I Am a Small Church Pastor and I’m Calling Out the Church Leadership Bullies

Church growth BulliesThere are some bullies in church leadership.

No, not all of them. Not even most of them. But there are too many of them.

I doubt even one of the bullies realizes it. But they’re bullies, just the same.

Yes, that’s a strong accusation to make. I haven’t written it lightly. It’s the result of a great deal of thought, prayer and experience. And it may be a little surprising if you’ve read my recent post, 12 Ways to Disagree Online Without Being a Jerk.

But I stand by it.

It’s because I don’t think the bullies intend to be bullies that I’m using such a strong term – to help them see the hurt they’ve been causing to a certain segment of their fellow Christians and church leaders.

Small Churches and their leaders have suffered under the bullies for years. But no one has dared say it out loud. So I’m saying it today, because we can’t fix a problem until we acknowledge it.

Small Church pastors often feel bullied and insulted by the very church leaders we go to for help.

This problem is real. It’s hurtful. And it needs to stop. 


Why I Call It Bullying

What else would you call it when “small church” is commonly used as a synonym for “ignorant”, “backwards” and “faithless”? After all, that’s the assumption in the following quotes:

  • “That’s just small church thinking”
  • “Small churches are stuck in the past”
  • “Many churches are unfriendly and that’s why they’re small”
  • “Small churches are small because of a failure in leadership”
  • “Small churches refuse to adapt to new realities and that’s why they stay small”
  • “I don’t like small churches”
  • “I’m so sick of people with a small church mentality”
  • “If a church isn’t growing, it’s disobedient”
  • “It’s OK for a church to be small – for a little while”
  • “If a pastor is good at his job the church grows. If he’s bad at his job the church shrinks.”

And my all-time [ahem] favorite is some version of…

  • “I’ve got nothing against small churches, but…”

Yes, every one of those is an actual quote that I’ve either heard or read in the past few months. That’s how church growth leaders regularly talk about us – their Small Church partners in ministry.

I have intentionally not linked the quotes to their sources, because I don’t want to personalize this. But if you’re a Small Church pastor, those phrases sound very familiar, don’t they?

You might not choose to call such phrases bullying, but what you can’t call them is encouraging, helpful or kind.

And they sure feel like bullying to those on the receiving end.

Can you imagine any other normative member of the body of Christ being regularly referred to in such negative ways by church leaders, with no one raising an eyebrow about it? But they’re said about Small Churches all the time. And from some of the most honored and prominent church leaders in the world.


Insulting Small Churches Isn’t Kind, Helpful or Christian

How is it OK to insult fellow believers just because they worship and minister in Small Churches? And why do so many other church leaders, who would never say such things themselves, turn a deaf ear to it?

It’s not OK. So here’s my plea to church leaders who have used such phrases.

Stop insulting us and start encouraging us.

Stop being bullies and start being our friends. I know that’s what you want to do.

Yes, I’m calling you out.

If you’re OK with insulting Small Churches just because they’re small, realize that you’re inflicting unnecessary pain on 80-90% of the world’s churches and pastors. And on half of the Christians in the world who choose to worship Jesus in smaller settings.

Yes, there are Small Churches that are sinful, insulated, unfriendly, unbiblical and inward-focused. And many of them don’t grow numerically because of that. I wrote about those churches in a post entitled, I Don’t Like the Same Small Churches You Don’t Like. But their problem isn’t their size, it’s their sin.

Remember, there are sinful, insulated, unfriendly, unbiblical and inward-focused big churches, too. But their size has nothing to do with their sin, either.


Yes, Big Churches Get Insulted Too – And It’s Just As Wrong

If you think I’m being over-sensitive, or that I’m forgetting all the insults that are hurled at big churches, I’m not.

I actually spoke out against those who insult big churches long before I spoke out against those who insult Small Churches. It was the subject of one of my first blog posts, Hi, I’m Karl and I’m NOT a Megachurch Basher.

So no, Small Churches aren’t overly sensitive. And we don’t need anyone’s pity. But we need to stop accepting these insults as business-as-usual. Our silence helps no one.


Church Growth Is Not Optional

The church growth movement has brought some great blessings to the body of Christ. Their emphasis on the Great Commission is a constant reminder to be less selfish and more outward-focused.

Church growth is a good thing. An important thing. An essential thing.

People need Jesus. When they come to Jesus, they need to join a church. That means the church will grow if it is healthy. It must grow if it is to be faithful to Jesus’ commands. The church growth movement has elevated that non-optional part of the gospel.

So any church that settles for “this is all we have and all we need” isn’t just settling, they’re sinning.

But church growth doesn’t mean that every church will experience numerical increase. And it doesn’t give anyone the right to insult Small Churches for not experiencing that numerical growth.


Here’s An Alternative

I want the church to grow. I want my church to grow. Every hard-working, passionate, prayerful Small Church pastor I know wants that, too.

But constantly being told in blog posts, books and seminars that our churches are small because we’re stupid, lazy and sinful doesn’t encourage us, it discourages, sometimes disables us. And it’s caused a lot of good, faithful pastors to give up on ministry entirely.

