images-1-150x150Does everything around you seem to be small? Maybe you have a small church, small offerings, small resources, small dreams. Perhaps it seems like every church around you is bigger, doing more than your church. Driscoll reminds us of a kingdom principle: little things can do a lot. Remember Jesus’ words about leaven? Sure…he used this in the negative, but the truth (small things can have a big effect) is the same. In another place Jesus spoke of a mustard seed being the smallest of seeds but though so small it can still grow into a tree large enough for birds to rest in. A little can do a lot.

You might feel unqualified. You might say to yourself, “I wonder what the pastor of that larger church knows that I don’t know? What gift-mix does he have that I’m lacking? After all…his church is big, he must have some key that I don’t have.”

Let me tell you something. The pastor of the larger church is severely under qualified. And so are you. We’re all unqualified…yet He uses us.

You might only have ten people staring back at you on a Sunday but if you’re teaching them, loving them, discipling them, providing them a model to follow, then they, no matter how small, will go out and effect their world. You don’t know who one of your members will win to Christ, and they then turn around and win one, who wins one, and another, and on and on. A little can do a lot.

Don’t try to stay small and don’t try to be big. Small is not intrinsically bad, nor is big intrinsically good. What matters is faithfulness to what God has called you to whether it be big or small. What needs to be big, what needs to grow is a stubborn conviction that we are making a difference in the lives God allows us to touch.

Do you pastor a smaller church? Then do it well. Your churches impact is not contingent upon it’s size or your own personal qualifications. Never underestimate God’s ability to take something small and use it in a big way. And leave the definition of “a big way” up to God. A little can do a lot.

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UnknownThere’s a lot of talk these days about taking the church to the unchurched (missional) instead of expecting the unchurched to come to church (attractional). I understand what’s behind this, but does it have to be either/or? We desire to see our members walking out their faith where they live and work and play. We want them to “be the church, not merely go to church”. Also, we don’t want our people to abdicate their responsibility to share their faith by relying on their pastor to do it for them on Sunday morning. Fair enough, but I still believe that inviting a friend to church is a legitimate expression of personal evangelism.

People continue to respond to invitations to come to church. Ed Stetzer’s study discovered that 63% would respond favorably to an invitation from a friend or neighbor to come to church. Chances are the majority of the members in your church are there because someone invited them, they came, they liked it, they stayed. In addition to this, a large percentage of believers say they became Christians by responding to the gospel message or to an invitation made in church. There’s nothing wrong with training your people to be inviters and includers with a specific emphasis on inviting their friends, relatives, and co-workers to church. Inviting someone to church is not the only way to do personal evangelism, but it is a way. If you are going to create inviters and includers then you’ll need to do eight things:

1. You have to model it. When was the last time you invited someone to church? Remember, you reproduce what you are.

2. You have to pound the concept into them, altering their mental DNA. You have to talk about being inviters and includers over and over and over again.

3. You have to provide something relevant and safe for them to invite people to. Somehow discover a way to objectively determine if your Sunday morning service feels relevant and safe to visitors. Relevance can be achieved without compromise.

4. You have to celebrate victories. Remember, every time someone invites someone to church it is a victory regardless if the one invited comes or not.

5. You have to be committed to this for the long-haul. Altering the DNA of your people, creating inviters and includers, takes time.

6. You must not be afraid to present the gospel. Develop a streamlined version of the plan of salvation that you can share in two minutes or less. One advantage of sharing the gospel on Sunday mornings is that your regulars end up learning what the gospel message is.

7. You must not be afraid to ask for a decision. It doesn’t matter if you ask for a show of hands, or to sign a card, or come forward, or whatever…what matters is that you give them an opportunity to respond. I know that raising ones hand is no guarantee the person has truly been converted, but leave that to God.

8. You must have a plan for follow up. Somehow, someway you need to have a way to make contact with those who visit your church or make a decision for Christ. It’s always amazing to me when I hear of a church that has no follow up plan. Remember, Jesus said, “You have not because you follow up not.” No, not really.

