Hello. My name is Michael, and I pastor a small church. When I say small, I mean that we range from 50 to maybe 90 on a Sunday depending on so many different factors that I couldn’t really tell you why we see such a swing. Needless to say, no one is calling, texting, emailing, or IM-ing me to come speak at their conferences. Typically, people only call or email when their group wants to use the building, when the plumbing has an issue at the church, or if they want to know why our church doesn’t offer the ministry they want. Maybe you understand my world: so many things I want to do and see happen, but seldom do they come to fruition because we lack the people and resources to really make it work. Welcome to the club … the small church pastor’s club.
You may have been a member of this fraternity for a long time, or perhaps you’ve only recently been called in. The point is, it isn’t easy to pastor a small church. We all need encouragement, inspiration, and maybe a shoulder to cry on from time to time. I hope that this will offer a forum for that to happen. As a small church pastor working two …three …is it four…. jobs, I know it can be hard to block out time for “fellowship.” Here you can check in and get a quick dose of encouragement when you have time, or blow off some steam and express your frustration–knowing that you will get an answer that is intended to inspire change and not just fuel a resentment-driven tirade. We are here to help.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel justified in criticizing large ministries. I’ve come to learn that this is maddeningly unhelpful and feeds a spirit that is not becoming of Christ. There are obvious problems and blessings in both small and large settings. We all have our struggles and the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. I think we tend to view big and mega churches through the same lens we look at rich people. The lens of jealousy does not befit a child of God and one called to shepherd his flock. Big ministries are not bad. And small churches are not unsuccessful.
I imagine, though there are challenges to be sure, that stepping into a staff position in a large church can be fairly easy. As part of a staff, responsibilities are shared and each staff member is able to focus on their specific area. With a larger budget, you don’t have to worry about what you can afford to do compared to what you feel led to do. For this reason, I think some of the greatest examples of devotion, faithfulness, and innovation come from pastors who serve in small churches, some for a decade or more. By contrast, we have to rely on volunteers–who are some of the most amazing people, but who are not staff. It’s a different dynamic and much of the time it’s the pastor who has to either do things, or be directly involved for things to get done. As a result, nothing really gets our full attention; yet we get things done and the fellowship remains.
Though we don’t get invited to speak at conventions (and can seldom even afford to go), small church pastors have a lot of amazing wisdom, counsel, and innovation to offer. Big church pastors aren’t exempt from discouragement and even depression, but they have staff to talk to, to be accountable with, and can take a good sabbatical every couple of years. Small church pastors don’t have that luxury, yet the need for it is no smaller.
It’s important to remember that just because we are small, it does not mean we lack any of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the call of God for our ministry. Too often we will look at and be inspired by a certain ministry and seek to build that ministry in our little church. Because we lack the resources to do it like they are and move forward we assume that we can’t do it at all because we’re too small. We need to remember that the other church didn’t start where they’re at either. They did what they could with what they were given and as they were faithful they saw increase. We too need to start where we are, do what we can right now, and let God bring the increase in his time.
Sometimes, what we set out to do is not what God leads us into, but what we think we need in order to build a bigger church. We are not called to build a bigger church. We are called to build up and equip the saints. Don’t be afraid to try things and fail. Failure does not mean God is unhappy with your efforts, it may simply mean He has something else for you. It’s easy to fall into the rut of not having enough time to pray (God knows I fall into that trap too often), but nothing is more important. We need to be on the same page with God, not in tune with the current trend.
As a small church pastor, I have to check my motive constantly. Is my desire really to follow Jesus and fulfill his purpose, or am I really trying to build a bigger church for my ego and reputation? Am I finding my identity in Christ, or am I finding it accomplishments and therefore seeing the church as a reelection of me … rather than of Jesus. These are the kinds of things we’ll kick around together. So, welcome to the club. I pray we can bless one another along this journey.