One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was trying to get my Small Church to think and act like a big church, was that I put too many layers between myself and the congregation God called me to serve.
I did that because I was told it was a necessary, even desirable step in getting the church and my ministry to be all that it could be.
This idea came from many church leadership conferences and books, in which the Jethro/Moses model was taught as the ideal pastoring method.
We all know the story. When Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, saw how much time Moses spent judging every petty dispute among 2 million ex-slaves, he suggested a system of under-shepherds for groups of 10, 50, 100 and 1,000, so that only the most difficult cases came to Moses. This freed Moses to deal with the more important matters of leading a great people to become a great nation.
That’s a wonderful model for leading massive groups, which is why Moses adopted it and the bible tells us about it. Churches of 500, 5,000 or 50,000 can practically cut-and-paste Jethro’s method onto their church leadership template.
But when you’re pastoring a Small Church, it requires some serious adaptations.
Jethro would not have suggested that model if Moses had been leading 50 people.
The Goal Is Better Pastoring
Of course every pastor needs to delegate the work of the church to as many people as possible, no matter what size the church is. It’s a vital element in developing a healthy church and discipling the congregation. And it’s something that most Small Church pastors I talk with admit we aren’t doing as well as we could – certainly not as well as we’d like to.
But one of the dangers of promoting big- to megachurch as the standard, is that we’ve led a generation of ministers to believe that delegating leadership means not being accessible to your congregation. And that such a lack of accessibility is an ideal to strive for. It’s not.
Moses was a shepherd. That was his heart and his occupation. He didn’t make the shift from shepherd to manager by choice, but out of necessity. And with some helpful guidance from someone who had significant leadership experience as a priest of Midian.
We’re sometimes told that, if want our church to grow, we need to become managers. I think that’s backwards.
Moses didn’t become the leader of a massive number of people because he developed an administrative leadership style. He adapted to an administrative leadership style because he found himself leading a massive number of people.
A pastor’s goal should never be to manage the crowd better, but to pastor the people better.
When a church gets big, that can only be done by delegating the pastoral work to a greater number of undershepherds, like Jethro taught Moses. But, in a smaller group, adopting a multi-layer management style means the people get less pastoring, not more.
The Small Church Pastor Is a 50- Or 100-Level Leader
Most people want to be pastored by their pastor. Especially in Small Churches. That’s one of the main reasons they choose a Small Church over a big one.
Many, perhaps most pastors are called and gifted and called to be hand-on pastors, not managers, organizers and fundraisers. Myself included. If that’s who you are, be who you are! Don’t let anyone tell you that being a caring, loving, hands-on pastor is the wrong way to do ministry.
In a big church, Jethro’s 10, 50, 100 and 1,000 level leadership model can, and should be fully implemented. When it is, there are at least four levels between the members and the pastor, meaning only the most vital, big issues get to the pastor. And rightfully so in a church of 2,000 or more.
But in a church of 50, even if the pastor has done a superb job of training, discipling and delegating 10-level leaders, the pastor is still dealing with all the 50-level problems. That means the Small Church pastor deals with a lot more personal and family issues than a megachurch pastor will ever see. And those are the issues that require a lot of time, patience and emotional fortitude. You know, the hands-on stuff.
So, if you’re pastoring a church of less than 100, by all means, train and delegate church members to minister and help each other. But, as a 50-level leader (or a 100-level one, like me) training people to do the work of ministry in a Small Church should never be done at the cost of the pastor no longer being accessible to congregation members.
In a smaller group, we can’t train other to do hands-on ministry unless we’re hands-on ourselves.
So what do you think? Is there a better way to balance delegation with hands-on ministry?
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