We know our churches are small. And we’ve tried to get bigger.

  • Don’t criticize us. Encourage us.
  • Don’t insult us. Support us.
  • Don’t insist we get bigger. Help us get healthy.

Let’s start with a moratorium on lists about what were doing wrong. I wrote about why this matters in a post entitled, Please Stop Writing “Here’s Why Your Church Isn’t Growing” Lists – They Don’t Help. How about writing a bunch of “Let’s Encourage and Help Our Small Churches Get Strong and Healthy” articles, instead?

If you’re a church leader, there’s no way for me to describe to you how a series of articles and talks with that change of focus would bless thousands of hurting Small Churches and their leaders. You could literally save people’s ministries. I know because, even with my very limited reach, I’ve heard dozens of such testimonies back from pastors based on what I’ve written on this blog and in my book, The Grasshopper Myth.


We’re In This Together

Please don’t think we’re just asking for your help. The blessing should never flow just one way. We want to learn all we can from you. But I think you’d be surprised at what you can learn from us, too.

Small Churches and their leaders are the church’s boots-on-the-ground in communities around the world. If we worked together and combined your resources and wisdom with Small Church relationships and access, only God himself knows what could be accomplished.

But let me warn you, reaching out to Small Church pastors with a message of hope and help won’t be easy. There are a lot of broken bridges and damaged trust. The wounds are deep.

It starts by refusing to use “small church” as an insult and a term of derision. Only then will we have a fighting chance to see Small Churches as the asset and blessing that they are. 


So what do you think? Do you have any ideas helping the body of Christ heal these wounds?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Black Eye Boxer photo from Lord Jim • Flickr • Creative Commons license) 

52 thoughts on “I Am a Small Church Pastor and I’m Calling Out the Church Leadership Bullies”

  1. The biggest problem is that the larger churches see no benefit from partnering with the small church. Often we are looked at as the “poor relative” with some motive of trying to gain something. Thanks to reading “The Grasshopper Myth” I have learned to appreciate my church of 24 more. And yes, we are a church as important in the Kingdom as a church of 240.

  2. Karl – Well said.
    I’m thinking of a particular small church with which I was very familiar, which illustrates the situations for many small churches.

    This church had a bi-vocational pastor who was constantly touching the people in his community and helping more people than you could count.

    A couple of examples: People would come to church, get saved and before long be transferred to some other part of the country. Or people would have teenage kids and his small church didn’t have the kind of program that the larger church had a few miles away. Or they would get well grounded and God would open a door of ministry for them elsewhere.

    That pastor understood that he was blessing many areas of God’s church and accepted the fact that his small church was doing what the Lord of the harvest had placed him there to do.

    Did that pastor ever feel humiliated by the kinds of comments your blog talks about? You bet he did! But he would just give it to God and continue being faithful.

    His church served as a “reception center” to the kingdom of God, but then the people would be moved on to other areas where they would continue their walk with the Lord.

  3. I’m a layman serving on both a pastor development board and a district administrative board. Currently I’m leading a rural church that is not even part of my denomination.

    On the district level we wrestle with a wide demographic that includes churches in major cities and numerous churches in vast rural expanses. A big church in Kansas City or St. Jo can be struggling, while a rural congregation of 50 to 75 can be thriving. Preparing, enabling, and equipping pastors for our churches is a major challenge because our pastors function in a wide array of cultures within our state. We have learned, to be successful, we need to ask the right questions not assume and generalize. This fall we held our district board retreat in a town of 500 people, in a remote corner of the state, just to give our urban members a taste of rural reality.

    Until leaders of large and small churches sit down together and respectfully exchange experiences and the realities of their ministries there will be many foolish statements made by those who assume they know, when actually, they haven’t a clue.

    Valuable time and energy is squandered over caustic statements made by those who don’t know! I tell pastors and laymen alike, “YOU are Incredible! Jesus makes you Incredible for each day! Let Jesus Handle the “Unknowing”! Get Out There And Serve Christ Like There’s No Tomorrow! We don’t have time to quibble over some one else’s opinion”

  4. Another homerun Karl. What I find sad is how many leaders don’t know they’re doing this. Hopefully, they’ll take this challenge and we’ll see some real community and uplift because of it. What’s scary is how many know they’re doing it and do it still…all for the sake of being “better?”

    1. I completely agree that most of them have no idea how hurtful their comments are. That’s what gives me hope. We need to lovingly, but firmly tell them what their comments do to hurting pastors or they’ll never know it needs to change.

  5. Excellent post, Karl!

    My father was once pastor of a “medium” church in La Mesa many years ago in the 1950s. He was promoted from a “small” struggling church in La Jolla. The idea then – maybe now, too – was that if you work hard in a small church you’ll fine tune your sermons & ministry, polish-up your presentation, and land a bigger church in the future.

