As pastors we joke about those awkward encounters at annual conventions and conferences where we are asked how our church is doing. If the question comes from someone we know, someone we relate with, it is an easy question. But if it comes from a pastor or leader we are meeting for the first time, it is a way to evaluate the future of your new friendship.
We could talk with a lot of superlatives about how great our worship times have been, how powerful our prayer services are, and how anointed we have felt in the pulpit. But most of the time the real answer people want to know is better related to the question, “So, how many people are in your church?” If you are like me, you do not want to answer that question. It is a terrible question. The size of a congregation puts thoughts into a person’s head about ability, value and sanity.
We have found a lot of ways to avoid this question. One way is to tweak our job title. You don’t just have to be “pastor,” you can be a “senior” pastor or a “lead pastor.” A lot of small church pastors use titles like these to hide behind so we don’t hear that awful number question. It makes us sound important, valuable and capable.
But what are we doing to ourselves in the process? What are we doing to our own mindsets about our unique ministries and mindsets about church life?
One of the fears I have is that we are lying to ourselves. We are telling ourselves that we can be like the pastors of large churches. There is no difference between us. We have the same Spirit, same Lord, same Bible, same training. We are all the same.
But that just isn’t true. It isn’t true because we are not them. We are not living in their city, pastoring their people. We do not have the same group of volunteers or the same budget. To say we are the same is to lie, to others and to ourselves. And as we continue to confess and believe that lie, it will bring harm to our ministry.
We are small church pastors. When we try to be anything else, we put ourselves on the road to one or more of these destinations.
- Discouragement. We no longer understand why everything feels different than how we think it should. It feels different because we are putting our expectations for life and ministry on a plane that is inconsistent with where we are actually living and ministering.
- Frustration. We will blame others because they are not meeting the expectations we place upon them. In most small churches we do not have paid staff that can spend their week doing what needs to get done. We have volunteers that try their best from week to week, after working to meet the needs of their families.
- Burnout. Since we believe we are the same as a megachurch pastor, we also believe that our churches can be the same as a megachurch. We schedule more services and start more ministries. To ensure a strong launch and keep all of those ministries going we put too much of our own time into all of them.
- Abandonment. Because we demand that our churches fit the mold of something they are not, the people we are called to shepherd will eventually stop following. They know they are not a megachurch, and they know that you are not Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll or John Maxwell. Until you learn to love who you are, they will not be able to believe that you love who they are.
I learned once the real meaning of the word “condescend.” We usually use the term to describe talk or action that beats people down or makes them feel worthless. The Webster’s Dictionary on my bookshelf defines it as “[assuming] an air of superiority.” Interestingly, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary describes it differently.
To stoop or descend; to yield; to submit; implying a relinquishment of rank, or dignity of character, and sometimes a sinking into debasement.
When I learned this second definition of condescension it was in a book about Christmas. The author related how Jesus stepped down from Heaven to Earth and “condescended”, lowered Himself to be with us. Only then could He truly minister between God and man.
Maybe you feel like you are just as good as some mega-pastor you admire. You may even be destined for greatness some day. But if you are a small church pastor, do not be afraid to admit it. There are more of us than there are of them. And most of them have a great deal of respect for the work that we have put our hands to. Let’s make sure our hearts and minds are dedicated to the truth of our placement, so that we can fulfill what God has for us there, and not try to be who we are not.