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angerSocial activist Elliott Larson* said, “Anger always comes from frustrated expectations.” When I read that I couldn’t help but think of the church, or more specifically, congregational expectations towards their pastor. So often the reason why people are mad at their pastor can be traced back to frustrated expectations.

There are two types of expectations, realistic and unrealistic. It’s realistic for the members of your church to expect you to be prepared on Sunday morning to give a sermon, to be there for them when they face a crisis, to return their calls or emails, to pray for and with them, and to be somewhat of an example. It is unrealistic for your parishioners to expect you, your spouse, and your family to be perfect. It’s not realistic for them to feel like you should be available 24/7. It’s unrealistic for them to expect you to agree with them all the time, to like the things they like and value the things they value. It’s not realistic for your members to expect you to never get mad, frustrated, or make mistakes.

Congregational expectations originate from a few places. These are:

1. Expectations carried over from past pastoral experiences.

I remember a family that joined out church after having recently moved into the area from another state. One of the first things they made sure to do was to tell me how great their former church was and how awesome their pastor was. He was “so this and so that”. As I listened to them go on and on I couldn’t help but think, “Boy, are they gonna be disappointed.” My church wasn’t anything like the one they described, nor did I resemble the guy that formerly pastored them. The opposite of this is when someone comes to your church and they have had a bad experience with their former pastor. So now they’re overly sensitive and just waiting for the first time you do anything that reminds them of the last guy and poof…they’re gone!

2. Expectations carried over from past experiences with authority figures.

Usually this means Mom or Dad. In counseling circles it’s called transference. You become a father figure or a mother figure (it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female). I’ve had projected on me mother and father. Have you ever wanted to say, “Hey…I’m not your father.”? If so, then you know what I’m talking about. People can expect you to behave like their mother or their father did, whether that was good or bad.

3. Expectations based on misinformation about what a pastor should be or do. Somewhere along the line, perhaps from culture, people have learned that pastors are supposed to behave a certain way, do certain things. It’s misinformation but based on that, they now have expectations that you may or may not be able to fulfill.

So what’s the best way to handle congregational expectations?

  • Regularly teach on the subject of expectations, unrealistic expectations, and not only expectations towards the pastor but also expectations members have of one another.
  • Get in touch with who you are and who you aren’t as a pastor. Now remember, this is not an excuse for you to dismiss expectations that are realistic. “Well I don’t like to talk on the phone, it’s just not me. People shouldn’t expect me to call them back.” Sorry, that won’t fly.
  • Once you know who you are, learn to be comfortable with that person. I don’t mean comfortable in the sense that you stop growing, or stop being open to change, or no longer see the need for personal change…but comfortable in the sense that you know who God made you. You are unique. The world might not need more than one of you…but they do need the one they have.
  • Finally, be humble, be kind, understand that it’s normal for people to place unrealistic expectations on you, it’s hard for them to do otherwise, but…don’t give in to it. Remember the old saying, “If you give an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

*Responsible for the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act which specifically forbids discrimination in employment on the basis of sex.

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imagesFather Matthew Kelty was a good friend of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, writer, poet, and peace activist who died unexpectedly in 1968 of an accidental electrocution. I was watching a lecture Kelty was giving on the life of Merton and in it he mentioned how one of the ways the monastery he and Merton were part of generated income was through the making of cheese. Apparently the cheese business was good for the monks because people from all over, including many celebrities, were ordering cheese from them. Soon there were those who tried to convince the monks that they needed to expand and grow their business. Kelty commented, “The American way is, ‘If you’re not growing you’re dying’, but we didn’t want to grow, we didn’t want to lose control.” That got me thinking. There are many ways in which a pastor can lose control if numerical growth comes for their church.

You lose some control when you move from parish priest to CEO. You lose control of your calendar by going from more discretionary time to less. You lose control of your availability, becoming less accessible. Your family will lose a bit more of you. Churches that go from small to big lose something by going from clan to city, from intimate organism to structured organization. A church loses simplicity for complexity when it experiences significant growth.

Large churches aren’t inherently bad. Small churches aren’t inherently good. But typically you will lose some things by going from small church to large church. In the long run…is it worth it? Maybe, and maybe not.