    Then he went to a small church in Hanford. Then a relatively medium sized church in Lodi…which grew to 500 people by 1968. That’s a pretty good size back then. That’s where I grew up. And I look back at that growing church in Lodi with affection & fond memories of a fellowship dedicated to missions…home and far away. Dad would later serve as pastor @ 3 more “small” churches in his ministry. Later in life my Mom lamented to me about my Dad, “you know, your Dad never had a big church in his ministry.” My Mom only saw numbers and success. If you were in a small church, well, it needs to grow. True success, to her, was landing a BIG church.

    It was all vanity. Then…and now. To them, success was a BIG church.


  6. Karl, I am consistently blessed and encouraged by your thoughtful and strait forward words. I as a small church pastor have actually bullied my own church with some of these same phrases…until I read your book The Grasshopper Myth. My whole perspective on leading as small church has changed.

    1. Yeah, I spent too many years doing that, too. Including to my church and myself. I had to live it and get past it before I could write about it. I’m glad my past mistakes can be turned into a blessing for others.

  7. Well as a small church pastor, I’d have to say that this article hits home for me. A few of my favorites…

    “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

    In other words; “if your church is small then it is because you are not a good pastor.”

    And this one always particularly stinging to me…

    “The true test of leadership? Go for a walk. Turn around. If people are following you then you are a leader.”

    Implication? “The more people that follow you on your walk – the better you are at being a leader. If people aren’t following you then you aren’t good at what you are doing.”

    And I always ask God, “Lord, if I am such a terrible pastor… Why did you ask me to do this? You knew I would be terrible.”

    I always try and remember Moses. One day he was in the wilderness leading nobody. The only sheep he was leading were sheep! And then a short time later Moses was leading millions of people. Did Moses do something to himself to “become a better leader”? Did he acquire some sort of skill set in that final week in the desert and then God said, “Ah… Now Moses has got it! Now I can finally use him!” For some reason I don’t think that is what happened. I mean – was it Moses who came up with the brilliant leadership concept of leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands? No! It was his pagan father-in-law! So could it be that God has a purpose for us to pastor a church of 50, 100, or 1000? Couldn’t it be that we are not broken? But that God has a plan? And that part of that plan is that some shepherds have small flocks and that some shepherds have larger flocks?

    More than I intended on writing.

  8. I think the one that gets me the most is when people start knocking small churches for lack of growth. Church growth does not need to mean how many butts are in the pews. If you’re a small church in a small town, the number of butts is already limited…. you can’t get more into the pews if more don’t exist in the area. I find spiritual Church growth to be more important than the numerical. Would you rather grow from 50 to 250, but most of those 250 are only there out of some sense of religious obligation; or would you rather stay at 50 and watch those 50 become true disciples of Christ, not only showing up at church, but teaching and helping and ministering to those in need… growing in Christ and in the faith, and being true Christian men and women?

  9. Pingback: RT @KarlVaters: Small Church pastors often feel bu… | The Richard W. Hendricks Experience

  10. Juan Carlos Gonzalez

    Karl. I want to encourage you today as you are articulating many sentiments that because of the Love of Christ and His church are seldom dissected in an open forum like this one. Thank you for writing from your heart for in doing so you are validating that some voices are not ignored. From a small church planter in Japan, be encouraged! Juan Carlos Gonzalez.

  11. Thanks. The article was excellent. I was part of a denomination with the message that small churches are not viable. I always thought that was wrong thinking. Once again, Thanks! God works in small groups really well, say like maybe a group of 12.

  12. I am a small church pastor, and I have always wanted to be a small church pastor. Thank you for posting this.

    I want to add that some people (like myself) find their faith strengthened in a small church, and we need to be OK with that. There is something wonderful about seeing the same people all the time, experiencing their lives intimately and being a part of mission together. Not saying that you can’t find that in a large church, but it is kind of the only option in a (healthy) small church.

    I hope that this post serves as a call to people that it doesn’t matter what size your church is, we are all ‘The Church’ and we can all learn from one another.

    1. Thanks, Collin. The more time I spend in ministry, the more I’m convinced that it’s God’s desire to have churches of all styles and sizes. As long as we’re focusing on the basics, everything else is a matter of personal preference. And no personal preference is better than any other – except to the person whose faith is strengthened by it.

  13. I think much of the “bullying” is structural and Cultural. Big is good; small is bad. A Pastor can be proud if he eventually gets into a large church;until then he is a failure. I share this little bit of personal experience: Forrest, I hear you. Back when I was a Parish pastor in a two point charge in Northern Wisconsin, I and my Financial Staff were invited to a training by the Conference. It was about organizing a Pledge Drive and was led by an “expert” from a large church. While he was telling us how we should conduct ourselves, I was doing the math and quickly found that the small Churches in the District were giving more per member than the big, rich City Churches per member. When I pointed this out and asked why our “expert” wasn’t from a small Church, I was politely ignored, though I did get some chuckles and knowing looks from a lot of small church Treasurers, Financial Secretaries and Pastors.

