Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Leading The Small Church"

On the subject of Big Churches vs. small churches vs... really small churches...

A good comrade-in-arms on the frontlines of ministry, Jim Bomkamp of Calvary Chapel Green Bay, e-mailed me several months ago with an offer. He'd found a book that had really revolutionized his view of ministry & pastoring small churches.

"Dude," he said to me, "if you'll read it, I'll buy you a copy and send it to you."

"Sure," I replied. "I'll read it."

"No, dude, I'm serious; I'll send it to you if you'll read it."

"Okay," I replied, somewhat taken aback. "I'll read it."

"No, dude, I'm serious..."

"OKAY already, I'll read it!!!"

...and so it went for a while, back and forth, forth and back, back and - you get the picture.

Jim sent me the book.

I read the first page, then we moved into our new small yet tiny house. I subsequently misplaced said book.

Jim, after reading my original "Open Letter" post, reminded me of the book. Sheepishly, I dug through a thousand myriads of boxes in our moist yet musty garage, and found the book again, and began to read it as I had previously... said... I would...


Okay, Jim was right. This book should be required reading for any pastor - whether a small church or BIG CHURCH pastor.

The book is Leading The Small Church by Glenn Daman, and I'd like to give it about a billion thumbs-up.

Some quotes from the first two chapters:

When culture defines the theology of the church, the question is no longer, "is it biblical?" RAther, the question has become, "is it relevant and practical?" Jesus, however, in preparing His disciples for leadership, drew a sharp distinction between biblical and secular leadership. This difference is not peripheral - that is, dealing only with the applicaiton of principles; it is essential, penetrating to the very core of the way leadership is understood, and affecting both purpose and process.

The emphasis on external organizational growth has had a devastating affect on small churches and their pastors, who often view themselves as second-class citizens. Responding to the siren call of corporate success - size and numbers - and surrounded by examples of apparntly successful megachurches, small-church pastors undervalue the essential biblical elements of community and relationships, and never quite feel successful. They become discouraged, wondering whether the glory of God has departed, leaving them to stagnate without any hope of experiencing God's blessing. As a result, low morale remains one of the most pervasive problems confronting small churches.

What Eugene Peterson warns against may be evident in a church of any size: "The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeepers' concerns - how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money." It is no wonder that the pastorate has fallen out of favor with people entering ministry.

Nowhere have cultural perspectives had a greater impact on the church than in the perception of what it takes to be a successful leader. No one enters the pastoral ministry with the view of becoming a failure. All pastors strive to attain success, and feel incredibly guilty if they come up short. Pastors of small churches often wonder whether their churches would grow if they worked harder, prayed more, were more skillful in ministry, or if their congregtions were more open to new ideas. But the reason why pastors struggle in small churches and often become discouraged is not because of their work ethic or the inherent nature of small churches, or because their congregations are unwilling to change; it's because they have an inadequate view of what constitutes successful leadership.

{In listing out and answering some misperceptions about the ministry, including "Successful Pastors Are Growth Agents," he speaks to the misperception that "Successful Pastors Serve Large Churches," where he states the following:} Although it sounds usnspiritual to say it, many people believe that the larger the congregation the more successful the pastor. Thus, pastors of large churches are invited to speak at conferences so that pastors of small churches can learn how to beocme more effective (i.e., build larger churches.)

Although what God has accompllished through large churches should never be minimized, the lesson of the parable of the stewards is that size has, in God's eyes, nothing to do with success (Matt. 25:14-30). Nor does the size of a congregation reveal the reality of God's blessing. Instead the greatness of a church is determined by the manifest presence of God (Hag. 2:1-9). And the greatness of church leaders is determined not by their achievements but by the reality of God in their lives.

What the church needs today are more shepherds, not more visionaries. We need more churches in vital relationship with Jesus Christ, not bigger churches with bigger programs (or smaller churches with smaller programs). We do not need new paradigms for leadership. Instead, we must return to the ancient, biblical paradigm, the one in which pastors are spiritual caretakers of God's people, and are more concerned about the spiritual health of the congregation than about agendas, programs, and status.

Because we desire to see the church grow, it is easy as small-church pastors to become methodological junkies, always in search of a new method that will enable us to be successful in ministry. We deceive ourselves into thinking that if we could just find the right program, or the right combination of ministries, our church would be freed to grow. Consequently, we go from one seminar to another, read one book after another about "successful" churches, and implement the latest "church growth" strategy and vision. Instead of discovering the right approach, however, we leave in our wake congregations that are exhausted by tring to jump to the latest "vision" that we have for our churches.

All we can do is faithfully apply God's Word to the needs and issues of our people. All we can do is point them to the Cross. Those of us who minister in small churches can derive - or ought to derive - enormous relief and freedom in this truth about our roles as pastors. It is not up to us to grow the church, and the size of the congregation is not indicative of success; the success of the church does not depend on our wisdom, our abilities, or even our spirituality; rather, the success of the church depends on God. We are merely vessels through whom God works to accomplish His purposes. This is why faithfulness rather than methodology or skill is central to pastoral leadership.

I could go on, but then I'd be typing out the entirety of the first few chapters.

Good book. Get it. Read it. Love it.

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