I saw a comic once in a Christian magazine. It was a split-screen with two pastors sitting at their desks day-dreaming. One pastored a large church and the other a small one. The pastor of the smaller church was dreaming of what it would be like to pastor a large church. The pastor of the large church was fondly remembering what it was like when he pastored a small church. Get it?

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images1-150x150You’ve heard the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”? Do you have any squeaky wheels in your church? I know I have in mine. There have been times when I didn’t want to give the squeaky wheel grease but instead the boot! In a larger church the senior pastor has more buffers (associates) between he and the squeakers than the pastor of a smaller church. Someone once said that ignorance is bliss, but if you pastor a smaller church you’re not ignorant about anything that goes on in your church. It all reaches your desk. All the complaints, all the great ideas, all the squeaky wheels.

Over the years I have pastored in five different churches. In each church there has been someone who felt (and felt a need to tell me) that my church was “drifting aimlessly on the ocean”, “totally out of touch with the needs of people”, “going to hell in a hand basket.” And you know…sometimes I would believe them. Until I had enough sense to stop and take an inventory of what was going on in the church that was good, that was working, that was bearing fruit. There’s always something you can find that is good. Part of leading a church is remembering that it is never completely broken, and it’s never completely fixed.

There will always be those squeaky wheels that feel everything is wrong in your church. That’s never a true assessment. And don’t forget, if someone says “There’s a lot of people that feel the same way I do”, he’s usually referring to himself, his spouse, and maybe one other person.

While it’s true that a church always has things it needs to work on (never totally fixed), it’s also true that there are good things going on as well (never totally broken). Don’t let the complainers suck the joy and objectivity out of you. Draw up a list of what is good, what is working, who is being blessed, and what your church does well. Remember, it’s never completely fixed and it’s never, never completely broken.

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Unknown-150x150You know what a maxim is right? No…I don’t mean that men’s magazine. Maxim: a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule. Years ago the maxim, “All healthy things grow and reproduce” began to be used by the church growth experts to explain that if your church is healthy it will grow and reproduce. Therefore, if your church is not growing and reproducing…your church must not be healthy. This phrase comes up all the time when I’m talking to pastors of smaller churches. I believe we’ve become victims of a maxim.

First of all, not all healthy things grow and reproduce. Humans don’t keep growing. I stopped growing a long time ago, assuming that you don’t count gaining weight the same as growing, and I’m healthy. Women reach a point where they can no longer have children and we wouldn’t say they’re not healthy. “All healthy things grow and reproduce” is a neat phrase, it sticks in your head, but it’s a weak statement when used in the context of church growth. How is it that we have become victims of this maxim?

This is how it works. Let’s say you believe the statement “all healthy things grow and reproduce” applies to the church. Let’s say your church isn’t growing numerically. So now you begin to search for what is wrong with your church. If you can identify the area in which your church is not healthy and correct it then your church should begin to grow…right? Maybe…and maybe not. Healthy churches grow and unhealthy churches grow. One church does all the right things and stays small and another does all the wrong things and experiences growth. Go figure.

Now let me clarify…sometimes a church is doing things, or not doing things that actually create obstacles to growth. This is a very real possibility and one that needs to be explored. You can be so close to the situation that you can’t even see the things that might be preventing growth. I have a step by step process I’ve developed to help a congregation see their church through the eyes of a visitor and identify obstacles to growth. If you think this might be of help to you let me know.

Let’s come back to this maxim: all healthy things grow and reproduce. We’ve seen that not all healthy things grow and reproduce. I believe your church can be small and be healthy. Why one church grows and the other stays small is a mystery and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you assume the reason why your church isn’t growing is because something is wrong, if you invest time and energy in finding out what it is that is wrong, if you make the adjustments and still see no growth…where does that leave you? I’ll tell you where it leaves you, it leaves you even more discouraged and probably questioning yourself and your calling. Victim of a maxim. Don’t be a victim.

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images-150x150I’ve pushed this book before, Rethinking the Successful Church by Samuel D. Rima. This isn’t on my “recommended” reading list, it’s on my “read this book or go to jail” list. Every pastor or future pastor who hasn’t already read Rima should stop what they’re doing right now and find this book, order this book, beg, borrow, or steal this book.