    1. I think you’re on to something there, Paul. Studies have also been done by the Barna Institute and Lifeway (I think) that show Small Churches have higher levels of volunteerism, first-time conversions and church planting, per capita. That doesn’t make them better than big churches, but it does point out one of the disparities between perceived value and real value.

  14. Karl, I really appreciated your article and would agree that the hubris that is communicated by many leader’s does create a sense in which the “small church” environment is at times being ridiculed as being “off mission” or even worse, not even considered kingdom minded. Now here is a moment of honesty – “I have made these statements.” I agree with the notion that Jesus must love small churches because he creates so many of them!” With that being said I am going to take a risk here in possibly having my motive checked, but I also know that there are certain practices (orthopraxy), that can limit growth and there can be be an adherence to a particular “way of thinking” or (orthodoxy), that can keep a congregation small. For me having been the Primus Leader in both contexts I have come to the conclusion that if a church is effectively doing the mission of God both within and outside of their church they are on mission and should be applauded. For instance, is a church in some way unleashing compassion and serving the needs of their local community regardless of size they are on mission.

    My ecclesiology understands the local church in the matrix of a “parish model” versus a “static location.” Therefore, I do not simply pastor the people who attend my services, but instead, I serve a community. In light of this context regardless of the attendance of one’s services every church in it’s “missional context” is not small. In light of this I would be very interested on continuing this dialog an attempt to create a language that would not be hurtful to small churches and at the same time be able to address some of the systemic issues that hinder churches in their fruitfulness which is measured more than just in numbers of attendance.

    Once again, thank you for this post it challenged me to think and I hope I am a recovering bully.

    1. Thank for the input, Al. I’ve been guilty of some bullying statements in the past, too. Including putting myself and my own church down for being “too small”. The only reason I didn’t mention it in this post (other than length) was that I’ve dealt with that in The Grasshopper Myth and previous posts.

      You’re completely right about many churches staying small because they’re guilty of unbiblical practices that limit healthy growth. That’s one of the reasons I tagged my post “I Don;t Like the Same Small Churches You Don’t Like” in this post.

      As to your statement,”I do not simply pastor the people who attend my services, but instead, I serve a community”, you couldn’t be more right about that. I think it’s a false dichotomy that we have to choose between “pastoring the church you have” and “pastoring the church you want to have.” A healthy church doesn’t choose one or the other – we do both! In fact, if reaching out to the community isn’t a big part of what you teach your church to do, you’re not pastoring your current church well, either.

  15. This very powerful. I was pastor at a large church for many years and now pastor a small church. The lessons are many and there have been times I have felt I owed an apology for things said so ignorantly on my part. God help us to lift up Christ crucified and that alone!

    1. It’s not easy making the transition from leading a big church to a small one. It can challenge everything you thought you knew about pastoring. Not everyone can handle it. But it sounds like you’re getting the idea. Keep faithful.

  16. I’ve pastored in churches of just one family. I was honoured that God would trust me to be faithfull to that calling. I stopped attending conferences… I was so saddened to be so often asked… ‘so how many do you have in your services’. Not once, not ever, did anyone ever ask ‘are you faithfull to God’s calling’.

    1. I had to stop going to conferences for a while, too. But the Lord helped change my perspective and I was able to go back, eventually. I hope you don’t let your absence at conferences keep you from pastoral fellowship. We need each other.

  17. Pingback: Small Churches and Bullying | Blue Chip Pastor

  18. One I heard recently: “Satan loves small churches because of their diminished capacity to expand the kingdom of God”.

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  20. Pingback: Bullying, pastoring, and deep satisfaction | Blue Chip Pastor

  21. I”m a pastor who ministers “free of charge” and refuse the right to pay” and I’m calling out all the hired pastors for rejecting the Apostle Paul’s very clear teaching and example setting on refusing the right to pay, and ministry free of charge. Acts 20; 1 Cor 9.; 2 Cor. 11; 2 Cor 12; 1 Thes. 3; and more. This rejection accomplishes the following corruptions:
    1. It forces the saints to consume 86% of their “giving” on average to buy this system that benefits mostly their own passivity in ministry.
    2. It demonstrates that it is far more important that American believers get a professional Bible lecture every week of their lives than it is for those who have no one to tell them the gospel to have a preacher sent to them for the first time. Romans 8
    3. Pulpit teaching is perpetual dependency teaching. No one is ever “fully trained” to be “like” their teacher. Luke 6:40; 2 Tim 2:1,2
    4. Heb. 10:24,25, the key scripture calling saints to “not forsake” gathering, is fully ignored of it’s instruction every Sunday morning as the saints gather for one-way communication rather than “spurring one another on to love and good works” and “encouraging one another”. “And all the more as we see the day approaching” is turned into “and all the less…”.
    5. Where the first mark of the filling of the Spirit is “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…”, the filling is rejected as all the singing is driven from a platform – the exact opposite of God’s instructions. Eph. 5:19.
    This is just the beginning of this list but I”ll stop there.

