Bigger is better, right? Why get small fries when you can get supermega large fries for only 35 cents more? Why get that dinky little pickup truck when you can have the turbo diesel 4×4? Why rent a little apartment when you can get 3.8% financing on the 5 bedroom 3.5 bath house? Why go to a little church with 45 people in it when you can have the thrill of being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people and all the various ministries a mega-church can offer? We are programmed to believe that bigger is better, and for pastors of smaller fellowships, it can leave us wondering if our fellowship is still small because we’re either doing it wrong, or we’re just not the man for the job. It can often leave us wrestling with the question, should I stay, or should I go?
Same coin, other side, pastoring a small church also comes with its share of frustrations. There are never enough people to build an effective and efficient children’s ministry. The worship team is the same people who have been doing it for years and they either squeeze that responsibility in to what little time they have to give it, or they’re just tired and burned out … and it shows. The budget’s too small to hire staff (or even pay the pastor a full-time wage), and volunteers can be hard to come by, or count on. Even good, well meaning people can prove to be unreliable if they’re overcommitted. Looking from here over to the milk and honey of a bigger church can leave a small church pastor pining for an opportunity to leave for richer pastures and more productive ministry. Again, it raises the question, should I stay or should I go?
I can say I’ve wrestled with the frustrations of small church ministry. All these questions have plagued me at one point or another in my 12 years of ministry in the same small church as a Lead Pastor. One thing I have not experienced, however, is an undeniable call out of my ministry. I’m told that when God moves you out of one situation into another, there is a push (or a leading) out of one, and a pull drawing you toward something else. It’s not born of frustration, or selfish ambition and desire, but a transition led by the Spirit. Whether we question our ability to lead, or are tired of trying to squeeze water from a rock, our mindset must be one of devotion.
Our first and foremost devotion is to Jesus Christ. It must be or we will be leaving on a whim, or grinding it out for no reason because of pride. Our desire cannot be for “successful ministry” (whatever that means), or to build a bigger church, but to honor Christ and remain faithful to God in our calling. When our relationship with God is healthy and undistracted by lesser things, we are able to hear more clearly when and if he leads us to follow him into a new situation.
Our second devotion is to our calling. We cannot be constantly looking for our next opportunity or those whom we are currently serving will not get our best. Our current ministry cannot be, in our mind, a stepping stone to something bigger. That is selfish ambition and it will only hurt the body of Christ whether you stay or go. Matthew 24:45-46 says, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of his servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant if his master finds him doing so when he returns.” We need to be faithful where we are planted. God may move us on to other things, or he may leave us to faithfully till soil in a hard, hard field. In either case, if our joy and delight are in Him, it will not matter and we will be faithful.
In our culture, we are trained to think that decisions come down to a choice between two options, “this” or “that.” This, of course, is silly. There is most often more than two possible outcomes. Perhaps the tension is merely meant to stir the pot and change the way you look at and approach your current ministry. Where the is tension, God is usually at work. Sometimes, when you’ve buried yourself in ministry tasks, God will need to use tension (e.g. frustration, fatigue, desires, ideas) to get your head out of a rut and your focus back on Him and what He is doing.
I would love to hear from some of you who have experienced a call out of one ministry and into another. What was your experience, and how has it turned out? What are some of the lessons you have learned from the experience and would you have done anything differently? How did God call you, or did you make a change based on your own desire, logic and reason?