Last week I spent three days at a ministers’ conference where I had the great privilege to meet a whole bunch of them. The conference wasn’t just for Small Church pastors, but there were a lot of us in attendance. It was my first conference as a speaker and bookseller, and my first chance to meet ministers face-to-face after they’d read The Grasshopper Myth.
I’m sure I’ll get used to it after some time has passed, but for now it’s a little weird to have someone walk up to me with a look of recognition on their face, only to find out they don’t know me, but they know a lot about me because they’ve read my book. They start talking like they’re continuing a previous conversation with an old friend – which is nice – but I’m trying to play catch-up by asking about their life and ministry. It’s fun, but it’s weird.
As I reflect on this great week, there are six Small Church realities that stick out for me.
1. Small Churches are Filled with Great Stories
Small Church pastors are storytellers. So many of them were either grinning widely or choking back tears (or both) as they told me about families being mended, people committing their lives to Jesus, congregations that reach their communities and so much more.
If I’d gone to this conference with the popular preconception that Small Churches are struggling, weak and sick, that idea was blown out of the water by dozens of enthusiastic, passionately told stories of life transformation.
2. Small Church Pastors Love What They Do
I know Small Churches have big struggles – and I heard some of those stories and prayed with pastors about them. But struggles weren’t the main thing pastors wanted to talk about. They couldn’t wait to share the joy they feel about their beautiful communities, churches and the ministries they get to do.
These pastors feel honored to be called by God to a ministry that allows them to get to know their congregations by name. They’re investing in lives, one-on-one.
Situations that many would consider a burden, these ministers celebrate joyfully. For example, one pastor leads a church of 30 in a town of 320. Another has two Sunday services in a 30 x 40 foot garage to jam their congregation of 80 in for worship.
But, in spite of all that…
3. Small Church Pastors Still Feel Disenfranchised
I had a few conversations with fellow Small Church pastors in whispered tones, with furtive glances.
“This is the first time I feel like I can be honest with a conference speaker about how I really feel”, and “why has it taken so many years for me to hear a Small Church pastor speak about Small Church issues?” were just two of the sentiments expressed.
Thank you, NorCal Nevada Assemblies of God for promoting The Grasshopper Myth to your ministers and inviting me to speak with and encourage Small Church pastors. I hope this is the start of a trend that others will pick up on.
The feeling of being disenfranchised doesn’t have to be a part of the Small Church experience any more, because…
4. A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way
The stories that touched me the most were the ones in which my ministry peers told me how reading my book had helped them, their families and their churches. It’s an extraordinary feeling to have a fellow pastor tell you that something you wrote has renewed his hope in ministry.
One pastor told me he had been just a couple weeks away from quitting the ministry entirely. Not because he didn’t love or feel loved in his church. Quite the opposite. But because he couldn’t get the church to grow – and the lack of growth made him feel like a failure. Until someone gave him a copy of my book.
He had the biggest grin on his face as he came to my book table. He had new hope. He could now enjoy being who he was, he told me, loving the people God had entrusted into his care. And all it took was one fellow pastor, expressing his own story in a book, to help him feel released from years of frustration and feelings of failure.
We need to encourage each other. Healthy churches and pastors may be one “atta boy” away.
5. Small Churches are in Good Hands
There are some amazingly talented and committed people leading Small Churches today. They do a lot with very little. They celebrate what God has given them. They soak in education and encouragement like sponges. And they have a contagiously optimistic outlook.
They’re making a difference.
6. We Don’t Have to Do This Alone
My main takeaway from this week? If you’re a Small Church pastor, do whatever you can to meet up with other Small Church pastors. Especially if you’re feeling down and discouraged. We need to hear uplifting stories from others who face similar challenges. It’s very healing to share stories, pains and prayers with each other.
I know it’s hard to make the time to do this. That’s why we closed each session last week with prayer for all the Small Church pastors who feel cut off because they can’t get to conferences like these. But we need to do this. I believe it’s almost as important for Small Church pastors to get together as it is for your congregation members to gather for church.
We need each other. You need us. We need you.
So what do you think? Do you have any stories about being blessed to lead a Small Church?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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