Most pastors, if they’re really honest…really, really, really honest, would admit that they would love to be thought of as having a successful church. Now that isn’t necessarily bad if one’s definition of success is a pure one, one unaffected by the western culture. “The task of redefining our understanding of success will not be an easy one. Over the course of a lifetime we have had drilled into us a cultural view of success that is not easy to shake.” (Rima, pg.168)

The word success has become so Americanized that it is hard to use it without thinking of size, numbers, big, popular, influential, etc. I’d like to throw out the word, at least any connection between it and the local church, and replace it with the word value. “For me, success in ministry has become much more qualitative than it is quantitative. The reality is that it is entirely possible to manufacture phenomenal church growth and produce dramatic tangible indicators of success, while at the same time accomplish nothing of any genuine eternal value.” (Rima, pg. 163)

“Today we live in a culture of success.” (Rima, pg.48) How true, and might I add, our Christian-culture tends to define success in the same way our secular culture does. Equating size with success has been “drilled into us over the course of a life time.” Throw out “success” and replace it with “value.”

You and your church may never be successful according to the world’s definition but that doesn’t mean you don’t have value. A church can have value whether it has 5, 50, or only 100 members. And a church can have 500 or 5000 and not necessarily have value. “At some point on our ministry journey we have got to realize that we can build the biggest church in the world and actually see thousands of people coming to Christ, and still be an abysmal failure in the eyes of God. If our motives are impure, our methods dubious, and our personal character and spirituality seriously flawed, I do not believe God considers us successful.” (Rima, pg. 173)

You have value by remaining faithful to your calling when it would be easier to run in the opposite direction. You have value when you show up week after week to teach the word. You have value by loving your people…especially those who are hard to love. You have value by trying to produce followers of Jesus, by praying for people, counseling people, comforting them when they are in pain. Your church might not have success but it does have value when it loves those inside and outside it’s doors.

Throw out success. Replace it with value. Read the book!

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imagescontent: adjective, in a state of peaceful happiness : he seemed more content, less bitter. • satisfied with a certain level of achievement, good fortune, etc., and not wishing for more : he had to be content with third place | the duke was content to act as Regent.

complacent: adjective, showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements : you can’t afford to be complacent about security.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” – Paul (I Tim. 6:4)

God wants you to be content with the size of your church without becoming complacent in regards to discipleship and evangelism. I realize this is not an easy balance to achieve but it is one we must move towards.

Would you describe your current attitude in regards to the size of your church as “a state of peaceful happiness?” Could you say you are, “satisfied with a certain level of achievement, not wishing for more?” Remember, we’re talking about the size of your church, not how well it’s doing in reaching the lost, feeding the poor, making serious followers of Christ, etc. Are you content in being the pastor of a small church? Can you embrace contentedness without becoming complacent about all the other things the church is suppose to be and do? I hope so. But I also know from personal experience how hard it is to be content with a smaller congregation.

Is it just me or does it seem like much of what pastors are exposed to in the church-related books they read, the conferences they go to, ministerial meetings they attend end up making them feel more discontent than content?

There still exists in much of “Churchianity” far too much emphasis upon numbers and church growth. I’m not against numbers or church growth, but I am against anything that makes pastors feel like they don’t measure up, like they are unappreciated, unnoticed, like they don’t count solely because their church is small.

Certainly it would be wrong to become complacent about discipleship and bringing the name of Jesus to the lost, but could it be just as wrong to not be content?

My dear friend, pursue contentedness without becoming complacent. Reject those things that make you feel bad about yourself or the size of your church. Ask the Father to give you contentedness without complacency. Either contentedness is great gain, as Paul says, or it’s not. I choose to believe Paul.

What are your thoughts?

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UnknownI think if we’re honest with ourselves we’d have to admit that we all want to do something great for God. When I was 21, newly married and new to the ministry I can remember laying on my back in bed with Ellen and saying, “Before I die I want to do something great for God…something significant.” For us that meant planting a church. For me (I’m sure Ellen cared little about what I’m about to confess) that meant not just starting a new church…but a church that would be big.