    In case I’m wrong on this, maybe someone could share just one scripture where God calls a man to deliver a weekly Bible lecture to believers every week of their life till they die, and leads the saints such that they will be dependent on professionalized services their whole life, never being “fully equipped for every good work” or “equipped to do the work of the ministry” including the ones the hired man does. I can’t seem to find this calling. Help me out if you know one. At one point in my life I “felt” this calling, but when I checked it out with scripture, nothing matched.

    1. I would say Paul’s comment in 1 Tim 5 is applicable to what you are talking about. He said that we not to muzzle the ox while they thresh the grain. A pastor whose position is to preach and teach is worthy of double honor, ie being paid for his message. He is paid so he is freed up to do it well.

      1. Thanks for your reply. Is teaching in 1Tim. 5 limited to a 30 – 45 minute lecture? Tradition limits it but the text does not from what I can see. Other texts specifically call for all believers to participate from their heart but these are eliminated from the worship gathering. Is that good? Is teaching limited only to one man every week after month after year? Tradition limits it this way but the text does not. Other texts call for teachers to “fully train” and “entrust” their teaching ministry to others. This does not fail to happen when you pay one man to lecture the whole event, every week, all year. Do you see how this tradition limited view nullifies so many other texts by a text that does not say specifically these limits?

        Was Paul a muzzled ox by refusing pay? Was Timothy and Titus muzzled? The Word says they followed Paul’s teaching and example in every way. All believers are to be workers, ministers serving. As I view the current system, they are all muzzled, and they enjoy it that way. Are you okay with that? You probably know how hard it is in the current system to get even the parents to help teach their own children the Bible in Sunday School. They want to outsource that too. (It’s not my gift.)

        I have not found a text that calls for one man to dominate the teaching of the saints in perpetual dependency mode and call it a position. This is actually unbiblical teaching (Luke 6:40; 2 Tim. 2:1,12) because it ignores the goal of teaching and thus is not worthy of double honor. Can you see through the deep fog of tradition that limits our understanding in ways the Bible does not speak to and allows us to completely ignore many other clear texts completely? Is there someone you know who would want to fool believers into thinking something unbiblical is godly?

        If a teacher in a position is a “fully training” and “entrusting” teacher, he will not need to dominate. He will have time to work a job to “meet his own needs” and not be a “burden” (2Cor. 12) on the saints. The more accurate meaning of burden is numbing. God’s people are being numbed by paying men to teach them. Today’s system follows the Corinthians preferred approach rather than Paul’s deep heartfelt appeals to follow his example.

        If you persist in assuming the position to lecture the Word for the whole teaching every week with no reproductivity, you must accept items 1 – 4 above. Are these not systemic failures compared to the Word?

        If you follow the muzzling quote to the other texts before it you see no comparison between going to a village with no believers looking for a man of peace, living with them and having them provide hospitality while you minister and a group of saints who have heard 500+ sermons paying a man to wage to live on his own to provide another 500 or so Bible lectures. I don’t see the connection. Am I missing something?

        I commend you for your response. Most hired men, even of small churches, are too deeply imbedded in tradition to offer any substantive reply. They might feel it is beneath them or they think their pattern is too wise to reply to a fool such as I who questions this 1000+ year old tradition.

        1. Hi Tim. Thanks for a passionate expression of something that is obviously very important. Let me answer a couple of your questions directly.

          “Is teaching in 1Tim. 5 limited to a 30 – 45 minute lecture?” NO

          “Is teaching limited only to one man every week after month after year? Tradition limits it this way but the text does not.” NO. Any tradition that limits pastoral ministry to that would be highly unbibilcal.

          “Other texts call for teachers to “fully train” and “entrust” their teaching ministry to others”. Absolutely. That would be a foundational principle for any pastor of any healthy church.

          “I have not found a text that calls for one man to dominate the teaching of the saints in perpetual dependency mode and call it a position.” Agreed.

          What you’re describing in this second comment isn’t something that most pastors (including me) would call a good pastor or a healthy church. So, if your argument is that no one should be paid to provide the kind of unheathy “ministry” you’re describing, I would totally agree with you.

          But saying that a pastor shouldn’t receive due compensation for pastoring in an unhealthy manner (what your second comment seems to be saying) is not the same as saying that a pastor who equips the saints for the work of ministry shouldn’t ever receive compensation (what your first comment seems to be saying.)

          It’s perfectly fine for a pastor to refuse payment for their ministry – as Paul did. That is not “muzzling the ox”, it’s the ox choosing not to eat. In every passage you mentioned (Acts 20; 1 Cor 9.; 2 Cor. 11; 2 Cor 12; 1 Thes. 3) the apostles are choosing not to receive pay. But none of them say a pastor should never receive pay.

          On the other hand, it is completely improper for a pastor to receive compensation if they’re not fulfilling their calling in a biblical manner, as you’ve described in your second comment.

          But there is no biblical basis to say that a pastor who is pastoring in a healthy, biblical manner should not be paid for it. Refusing to pay someone when they have fulfilled their calling well is what VanPastorMan correctly referred to as “muzzling the ox.”

