It’s a high-stress job, with long hours, high demands, emotional extremes and little (sometimes no) monetary compensation. But last month was my 20th year at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship. And last night my Small Church threw a party for me and my family.
As much as they’ve blessed me, I feel like I should have thrown it for them. How does that happen? How does someone, not just survive, but thrive, pastoring a Small Church for two decades?
This is not a definitive list. I’ll probably notice something I missed as soon as I press “publish”. But these are what first comes to mind when I look back on 20 years.
Today is the first in a 3-part series, looking at the keys, the cautions and the joys of having a long-term pastorate in a Small Church.
Have a Long-Haul Attitude
If I could only give you one key, this would be it. It’s the foundation for everything else. Pastoring a Small Church is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
Too much, too soon means you’ll be saying goodbye before you’re done. Conversely, if you don’t change things up on a regular basis, you’ll get frozen in place.
Like a marathon, the key is balance. Keep moving, keep changing, keep trying new things. But don’t overwhelm yourself or your church with busyness. Save your energy for when you need it.
Stay on top of new methods, styles and trends. Pay attention to them. Adapt and modify as needed. But innovators don’t chase after fads and styles. They set their own pace and eventually they look around to find others following.
Don’t be a spiritual junk bond investor. Be a blue chip pastor.
Be Honest, But Not Rude
Call it transparency, genuineness or being real. But there’s no substitute for being an honest, open person with the people who share your life.
I’ve met pastors who think that means being rude to people, then excusing it with protestations of “well it’s the truth!”
Sorry, no. Facts alone are not truth. The truth only happens when you combine the facts with love. Facts don’t set you free. Only the truth does that.
Train & Delegate
A marathon may be a solo sport, but pastoring is not. And a marathoner can’t be successful without a strong support team.
Too many Small Church pastors operate out of guilt. Namely, they feel guilty if they’re not doing every job that needs to be done with their own two hands. This is not helpful to you or to the church you’re called to serve.
The most important bible passage for some Small Church pastors may be Ephesians 4:12, which tells us God gave pastors to the church, not to do the work of the ministry ourselves, but “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
Prepare the people to do the work of ministry. Training and delegation are not exclusive to big churches.
You’re not failing at your job if your people are trained so well they can manage without you for a weekend while you take your family on a much-needed vacation. One of the greatest confirmations of my leadership is when great things get done at the church and I don’t find out about them until afterwards. Give up some control.
Share the authority. Train people you trust, then trust the people you’ve trained. It doesn’t happen quickly or easily, but there’s no way to last in ministry without training and delegation.
Be Patient & Forgiving
The people in your church will fail you. A lot. They need more patience and forgiveness from you than they deserve.
You will fail the people in your church. A lot. You need more patience and forgiveness from them than you deserve.
Give and you will receive.
Lead by Example
The best preacher in the world teaches more by how they act on Monday – Saturday than by what they say on Sunday. In fact, what you say on Sunday doesn’t matter at all if it isn’t lived out during the week.
Make Time Away
This is so hard to do in a Small Church. And if you’re bi-vocational, it can feel nearly impossible. But you can’t survive without it.
It is not holy, righteous, sacrificial or healthy to work 7 days a week for 12 months of the year. It’s a sin. Yes, literally, a sin.
Sabbath rest isn’t an afterthought. And it’s not just for non-clergy. It’s in God’s Top Ten. It’s in the same list that includes Don’t Murder, Don’t Steal and Don’t Commit Adultery.
God commands us to take a rest on a regular basis. So, don’t wait for time away. Don’t hope for it, ask for it, pray for it or whine about it. Make it.
Keep Falling in Love With Jesus and His Church
Salvation is not a one-time event. It’s like marriage. The wedding starts it up, but the day upon day relationship is what it’s all about.
Pastoring is the same. Your installation as pastor gave you the title. Your daily expression of love for the people you serve is what makes the title matter.
There’s a real danger in Small Church ministry for our relationship with God, his Word and his people to simply become part of the job. If we don’t guard our hearts, prayer can become routine (or non-existent), bible reading can becoming a search for sermon material, and worship services are just another day at the office.
Find your first love again. Allow Jesus to feed your spirit, heart and soul. Let him fill you so full he overflows to others.
No amount of pulpit eloquence or pastoral training will substitute for that.
Tomorrow, 20 Years Pastoring My Small Church: The Cautions. On Wednesday, The Joys.
So what do you think? Are you doing what needs to be done to last for the long haul?
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