Only In a Small Church: Sometimes You Gotta Kill Cockroaches

killing cockroaches 200cSmall Churches aren’t just smaller versions of big churches. They have unique gifts, challenges and methods of operation.

But not everyone realizes that fact. Including some Small Church pastors.

This often leads to frustration when we go to ministerial conferences or read pastoral books. Most (usually all) of the speakers and authors are from large churches, so they offer large church solutions. But when we try to implement them, many of them don’t work for us.

It’s not that the speakers and authors are giving bad advice. It’s just that what works for a big church, often doesn’t work in a smaller one.

And no, I don’t buy the argument that not following the advice of big church speakers and authors is why we’re small. We’ve tried to follow their advice. It just doesn’t work for us.

Our churches aren’t small because we make Small Church choices. We make Small Church choices because our churches are small. Here’s an example.


You Might Be the Problem, Or…

Yesterday, a new reader named Mike responded to my blogpost with this opening line, “Karl, I finally have a little time to write you. I’m the senior dude at a small church and I’ve been busy fixing a leak in the men’s bathroom. It’s my calling…”

Mike’s men’s room reference was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but it was probably true, too. It reminded me of a video I saw at a ministerial conference a couple years ago, promoting a book called Killing Cockroaches.

In the video, Tony Morgan tells the story of how, when he was a City Manager, he was interrupted one day by a screaming woman, running into his office, asking him to kill a cockroach. He dutifully went and killed the offending pest (the cockroach, not the woman). Then he wondered how he’d allowed an atmosphere in which people thought it was appropriate to expect the CEO to kill cockroaches.

Morgan uses this incident to teach lessons about how being a good pastor is like being a good manager. That our days shouldn’t be wasted on trivial tasks, like killing cockroaches.

You can see this short, fun video by clicking this link. Here are the points he makes in it:

Tony Morgan’s “Things I Can Do”

  • Blocking time out in my schedule to dream, to plan and to work on the big picture projects
  • Empowering other competent leaders, not just delegating the tasks
  • Identifying my strengths and then finding others who are different than me to manage around my weaknesses
  • Hiring an assistant, someone who’s not a secretary, but rather a leader and a project manager
  • Surround myself with problem-solvers, rather than problem-messengers

He concludes the list by saying, “I’m typically the problem when my day is filled with killing cockroaches.”

To which I have to respond…

If your day is filled with killing cockroaches, either you’re the problem, or… you’re a Small Church pastor.


…You Might Be a Small Church Pastor

Let’s take a look at Tony’s list again. There’s not a bad idea in the bunch. But they don’t match reality for 90% of Small Church pastors.

Here’s how Tony’s list looks from the perspective of many Small Church pastors:

  • Blocking out time to dream? If you’re bi-vocational, you barely have time to sleep.
  • Empowering, not just delegating competent leaders? How about finding one, just one person who’ll volunteer to help out and show up on time.
  • Finding others to manage around my weaknesses? (See above problem)
  • Hiring an assistant/project manager? Which of the 35 people in the church would be able to do that? And on what (non-existent) budget?
  • Surround myself with problem-solvers, not problem-messengers? That roar you heard was Small Church pastors around the world laughing out loud. What some people call problem-messengers, many of us lovingly call “our congregation”.

Let me repeat. Tony’s list isn’t wrong. Every point is valid. When you’re a manager, you need to prioritize your schedule, hire problem-solvers and make better use of your time and talents. CEOs who kill cockroaches will not be as effective as CEOs who hire cockroach-killers.

But in a Small Church, the CEO analogy doesn’t apply. Small Churches aren’t like big businesses or cities. We’re families.

And Small Church pastors aren’t like City Managers or CEOs. We’re more like older siblings.

Families don’t operate well under CEOs – or under an older sibling trying to act like a CEO. Families don’t want to be managed, they want to be led. And they want to be loved. And when you’re part of a family, even the leader of a family, you do things for your family that you wouldn’t necessarily do for your co-workers.

Sometimes you gotta kill cockroaches.


So what do you think? Have you ever found yourself trying to use big church solutions that just don’t fit?

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

(Killing Cockroaches photo is a screenshot taken from the Killing Cockroaches video)

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6 thoughts on “Only In a Small Church: Sometimes You Gotta Kill Cockroaches”

  1. Karl – I LOVE it. (I wouldn’t be surprised if there were speaking venues in your future…I would try really hard to come)
    I did have to laugh at your comments….you totally get it. But you know what else I appreciate? You’re helping me to get rid of my negativity. I would’ve been totally blown off by the CEO’s comments – maybe even mad. I would’ve been thinking, “Once again someone totally out of touch the small church is trying to tell me how to do it.” But I like what you said, that this guy’s comments aren’t wrong…for a CEO…for a business…but not for a family oriented small church.
    Story: Sunday night one of our sheep called us. I answered the phone. The first thing they said was, “First, there’s nothing wrong.” (always worried something bad has happened) Then they proceeded to say, “I just had to call. I was watching Huckabee tonight on TV and guess what he mentioned?” Me: “What?” Sheep: “Hezekiah! Isn’t that cool? Just what pastor preached on this morning. I was so excited. I thought – I don’t think that’s just coincidence, maybe the Lord is trying to tell me something…I need to get out my Bible and read that passage again.”
    She was so excited that she heard something relating to my husband’s message that morning and just had to call to let us know. 🙂 It blessed me. And I told my husband…if she were in a large church, there’s no way she’d “bother” her pastor with something like that…but in a small church…that’s the way it is…and I love it.
    (We also have folks call us when they don’t understand a part of Scripture, when they’ve seen something on TV and don’t understand the Spiritual implications, when they’re witnessing to someone and hit a roadblock and want to know what to say….that’s what pastoring is ALL about!)

  2. Thanks for your article. I have been a small church pastor for 17 years and have never had more than a part time staff person. I have been the plumber, electrician, janitor and lawn man. I have been bi-vocational and I have been full-time. There have been times that I have dreamed of being the pastor of a big church so I could have someone else do these things. But I have also been able to personally touch people’s lives in a way that only a small church pastor can. It has only been in the last five years that I have become comfortable with my calling as the pastor of a small church. Your blog is refreshing. It lets me know that there are more of “us” out there. Keep up the good work.

    1. Danny, I came to the same revelation about my identity as a Small Church pastor at about the same time you did. It’s very liberating to be OK with who you are, isn’t it?

  3. I only saw this because you had followed me on Twitter, to which I then followed you and was able to see the link to your blog. I have now bookmarked your blog as one that I will look at daily for new posts! Your points are well made and state what the reality is for smaller churches. I have never had a sabbatical, never had an Executive Pastor, only had a church with a secretary once, and often have to empty the trash at the office and help clean up after church fellowships 🙂 Small churches are indeed more like families…and that is not a bad thing at all. Large churches certainly have their advantages, but they also have their own set of unique problems. I firmly believe that there will be multiple pastors in heaven of whom we never heard anything about their ministries here on earth, but will finally see how faithful they were to the Kingdom work in spite of being in small churches! Not everyone can pastor a large church and not everyone can pastor a small church. As someone once wisely stated, “Just bloom where God plants you!” I look forward to catching up on previous posts and look forward to future posts!

    1. Hi Joe. However it happened, I’m glad to have you hear. Thanks for your kind words.

      You stated your Small Church / big church philosophy well. The world needs Jesus and that means we need all churches of all sizes. Welcome to!

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