The Main Thing I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Pastor

target 200c“They didn’t tell me this in bible school.”

How many times has every Small Church pastor said that under our breath while dreading the upcoming deacon meeting, trying to take our first weekend off in years, or doing random repairs on the church building?

Thom Rainer surveyed a bunch of pastors on that question, without regard to church size, then published the results in a great post, entitled “Ten Things Pastors Wish They Knew Before They Became Pastors.”

At the end of the post, Rainer asked if there was a response any of his readers might add to the list.

As you might have guessed, I have one I would definitely add.

But before we get to that, here’s the list Rainer posted. They’re the top ten responses by frequency, not necessarily importance:

  1. I wish someone had taught me basic leadership skills
  2. I needed to know a lot more about personal financial issues
  3. I wish I had been given advice on how to deal with power groups and power people in the church
  4. Don’t give up your time in prayer and the Word
  5. I wish someone had told me I needed some business training
  6. Someone should have told me that there are mean people in the church
  7. Show me how to help my kids grow up like normal kids
  8. I wish I had been told to continue to date my wife
  9. Someone needed to tell me about the expectation of being omnipresent
  10. I really needed help knowing how to minister to dying people

That’s a good list. When you compare the realities of ministry to what’s typically taught in bible schools and seminaries, it makes a lot of sense. I hope our pastoral educators are paying attention to it.

Now here’s my addition to the list.

 

A Reality We Don’t Want to Acknowledge

At the risk of repeating myself from previous posts

I wish someone had told me I was likely to pastor a Small Church for at least some of my ministry – and how to do it well.

If Rainer had asked this as a multiple choice question, with that option thrown in, it might have landed near the top of the list for a lot of other pastors, too.

So why didn’t it make the list? I think it’s because church growth is so ingrained into our church leadership culture that the idea of learning a unique set of skills to pastor a healthy Small Church just isn’t on our radar screens. Why would we want to get good at something when we think it’s a bad thing to be? And why would we want to know about pastoring a Small Church when many Small Church pastors won’t even acknowledge to ourselves that we are Small Church pastors?

It all goes back to our “bigger is better” mindset. We don’t tell young ministers they’re likely to pastor a Small Church because it feels like we’re telling them “you’re not likely to succeed in ministry”. After all, if bigger is better, then smaller feels like failure. And if you’re preparing for smaller you’re setting yourself up for failure, right?

But smaller isn’t failure. It’s not even unusual. It’s the norm. It’s 90% of churches. So why is it that even when we find ourselves pastoring a Small Church, we refuse to see it as the norm? We have to change our mindset on this.

We have to start seeing pastoring a Small Church as the norm, or at least stop seeing it as a failure. Only then will we have the hope of seeing healthier Small Churches, pastored by healthier pastors.

That’s what I wish someone had told me. So that’s what I plan to tell others.

 

So what do you think? What would you add to the list of things you wish you’d been taught?

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(Target photo from See-ming Lee 李思明 • Flickr • Creative Commons)

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4 thoughts on “The Main Thing I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Pastor”

  1. Maybe we think it’s somehow a sin to be small? Like, we don’t like to talk about our sins…and we don’t like to talk about our ‘small’ church.

    1. Not exactly a “sin,” but definitely a “deficiency.” If being “small” is “bad,” then it makes sense that concern about how to do it well didn’t make the Top 10. You wouldn’t want to admit you’re in that group. It’s much easier to list things that pastors of small churches are expected to do well: business management, interpersonal relationships, financial analysis, omnipresence, administration, prize-winning oratory, stellar parenting, etc. All in one person, At the drop of a hat, 24×7. Nice work if you can get it, eh? Yes, it is.

  2. Maybe we think it’s somehow a sin to be small? Like, we don’t like to talk about our sins…and we don’t like to talk about our ‘small’ church.

    1. Not exactly a “sin,” but definitely a “deficiency.” If being “small” is “bad,” then it makes sense that concern about how to do it well didn’t make the Top 10. You wouldn’t want to admit you’re in that group. It’s much easier to list things that pastors of small churches are expected to do well: business management, interpersonal relationships, financial analysis, omnipresence, administration, prize-winning oratory, stellar parenting, etc. All in one person, At the drop of a hat, 24×7. Nice work if you can get it, eh? Yes, it is.

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