeking to follow Him in all ways? Do you see your difficulties as opportunities to trust, or opportunities to worry? God is stretching each one of us, and will do so as long as we are on this earth (Philippians 1:6). Be glad He does!