You Can Overcome Small Church Discouragements

You Can Overcome Discouragement as a Small Church Pastor

Sometimes the most dangerous threat to the truth is not a lie, it’s a lesser truth.

Lies are usually easy to spot, but lesser truths are harder because …well… they’re still true.

At virtually every moment of our lives, there are at least two truths battling for our heart. A greater truth and a lesser truth. The challenge is that the lesser truth is usually louder, stronger and more urgent.

One of the great, challenging calls of leadership is to live to the greater truth and, by our example, to call others to do the same.

Greater truths can be especially hard to see when you pastor a Small Church because there are fewer layers (usually no layers) between you and the lesser truths.

This post was selected as one of the #BestOf2013, and was re-posted on December, 27, 2013.

Two Truths: An Example

For example, you walk into church on Sunday, feeling great about the day ahead, only to be accosted by an angry church member about a trivial problem, two minutes before the service starts.

As you leave that encounter and step up to speak, you have a choice.

1. Live to the obvious, immediate, lesser truth. That a church member is angry at you – and carry that into your message and out to the congregation, in emotion and spirit, if not in words.

2. Live to the deeper, greater truth. That God, knowing this church member would be angry at you, gave you a message of hope to share, maybe be as much for you as for the congregation.

This is not just wishful thinking, positive affirmation or a mind-game. It’s choosing to see a deeper reality. People of faith don’t deny reality. They choose to see a greater truth behind the immediate truth.


But How?

OK, fine. Living to the greater truth sounds like a good idea. But how does someone actually pull it off in the real world?

Usually from the outside in. Here’s an example.

Years ago, there was an older lady who lived on my way to and from church. She couldn’t drive, so I would pick her up and drop her off every Sunday. One week, on the drive home, she told me a painful truth. When I wasn’t paying attention to it, my face would carry a scowl that could frighten a pitbull. And if things hadn’t gone well in church that day, it looked like a pitbull caught in a bear trap.

For a few moments, I was upset at her. Then I realized she had done me a favor. I could now fix a problem I hadn’t even been aware of.

I had a choice. To live to one of two truths.

Lesser Truth: Some Sundays don’t go well.

Greater Truth: I’m privileged to serve a great God and a great church, including a plain-spoken old lady who loved me enough to tell me the truth on the drive home, not on the drive to church (I miss you, Blanche).

I chose to live to the greater truth. How? I became more conscious of slapping a smile on my face whenever I was in church. No matter what.

And I mean slapping it on. At first, it felt fake. Like I was acting.

In reality, I was acting. But I wasn’t being fake. I was happy to be in church. That was my greater reality. I lived to that greater reality by forcing my face to act like it.

After a while, my face started affecting my emotions. The smile on the outside became a smile on the inside. Because it was based on a deeper truth, not a phony pretense, it became more natural and automatic, even when things went bad. I’m still not a big grinner, but now there are very few times when I need to force a scowl off my face – even when the lesser truth isn’t going well.

No, not all problems are as simple as slapping a smile on. I’m not naïve. But I am a realist. I know it worked.


Let’s Live It

When a lesser truth makes itself known, it is usually with the intent of distracting us from a greater truth.

Don’t let it win.

Here are some battles between lesser and greater truths that many Small Church pastors face. Do any of these sound familiar?


Lesser Truth: Money is tight.

Greater Truth: My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Live to the greater truth.


Lesser Truth: A megachurch just built a state-of-the-art facility across the street.

Greater Truth: They’re our partners in ministry, not our competitors.

Live to the greater truth.


Lesser Truth: A couple just left the church, complaining that they’re “not being fed”. (Yeah, that never gets old.)

Greater Truth: The rest of the church supports you. They’re being fed and they’re learning to feed others.

Live to the greater truth.


Lesser Truth: My church is small.

Greater Truth: A Small Church pastor is a wonderful thing to be.

Live to the greater truth.


So what do you think? Are there greater and lesser truths you’ve been battling?