As you know, our western culture equates “great” with size, numbers, applause, etc. It’s hard for us not to be influenced by this.

Not too long ago I read an interesting book, “A Monk’s Alphabet” by Fr. Jeremy Driscoll. In a paragraph entitled Great he says, ”Great, the illusion that there is something important to do with one’s life! Oh yes, I understand the point. Life is glorious, and we are marvelously made. But perhaps it is a question of the approach. When someone sets out to do great things, how much is accomplished really, and at what exorbitant prices? Maybe it is better to let go of the focus on great things as a goal, to live with hope placed in heaven, and then use well whatever time we find at our disposal. With the optic of that new amazement, something great may be done. But “great” will never mean a great me, a me that is marvelous and outlasts the short span of a lifetime. “Great” may mean something good done for others, something of value left behind. But I will vanish more and more. That is how it is, and with an act of faith and trust, I say also that this is how it should be.”

When was the last time you heard someone talk about another pastor who had a “great” church and that church was also small? That doesn’t happen too often does it? We’ve been conditioned to define great with size. I bet some of you reading this feel that you are doing nothing that could be called great…mostly because your church is so small. Don’t you believe it! The church down the street might very well have more paid staff than you have in your entire congregation but that doesn’t mean in the eyes of God they are any more great than your church is.

You have been called to be a great pastor, great in character, great in your soul, great in love, great in faithfulness to your family and your calling. If that is not enough for you than maybe you need to get away for some reflection to discover why. You are called to do something great, but it’s more a call to be something great…an inward greatness fed and developed by intimacy with Jesus. Your church is called to be a great church but that is not dependant upon size. A small church can be a great church. If you are a faithful pastor to your people, no matter how many of them there are, you are doing something great.

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answer-150x150Russ Ikeda was a coach-spiritual director who helped me navigate my transition from pastoring to full-time coaching. At least ten years my senior, Russ had been a faithful pastor for 19 years and then felt the Lord leading him out of the pastorate and into being ‘a pastor to one’ as he liked to explain it.

Ellen and I had the opportunity to attend a couple of his two-day spiritual retreats. Russ would gather 12 people at a Catholic retreat center. We’d practice silence, reflection, and have discussions about spiritual formation. One of the things I heard Russ say more than once that stuck with me over the years and has become something I use with my coaching clients to explain to them an important part of my philosophy of coaching.

Russ would say, “It’s not my job to do your thinking for you. It’s my job to help you think.”

When I was a pastor I wasn’t very good at helping people think. I was good at doing their thinking for them.

Pastors are trained and expected to be the one to go to when you have a question or predicament. I don’t know about you, but I kind of liked this. It felt good to appear to have solved someone’s problem either through my advice or by pointing them to the perfect place in the Bible. There was a bit of an ego-stroke when a member of my church would come to me and ask, “Dave, what should I do? What does the Bible say?” I didn’t see it then but I can see it now. I liked being a mini-savior. “Come unto Pastor Dave all you who are weary and heavy laden and Pastor Dave will give you rest.”

Sometimes people want the easy way out. They want someone (the pastor) to tell them what to do, what to think, what to believe. The easy way is not always the best way. It’s hard to think for yourself. Thinking takes time. Thinking takes prayer. When you think for yourself you run the risk of coming up with the wrong conclusions. It’s easier to have someone do your thinking for you.

If I could go back in time, one of the things I would change about my approach to pastoring would be to focus less on being the answer-man, the mini-savior, and more on helping people think for themselves. When my people would come to me with questions I would counter with questions of my own. My questions would be designed to help them think, help them hear, help them see what the Father was doing in their lives.

I would not avoid giving advice at all costs but I also would not enable my people to lean on me more than they should. I would want to help my people ‘grow up’ which is hard for them to do if someone else (me) is doing their thinking for them.

Thanks Russ for depositing in me, “It’s not my job to do your thinking for you. It’s my job to help you think.”

Questions for reflection:

How might you get better at asking questions?
What ‘push-back’ might you anticipate from your people when they come to you for advice but instead get from you thought-provoking questions?
How will you know when it’s time to give advice versus helping someone think for themselves?

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