A Word to Pastors of Little Flocks
By: Robert L. Withers
During the past week I had two conversations that cause me to ponder how we have arrived at a place where ministry and significance are measured by utility and comparative numbers.
The first conversation was with a pastoral candidate. He was apologetic about the fact that currently he is a “bi-vocational” pastor. He seems to consider a bi-vocational pastor to be a second-class pastor. In other words, there must be something wrong with a pastor who pastors a church so small that it cannot support him full time. After all, if he were a successful pastor the church would grow and eventually he could quit his other job and devote himself to full-time vocational ministry.
Now I hasten to say that this candidate probably does not feel this way about other bi-vocational pastors, I think he is too mature in Christ and too charitable to think that about others; but he does seem to think this about himself.
The second conversation was with a pastor I’ve known for a while. He was having one of those downer days that pastors have – he had just heard through the congregational grapevine that a family was leaving the church and he couldn’t understand why. His lament was, “Am I always going to be the pastor of a small church?”
Now I suppose that I should include some disclaimers in this piece. Of course numbers matter in the sense that they represent people and people matter. Of course God wants His Kingdom to expand and that means people which in turn mean numbers. Of course a healthy church should be a witnessing church and hopefully a witnessing church is a growing church.
But having acknowledged the disclaimers – where in the world did we get this idea that a bi-vocational pastor is somehow less than a pastor? Where did we get this idea that pastoring a small church is something to be apologized for? Or worse, where did we get this idea that pastoring a small church is analogous to being sent to Siberia for punishment?
Do people in small churches matter to God? If people in small churches matter to God how much do they matter? Do they matter enough for God to send them his best pastors or does God play a numbers game and send small churches pastors who can’t make it in the real church world? Are small churches less valuable than large churches? Are pastors of small churches less valuable than pastors of large churches?
It strikes me that in the world of fine dinning that Five Star restaurants are often small with limited seating and a limited menu, while the least expensive restaurants are often large with broad menus – is a great chef’s talent and training wasted in a small Five Star establishment?
In the world of retail business where am I going to receive the best service, in a small establishment where my name matters or in a big-box store? Who is going to care whether that suit of clothes is really a good fit for me – the person in the small establishment or the one in the big-box?
As to the bi-vocational issue, a man or woman who is so committed to ministry that he or she will do additional work to enable that ministry is a person I admire. Also, if we are going to apologize for bi-vocational ministry we should apologize for the Apostle Paul and his companions – they were obviously failures since the Biblical record is clear that they often supported themselves.
Do we have an eternal perspective of small-church ministry? Jesus teaches us that if we are faithful in small things we shall be given responsibility for greater things – can we trust Him that He has an eternal purpose in giving us small things in this life to care for? Can we trust Him that greater things await us in eternity? Will we rejoice in this mystery?
“To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it,” Revelation 2:17b (NASB).
Names matter to Jesus because names represent people. The pastor of a small church is pastoring people who will one day be given a white stone by Jesus with a new name written on it. If you are the pastor of a small church, how will you feel on that day when your people are given their new names? How will you feel when Jesus looks into your eyes and says, “Thank you for taking care of my people. Thank you for loving and being faithful to my little flock.”
Most churches are small churches. Most Christians are in small boats. It takes an experienced and courageous captain to navigate a small vessel through tumultuous seas and to bring his crew safely to their destination.
Size is relative. There is always going to be something bigger and more efficient and more popular than where you are and what you are doing – but there is never going to be anything more important than faithfulness to Christ and His people exactly where you are.
Copyright © 2009 Robert L. Withers, all rights reserved