I was wrong. And today I plan to set the record straight.
I’m figuring this thing out as I go along. As I sit down to blog three times a week, I’m still on a massive learning curve as to what I should and shouldn’t say, including what I do and don’t believe about the ministry of Small Churches.
And now I’m being asked to speak at pastoral leadership seminars and conferences (more on upcoming dates soon). This is all very new for me, so I’m figuring out what to say at those as I go along.
All this blogging and speaking has highlighted two realities for me:
The first reality is that the founding principles of New Small Church, especially as outlined in The Grasshopper Myth, are proving themselves to be true.
Among them are:
- Small Churches are valuable
- Small Church pastors are doing extraordinary work
- Small Church pastors need more support and encouragement
- Our obsession with church growth has led to some unhealthy practices and discouraged pastors
- There’s not enough training on how to pastor a Small Church well
The second reality is that I occasionally say things that are thoughts-in-process, some of which need adjustment as time goes on. (In other words, they turn out not be true.)
One of those happened in May. I was speaking at a minister’s conference in Sacramento and I asked if anyone knew of any class at any bible college about how to pastor a Small Church. No one did. So I suggested that we need to have elective classes at bible colleges about how to pastor a Small Church. Makes sense, right? Well, maybe not.
Numbers As a Byproduct, Not a Goal
Since I proposed the idea, I’ve been thinking about the young ministers-in-training that might want to attend such a class and I’ve realized something important. Any student who says their goal is to pastor a Small Church would worry me.
Why? Because I remember what it was like when I was in bible college. I wouldn’t have signed up for such a class.
I love pastoring a Small Church. I’m called to pastor my Small Church. And it’s become a huge part of my ministry and passion to encourage others who are called to pastor their Small Churches.
This all leads to two parallel truths:
- Being called to pastor a Small Church is a great blessing
- Setting out to pastor a Small Church is a lousy goal
Years ago I was encouraged by an older pastor to “get the church to around 200, but no bigger. At that size you’ll have a good paycheck and some staff to help you. Any bigger than that will be a hassle.” I was appalled by that thinking then – I’m even more appalled by it today.
By the way, wanting to pastor a megachurch is not a good ministry goal either. Because both goals are based on numbers. Numbers should be seen as a byproduct of ministry, not a goal.
It’s great to have goals in ministry. Wanting to reach people for Jesus? Now that’s a great goal. Being willing to do that in a small setting? That’s a high calling. But telling Jesus you want a certain sized box is a problem. When we attach a number to our ministry goals, are we giving God a limit on what we’re asking him to do through us?
If we’re aiming for a big church, are we saying “God, the ministry you give me won’t be legitimate unless I reach these numerical goals?”
If we aim for small, are we saying “God, I want this much and no more?”
What Kind of Person Would Make Small Church Pastoring Their Goal?
A ministry I’m getting to know more about, and have written about in my Stuff We Like series is 200Churches.com. They specialize in encouraging churches in the 200 range (“give or take a hundred or two”, as they put it) mostly with fun, informative podcasts featuring two Small Church pastors, Jeff Keady and Jonny Craig.
In one of their recent podcasts, Isolated Pastors and the Heart of 200Churches, one of them describes a similar story to mine in which an older pastor encouraged him to settle for a smaller church. He rejected that proposal as well. Instead, they describe the ministry of 200Churches.com, this way. “We have this tension of loving Small Churches and wanting to affirm pastors of Small Churches, but we never want to celebrate smallness for the sake of being small.”
Jeff & Jonny are dead right.
So I hereby officially withdraw my request for bible colleges to offer electives on how to pastor a Small Church. Bible college electives on Small Church pastoring would not be valuable because they’d be empty. And they probably should be.
What Should Be Done, Instead?
Young ministers-in-training need to be told about the value of Small Churches and the likelihood that they’ll spend some, if not most of their ministry life in a Small Church. And they should be given tools to do it well. But these ideas need to be mainstreamed into our core classes on pastoral ministry where they’ll do the most good.
Established ministers in Small Churches also need support, encouragement and further training to be able to fulfill their calling without being made to feel like they’re failing if their church isn’t growing numerically. We need more books on this. More conference speakers. More blogs. More curriculum. More round table discussion groups. More Small Churches. More options for how to pastor our Small Churches well.
But let’s have our emphasis always be Jesus first, people second and the size of our church – whether small, large or mega – just one of many tools we use to get the real job done.
So what do you think? Do you have any ideas about how to mainstream this teaching on the value of Small Churches?
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