          1. Karl
            ““Is teaching limited only to one man every week after month after year? Tradition limits it this way but the text does not.” NO. Any tradition that limits pastoral ministry to that would be highly unbibilcal.”
            You and I both know that 99.9% of churches have a pulpit and pew setup and all of those churches will be one man lecturing the Word every week till the Lord comes. Everyone that can afford a hired man to dominate (free the saints from being responsible to “speak the truth in love…”) in this way will hire him. Doesn’t your church do it this way?

            I don’t know of any pastoral books that teach pastors to “fully train” or “entrust” what they do to the men in the church. There is a fence around the duties of the pastor and they are only for him. That is why we have hundreds seminaries. Local church leadership reproduction does not happen except in maybe .01% of churches. John Piper, one of the greatest pastors in the nation spoke in a video of the power of ordinary men to do God’s work. He has preached hundreds of great sermons to the men in his church for 20 years. Did they pick one of those men to take his place or a group of them to do what he does? No, they picked a shining star seminary teacher and book writer, etc. They have no confidence in local leadership reproduction. Every church that is 5 years old and still needs a hired Bible lecturer is proof they don’t have a reproducing pastor. They all assume only a hired man is ever a pastor. (Rare exceptions for churches that can’t afford to pay one, but they still wish they could.They still don’t understand refusing pay.)

            “In every passage you mentioned (Acts 20; 1 Cor 9.; 2 Cor. 11; 2 Cor 12; 1 Thes. 3) the apostles are choosing not to receive pay. But none of them say a pastor should never receive pay.”

            This is where your exegesis is missing the mark and cultural driven eisegesis is taking over. All the expert phd’s agree with you there also but only because like you they separate 1 Tim 5 from the rest of the NT and assume feeding the ox means never working a job ever, your whole life. The massive weight of 1000+ years of tradition and 1000”s of godly men before you have all bought into this tradition. But scripture does not. How bold of me to challenge them all. That’s what Luther did in his day, as well as William Carey in his day and many others. Paul is very clear that he said and did was for you and the rest of us to follow till the Lord comes. (2Thes. 3:7.9) He even repeats himself “imitate” and “an example to imitate”. (I’m writing a “sermon” on all these refusing pay texts. I’m using primarily John MacArthur’s commentaries since he is one of the most widely used current experts. He just passes over so many things on these points or speaks as if nothing Paul has said applies to him. John is exempt for some reason. He doesn’t say why. He doesn’t feel he needs to. It’s assumed. Maybe he thinks he can get away with it because no one will question him. I say he has a “strange fire” of his own going on this faulty tradition. )

            Paul gives many amazing reasons why to refuse pay. You only get the benefits Paul ascribes to ministry “free of charge” unless it’s offered free. When you pay for ministry you loose the benefits. Can you tell me 10 benefits of ministry free of charge? There are more than this. Let me give you one to start. No burden. Four times in 2 Cor 12 Paul uses this word as well as others such as 2 Thes. 3 specifically the burden on God’s people when they pay men to serve them. The Corinthians believers did not see this burden, and perhaps you don’t either. The word more literally means numbed. No feeling. Anesthetized. There is no more accurate picture of saints than this word sitting in their pews each week saying nothing form their heart to their fellow believers week after year after decade. Zero priestliness taking place. No “proclaiming the glories of him who called you from darkness to light…” Can you grasp this?

            Paul makes a large distinction between believers paying someone to minister to themselves and paying or supporting someone to minister where there is no gospel witness. There were times when Paul received occasional gifts from saints in other towns because he had a need and he was bring the gospel where there was none – no church. His business did not fully meet his needs. This is very distanct from believers assuming there are men who will never work a job, claim they are the only ones in “full time ministry”, wear a special title, and lead the saints as if they will only be dumb (zero personal expression) sheep their whole lives in the worship gathering, needing a hired shepherd to give 99% of the personal expression of truth.

            Yes there is biblical basis for pastors refusing pay, leading free of charge.
            1. They don’t need the pay. They have “fully trained” other men to share the load so no one has to be “full time” in anything.
            2. There are multiple benefits of ministry free of charge. If you want those benefits you prioritize ministry for it to be free.
            3. Paul’s clear teaching on this is for us today and every shepherd. Paul was not merely a word speaking teacher. He was a teacher by example, just like Peter said an elder should do.

            One last question: Is it really 5 times more important for American believers to have a hired man give them a Bible lecture every week than to deliver the good news to people who have never heard and have no one to tell them? Romans 10:14,15 We spend at least 5 times more on our assumed needs than on their eternal needs. Are you okay with that?

            Brother Karl, I urge you to be like Timothy. 2 Timothy 3:10
            You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,… This covers covers everything Paul said and did for us to join in with him in partnership.

        2. Tim, I appreciate your thoroughness on the subject. And I can’t take the time to write as much. But I do have a question. Was Paul acting as a missionary or was he a pastor? It seems to me that as a missionary whose goal was to get a church up and running was far different than a person who is a pastor who lives his whole life among the people. I am sure pastoral ministry looked a lot different in the 1st Century than it does now. Today we are so mobile. We move from state to state and minister. Back then a man who was called to be a teaching elder probably was one for life or until his heath gave out.

  22. This is not only a problem small churches face, this is also a problem for itinerant ministers who feel called to the Body of Christ at large and still finds himself ministering in small churches 95% of the time. Yes, we would like to minister in bigger churches. But I have found a lot of diamonds and gold in small churches all over the world. Just because we may have arrived at a higher level, doesn’t mean we have arrived. The spirit of competition among us has (as you have said) destroyed a lot of bridges that will take a while to rebuild. Great article my brother and keep writing!

  23. Pingback: Morning Roundup 3/19/14 | The Chronicles

  24. Van, thank you for your reply and questions. Your choosing to be “one another” with me on this issue puts you in maybe 1 in 1000 pastors. Most refuse to examine the scriptures on this issue except to parrot what they have been told, and cling to all the added assumptions tacked on. Ignoring my admonishing is part of their guarding their deeply felt traditions. From what I see Paul was both missionary and pastor, not either or. He brought the gospel to places where there was no human witness, gathered those who responded in faith to build churches. Recognizing that to raise up pastors / elders you have to model it, not merely talk it, just like Jesus did, so he did just that. To show that a man could work a job and help believers grow he taught and did just that. Paul recognized that there were many reasons from the OT, from culture, from human logic, and from the commands of Jesus that would be used to justify paying men to lead in church. He lays them all out in 1 Cor. 9:1-14. Then he passionately and directly shows how these reasons should be trumped by more important and more strategic reasons for following the great commission. The reasons from 15 on are far greater than those in 1 -14. I marvel as I read commentaries by leading expositors. They completely ignore that Paul is giving reasons for refusing pay when you lead. They completely disengage everything Paul says from what they practice. The exegesis is horrible. I think they are very sincere but their minds are so clouded by tradition and it’s assumptions full of eisegesis that they can’t see the truth. I was right there. My heart was clouded over with tradition. Praise God I can see it so clearly now. I’m just a brother spreading the good news.

    I would say pastoring is so different today, not because we are so mobile but because the current function is so radically warped from what the scriptures say. This warping pushes pastors to be mobile. They want a raise. They want greener pasture and to start over. The system trains people to be self-seeking so things get ugly. They came in as a stranger, they had to maintain a “professional distance”, so it’s easy to move on, and on and on. Give me a reason why pastors move around and I can probably show you how that happened because the current system is so disobedient to the Word. It’s all systematized and excused and justified and guarded and defended. It’s been this way so long it is all just normal. Compared to God’s it is very corrupted. The corruption is in every element of hired ministry system, not just the stewardship or money part of it.

  25. Hi everybody, this was a great article. My name is joseph Vegas and I am 32 years old and married to my amazing wife Jade Vegas. I pastored a church of 30 people for a year in the Los Angeles CA area, and it was there in that little church that I found the love of my life- Jade. God had a wonderful bride awaiting me there, and if I would of shunned pastoring that LITTLE CHURCH we would of never met. At this time I am trying to get back into ministry. I have earned over 40 certificates, 3 diplomas in biblical studies, and am currently enrolled in an online bible college (but because I lack a masters degree- the medium/large churches over look and shun me (like I am a SMALL time pastor who is not called of God). I’m looking for a small church who is in need of a pastor. My wife is just 23 more days away from finishing her semester of school and receiving her degree in administrative justice (law enforcement). We are open to go wherever the Lord sends us…EVEN A SMALL CHURCH NOBODY WANTS TO PASTOR. If anyone knows anything, please email me at: (josephvegas17@gmail.com). I look forward to serving a little church that would appreciate my wife and I for years to come. Lord bless you all!!! (April 9th, 2014)

  26. the bigger churches, simply steal my flock i’m not sure if its on purpose or not but when they get word I have new people coming in its not long and they are going to brand x church. it doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens a lot. I have a apt/house church and I am the laughing stock of the community, and the larger churches insist I am not a pastor because I am hosting out of my apt/house they simply consider this a small group and don’t give me the time of day.
    I believe their are more jealous bullies than you or anyone realizes. I am currently In the process of coming up with a small church pastor retreat/conference/training through the help of the Holy Spirit this will be accomplished early to mid 2015, only because I myself am tired of the mega-church bullies! we are a small church and if we can all unite and come together as one in the body of Christ we can educate the so called mega-churches to respect us as a church. anyone with me? let me know : tkjthom@hotmail.com. no derogatory comments to my email or you will be 1.reported. 2. deleted. 0 tolerance.
    be blessed, Pastor Kev.