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

(Smiley Manhole Cover photo from ETMC2 • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

9 thoughts on “You Can Overcome Small Church Discouragements”

  1. I wish I could live more according to generalities, but I’m a specifics guy, so that sometimes makes reading posts a challenge. My “pause” here is the couple that left the church because they were not being fed. It ties into your comment about the lady that stayed and “let you have an earfull.”

    There’s two thoughts that I need to say:

    #1 – You don’t have to leave your small church just because you’re not being fed, that’s silly. If you’re being fed THE WRONG stuff, by all means you should go (read on). In a small church it’s likely you won’t find everything you need (especially if you are healthy and growing, because you simply crave more). There’s nothing wrong with going to another church if they have a program you like, simply to participate in that program. I’ve done it many times. In fact, I’m doing it right now because our church (Cornerstone) doesn’t have a program I feel I need. It fascinates me that people want to bolt if they can’t find everything and I think it needs to be said more often, “it’s okay.” Your not violating any spiritual laws in doing so. The main reasons to leave a church are 1)God calling you to do something elsewhere,2) a physical move to another location that makes attendance impossible, or 3)bad theology (only after it’s addressed and it continues).

    #2 – There are valid reasons (that a pastor may be missing) that cause people to leave and if they’re just sitting on their laurels as a pastor and not reaching out to people when they do leave to find out why, they may see others follow. It’s standard practice in every business to do an exit interview and I think that’s something that ought to be done in every church. Maybe that “thing” that caused them to leave, or weren’t being fed, is PRECISELY that problem or new program you are working on. Knowing so, they might come back, and who knows, maybe even engage to volunteer. Of course, it could be that you’re missing something big or small that really is important and you should be offering that program.

    My point is this, if you’re the pastor of a church, take its pulse. There are plenty of cheap inexpensive survey tools ( etc.that you can use to anonymously take the pulse of a single member or the congregation as a whole. When you do, always offer an area where open ended feedback can be provided. IMHO – If your a small church pastor and you’re willing to let someone walk without having had a conversation with them directly to find out why, they probably should go. Don’t assume that what you heard is the reason, really is the reason.

    1. As usual, Brian, you give us SO much to chew on. For now, I’ll respond to just the last point.

      You’re absolutely right that an exit interview is helpful whenever possible. The challenge is that it’s not always possible. It’s sad how many people, even long-term members, just up and leave without saying why and without returning phone calls or emails. This is especially discouraging in a Small Church where we know each other well.

      In the situations where you do get to talk with them, the reason they give for leaving, while usually not an outright lie, is often a very minor part of the issue. But it’s the only one they’re not embarrassed to tell you.

      One interesting advantage to sticking around a church for 20 years, is that you get to hear from some people who left after enough years have passed. They sometimes will re-visit and feel comfortable telling you the real reasons, then.

      Most of the time, it was from a misunderstanding that, had they said it at the time, could have been worked out quite easily.

      So, here’s a word to people who are planning to leave your church. If you haven’t told your pastor the real reason you want to leave, PLEASE do so. It may be a fixable problem. But even if it’s not, it’s important information that we might be able to use to make the church better for others.

    2. Brian,
      I think we need to really do some examination re: people leaving the congregations we are privileged to serve. Often, members leave a church, not because the Lord is leading them out (as in moving them on in another ministry direction), but because of selfish reasons or because they have issues with the people in the church. I have told members who are contemplating leaving our fellowship that if they are leaving because of selfish reasons, then they are breaking fellowship and unity–something Jesus specifically prayed would not happen. Jesus said that the world will know He came to save them was if we as brothers and sisters are unified. And the world will know we are Christ’s disciples if we love–not the world per se–but if we love one another. When the world sees the members of the body of Christ not get along, it gives them another excuse to reject Christ’s offer for salvation.

  2. Or how about this, two minutes before you are about to start the service, and elder wants to ‘talk’ they inform you that the new vaccuum cleaner THEY purchased for the church was used for something it was not intended.
    1. lesser truth, a member has been offended by something inconsequential
    2. greater truth thank God for people who care enough about the little details and support the church it little ways for a greater purpose.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *