There are a lot of leadership traits that are typical in small church ministry that we’re told we should change when our church gets bigger.
For instance, we should delegate more tasks, train more leaders and think more about long-term strategy as a church grows in size.
But there are other traits that we should never change. Many of them happen in smaller congregations as a natural byproduct of the church’s size. Small church pastors don’t choose to do them as much as we have no choice not to do them.
Small churches have a tendency to keep us humble, sometimes involuntarily. But that humility is something we should never outgrow, no matter how big the church or ministry becomes.
1. Stack Some Chairs
Whether your church has chairs that need stacking isn’t the issue. And, no, the church should not be dependent on the pastor for chairs to be stacked, the garbage to be emptied, or the doors to be locked. But we should never get so big that serving is beneath you.
Hold doors for people, grab litter when you see it, bring the donuts occasionally.
Never let it be said of you or your church that “servant leadership” is about “they serve, you lead”.
It’s not about “servanthood” as a concept, it’s about serving as a constant behavior.
2. Park Away From The Front Door
The image of a special parking spot with a sign for the pastor next to the front door is not just off-putting, it sets the opposite of an example of servanthood.
If you need a designated spot because you’re in and out a lot, that’s understandable. But at least make the pastoral parking farther from the door on Sunday than the spots for handicapped and pregnant moms.
3. Stay Accountable
No church leader – in fact, no Christian – should ever be the final human authority in their own life. And no, I don’t buy the trope of “all that matters is what Jesus thinks.” Of course, in the final analysis, that’s all that counts. But it can never be used as an excuse to avoid accountability. And we all know that, too often, that’s what it is.
If you look at the sad, growing list of recent church scandals, a lack of true accountability is at the heart of most of them.
Most small churches require it. No pastor of any size church or ministry should be without it.
4. Practice Financial Simplicity
This is about more than stewardship.
If lack of accountability is at the heart of most church scandals, the early public face of those scandals is often financial excess.
Pastors are servants. And while there’s nothing holy about depriving a pastor of financial blessings, the blatant excess we see from too many pulpits is a stain on the kingdom of God.
Certainly there are small church pastors who are guilty of financial excess. But for the overwhelming majority, financial simplicity is how we have to live due to our circumstances. While it’s reasonable to work towards financial security, we should fervently resist the temptation towards conspicuous consumption.
Money may not be the root of all evil, but the love of it certainly is. And making the love of money a feature of your life when you’re supposed to be a representative of Jesus? That’s an abomination.
5. Live Generously
People in small churches tend to be very generous people. This is usually out of necessity. We’re often the primary lifeline for each other in times of monetary need.
Pastors and their churches should never be where people’s generosity ends up. We must be an active pipeline that generosity flows through. The more we receive, the more we should be giving – both as a percentage of our income and in raw dollars.
6. Keep Mentoring
Most small church pastors do a lot of hands-on mentoring. Often because there’s no one else to do it. Then, as the church grows, others take on that role – as they should.
But it’s dangerous and unhealthy for any pastor to only teach large groups of people. We should all be mentoring someone – or a small group of people.
Teaching is not mentoring. Mentoring requires relationship. And those relationships aren’t just helpful for the protégé, they’re invaluable for the mentor, too.
7. Serve In Your Community
Most small church pastors have a visible presence in their neighborhoods. Especially if they’re bivocational and/or minister in smaller towns and rural areas. Because of this, they’re there when a need arises or tragedy strikes.
But in bigger churches and more-populated communities it’s far less likely that the pastor is known by anyone outside the church. This greatly reduces our chance to impact the neighborhood we live in.
When I came to our current church, in a heavily-populated area, I looked for a way to make our presence known in the neighborhood. For me, it was as a volunteer Police and Fire Department chaplain. In that role I was able to help people I never would have met if I’d stayed in the church office.
Pastors, the unchurched folks in our neighborhoods need to know us. And we need to know them.
8. Hang Out With Regular Members
Shaking hands and snapping selfies after the service is better than disappearing to the Green Room. But it’s not enough. Small church pastors hang out in the lobby. In fact, that’s where most of our boots-on-the-ground ministry gets done.
Certainly, as a church gets to a certain size the pastor can’t know everyone – but you should always know some everyday church members. Get into one of the small groups that every other member needs to be in. And not just with church leaders, with regular members who have nothing to offer you but their fellowship.
9. Worship With The Church Body
Your walk onto the stage for the sermon should not be the first time you’re in the church worship service.
It’s essential that we worship with the church as a whole.
I’m aware that in larger churches with multiple services it’s important to preserve your energy. So you don’t have to be there for every minute of every worship service. But we need to be in church with other believers for our own spiritual well-being. And because Christ is worthy of our praise.
Being with the body as a worshiper is as important for the pastor as it is for everyone else.
(Photo by Gabriel Jimenez | Unsplash)