  27. A lot of passion here, and a lot of opinions. Typical of small church culture, and in my opinion, a key ingredient of why small churches often have a richer fellowship than large churches. But its been my observation that small church leaders sometimes have higher expectations than is practical or practicable. Smaller churches seems to me, to be a misleading definition, as does larger. i refuse to use the term, or engage in conversation about them when thats the emphasis. I insist on changing the vocabulary to deep or shallow, spiritual or unspiritual, Christlike or fleshly. If they wont engage in that vein, i assume they dont want to pass their experiences and mindset thru the filter of scripture. If they do, we will learn from one another.
    its silly to describe a church as small or large, just as its useless to describe the merits of a family this way, but in scripture, we are called a family. in our 4 decades as a small church, weve passed thru all the stages that families do, and
    we have the battle wounds to prove it.
    Christian families can and should be small churches, but dont need to be to survive, whereas all churches must be familial if they are growing up into Christ likeness together.
    In our experience, leaders are leaders because they are fatherly or motherly, and added to that they have gifts and sometimes clear callings. Those attributes work in churches of two to two thousand, however they organize, although the more executive authority there is being flaunted, the more trouble there is with relational growth.
    May i suggest that we try to stay on track measuring our growth, success or failure, size etc, by using vocabulary only found in scripture? If we limit our field of measurement to exclude language and metrics borrowed from business and popular culture, i believe leadership will be less stressful. just a thought. blessings and thanks to all of you who pay a price to follow Him on the high road of humility, and the low road of servant leadership.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Greg. I agree with most of what you have to say. While I agree that we shouldn’t use size to determine a church’s value, I don’t agree that “it’s silly to describe a church as large or small”. Certainly, size should never be our primary defining characteristic (health should be), but I think it’s unwise to ignore size as though it doesn’t matter.

      Big churches are small churches are different. They operate under different leadership paradigms, they appeal to different people and they can accomplish different tasks for the kingdom. I believe Paul’s body metaphor applies well here. The hand can’t say to the foot, “I don’t need you,” just like the foot shouldn’t say “because I’m not a hand, I’m not important.” Paul doesn’t tell us to ignore our differences, but to understand the value of them.

      I think that applies to church size, too. As long as a church is healthy, it has a contribution to make. Big churches offer certain gifts. Small Churches offer others. Each has value.

      1. ok. admittedly i have zero experience inside a church like most of you all appear to be part of but it seems a bit contradictory to me hearing a nearly universal lament about how large churches look down on their own previous small size, or others, and yet u say if they are healthy, they have value?
        Value is an industrial term that applies to productivity or capital, but it begs definition in this case? Can u rejig that to describe, in biblical jargon, how they meet and the fruit test that Jesus pits them against in Revelation?
        More to the point, how do large churches that operate on an industrial scale in a community, and that hurt or ignore smaller churches, meet any biblical standard, or produce fruit that is commendable in biblical terms?
        if the lions share of believers in any given community are running around the hampster wheel of mega churches, what possible metric could they or any of us employ to measure, or even discuss their ‘value’?
        At best it seems to me that it must be a self congradulatory exercise.
        At worst, history shelves are practically empty of succeeding generational records where the majority christian stakeholders in our culture drove back the hordes of hell. We Christians, as a whole, are systematically losing the culture, and the country, when at one time, until very recently, we were the guardians of it.
        I personally find much of the public dialogue or discourse among Christians to be akin to a tempest in a teapot.
        I think we have been run off course as a collective family and are failing to keep the main thing, the main thing.
        The main thing is each other. Family.
        Both kinds; biological and Christs.
        Families, healthy ones, dont settle for being of value. They strive for and accept nothing less, among many other qualities, than loving unity in the bond of peace.
        They are intolerant of language or people who try to change their family nature into a corporation, business, army, hierarchy, feifdom, mission organisation, cell group ad nauseum, although they may exhibit some of those attributes at times, for several reasons.
        i believe we are at the same mile marker in our modern trajectory as a church, that Luther found himself in prior to Wittenburgh.
        The time for tweaking practices and positions is beyond the effective power to bring us back on course as children, sitting together at Jesus feet in loving unity, learning His ways.
        If we are to redeem the time, and any remnant of our lost testimony as a refuge for sinners, we must go under the surgeons knife. We must let God bind us together thru His loving judgements.
        We must return to hearing the still small voice of His Spirit behind us, as He whispers ‘ This is the way; walk ye in it’.
        Abandon the OT paradigm of teaching our neighbor the law and embrace the NT Life of being taught by Christ Himself, collectively at His feet.
        If we use our positions and gifts as leaders to demonstrate by example to our followers, that it is not only possible, but its expected by Father, that His will be done in the church as it in in heaven, then we will witness God back us up in power, love and a sound mind that the whole creation is groaning for.
        That will NOT come to pass until we empty our stadiums and board rooms and retire to our various upper rooms, to wait upon Him.
        Everything we think, do and say, other than seeking 1st His kingdom with such a focus and abandon, will eventually be revealed to be wood, hay and stubble.
        Leaders worth their salt know this, and are already doing this. Those leaders who dont should be asked to step down and should be prevented from teaching little lambs and the flock, by real watchmen.
        Todays battle, as always, is between the flesh vs Spirit. Not left vs right wing, male vs female, small vs large, rural vs urban et al.
        Id better quit b4 this becomes a sermon.
        blessings all.

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