Serving At A Small Church

Personally, I don’t like referring to any church “small” or “big.” That’s simply offensive and rude. How would you like when someone calls you small or big? You don’t read Paul ever addressed any of the churches “I, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, send greeting to you, a small church.” You won’t find that in Peter’s Letters. In John’s Letters. Certainly not in the Letters to Seven Churches by Jesus.

What’s small or big is relative. What’s small in this country can be big in another country. I heard from missionaries who served in France and Italy that you would be lucky to find an evangelical Bible-preaching church that is more than 30 people in attendance. Here in North America many church-goers simply have no idea. We are guilty of measuring everything by American standard, such as, big is better.

There are many pastors I know that are serving at churches that are not bustling with people on Sundays. Some are OK with it. Some are struggling. But pastors will always struggle with this issue. It’s normal. It’s abnormal if they’re not.

Several years ago I wrote “Ministering in Small Churches and/or in Small Towns” while serving at a church that I planted in South Dakota. This will give you some helpful perspective and reality, especially, serving in the Upper Midwest.

I also wrote “How To Have An Expository Preaching At A Small Church?” as a response to many questions I was asked by church-planters and discouraged pastors.

If you want to hear another perspective from another pastor, check out “6 Ways Small Churches Can Love Their Communities.

Be of good cheer.

Ministering in Small Churches and/or in Small Towns

First of all, I would highly recommend you read “Small-Town Ministries and Shepherds.”

Also, read one of my past posts “How To Have An Expository Preaching Church?

Both posts address some aspects of ministering in small churches and/or in small towns in America.

In one of the leadership meetings at a church that I used to shepherd in the Upper Midwest, I distributed the copies of David Van Biema’s Time Magazine article “A Rural Exodus” (February 9, 2009), which I would highly encourage you to read. Van Biema’s thesis is that many pastors and/or fresh out of seminarians are not interested in small town churches. He notes what many guys think: “A town without a Starbucks scares them.”

What also caught my attention from the article is that only 1 out of 5 churches have a full-time seminary-trained pastor in parts of the Midwest. I believe it. I see it. And I know it. Such statistic does not even qualify what type of seminary training, since not all seminary training is equal.

Like many pastor friends of mine who serve in small rural areas, I too get offended by statements like “All you need is a Bible college degree to serve at a small town church” or “You don’t need a formal training to serve at a small town church” and other similar nonsense. First, it is wrong for pastors to think so low of small churches and/or small towns. Second, it is wrong for churches (regardless of what size) to have such a low view of minister’s qualification. That’s like saying, “It doesn’t matter if my surgeon didn’t go through all the medical training as long as he likes to open people up.” What nonsense! If there are standards and qualifications for our local school teachers, dentists, car mechanics, and surgeons, shouldn’t we also have standards and qualifications (more so) for men to accurately handle the word of God?

Missiologically speaking, I see a huge need for churches to revitalize in small towns all across America, especially, in the Upper Midwest. In some sense I am glad to see churches close down when they are no longer qualified as a biblical church. In fact, I’m praying that more would close their doors. However, I do feel for some of the genuine remnants of God that cannot find a healthy church in their towns or surrounding towns so they have to drive 2 hours or so. That is the case in many parts, such as North Dakota, where I helped a group of people who wanted to plant a church there.

How To Have An Expository Preaching Church At A Small Church?

Listen to the following advice:

Pastors must develop congregations that facilitate expository preaching at every level of parish life and ministry. They must engender support for this exegetical process in five different ways. First, they must develop the discipline of thorough study in their own libraries. Secondly, they must teach staff to complement their study schedules by taking up slack in other pastoral duties left by the preacher. Thirdly, they must train their secretaries and administrative personnel to aggressively protect their sermon preparation time. Fourthly, they must ensure that their families understand and accept that the preacher must complete his exegesis and expository preparations before any other priority in the weekly schedule is addressed. Finally, they must help the congregation grow to the point where they both expect and even demand solid exposition rooted in diligent study.

Michael F. Ross, Preaching for Revitalization (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor: 2006), 213.

Some take the foolish notion that such advice is only for pastors of “big” churches, but not for pastors of “small” churches or church-planters. Rather, the “little guys” (a derogatory reference for pastors of small churches or church-planters) are told to learn about how to market their churches, learn the latest Madison Avenue church-growth program, etc. I even had a “church growth expert” tell me that the key to attract people is to have an attractive church website and to maintain it regularly. In fact, I was told by one guy that he would not visit our church because our website does not have all the bells and whistles. Frankly, if the criteria of choosing a church is based on how the website is laid out, he or she can go to another church.

I think that is why some pastors, especially, the ones who minister a small congregation or church-planters, feel tempted to please men. Perhaps that’s why they spend their precious time on trivial things. As a pastor of a church-plant, I wear many hats. I am the one who answer the phone, make bulletins, and do other administrative duties. I’m also in charge of recording, uploading my sermons, and maintaining our church’s website. Sometimes I do the music. Sometimes I run our church’s book-table. And it seems like there are constantly other things that compete for my time and attention. Honestly, I can’t wait until I become liberated from many of these duties. But at this time, this is my reality.

Thus, what keeps me sane is to always prioritize primary from secondary matters. In other words, I need to keep the main thing the main thing. My main thing is the ministry of the word and prayer. Everything else falls under secondary. One day I have to give an account, whether I was faithful in keeping the main thing the main thing, not whether or not the church’s website is well maintained.

Certainly, all pastors are for church-growth. If they are not, then they should not be a pastor. However, there is a difference between genuine and superficial growth. I must testify that those words of Ross are true if you’re seeking a genuine church growth. I just wish that more people would take heed to it, especially, the young guys in the ministry and/or church-planters.

Let us forsake focusing so much on trying to be so “culturally relevant” that we’re not biblically reverent. Our aim is to go downward to Scripture and go upward to the Savior. A genuine exaltation to God happens as a result of genuine exegesis of his word.