Encouragement 4 U

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I like to check in with pastors after a major holiday like Easter to find out how things went. I also like to ask pastors a couple months away from a holiday service whether or not they are planning anything new. Some churches make a big deal out of holidays making a big push for members to invite their friends, and others, usually the ones who have not had good luck in the past using holidays as an opportunity for evangelism, don’t. I understand this. It’s discouraging to get your hopes up and then nobody shows up. If this happens to you a couple years in a row you just give up.

Anyways…all this month and the next I will be asking the pastors I coach “How was your Easter service?” I always get one of three responses:

  1. It was great! Lot’s of visitors. High attendance. People came to know Christ. Three people were raised from the dead. (Well maybe I don’t hear that too often)
  2. It was normal. Just like our usual Sundays.
  3. It was discouraging. Small crowd. No guests.

Which of the above best describes your Easter service?

If you are a #1…praise God! Give all glory to Him and move on.

If you are a #2 or #3…praise God that it was Easter whether your plans worked or not. Assuming that you at least preached about the resurrection, you reminded your people (no matter how few might have been there) that Jesus conquered death, and because of that, we will too. Give glory to Him and move on.

We have to reach the place where we don’t focus too much on our successes or too much on our failures. We do the best we can. Offer it up to God, and then turn around, walk away, and get back to work. Both victory and defeat can distract us from the simplicity of serving Jesus.

First Mary saw Jesus but the disciples missed out. Then the disciples saw Jesus but Thomas missed out. Then Thomas saw Jesus.

Do you feel like you missed out? Naw…you didn’t. That’s just how you feel. Don’t trust your feelings. Give glory to Him and move on.

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COVER CENTERED small

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You know me…I’m a big cheerleader of small churches. I’ve dedicated the last ten years of my life to encourage and resource pastors of small churches. With very few exceptions, big churches have no real advantage over small churches. By this I mean that small churches can do everything that larger churches do if they are willing to do it on a smaller scale. Our fascination with numbers and size has nothing to do with the Bible, and everything to do with our Western culture.

Christian Schwartz (Natural Church Development) popularized the concept that we must focus on health instead of numbers. He surveyed 1000 churches and discovered 8 common areas that indicated health or lack of it. He developed a tool that churches can use to discover how well they score on these areas so that they might focus on their weakest areas. The only thing I don’t like about NCD is it’s assumption that healthy churches will grow. This often times is the case but not always.

The eight areas:

  • leadership that empowers laity
  • serving according to giftedness
  • a passionate spirituality/enthusiasm
  • small groups
  • evangelism done by those with the gift
  • loving relationships
  • structures in place that work.
  • inspiring worship services.

Schwartz discovered that small churches out-scored larger churches in all but one of these eight area: inspiring worship services.

Schwartz reports, “…there is a diminishing quality with increasing church size.”

Having said all this, let me suggest the one big problem of small churches.

Small churches are more fragile than larger churches. By this I mean that it is easier to kill a smaller church than it is a larger church. And by this I don’t mean that if you kill a small church it necessarily closes it’s doors. A person can be dead but placed on life-support for some time. Only a miracle will bring the person back. A miracle, or some new medical discovery.

Some churches are on life-support. Only a miracle or some discovery will bring them back. It’s really, really hard to turn a church around once they reach this place. It can happen, but not very often.

All of this explains why gossip, slander, pastoral failure, one or two key families leaving, a sudden drop in giving, etc. can be more devastating in a small church than it might be in a large church. Larger churches can rebound easier than small churches.

Because of this, the pastor of a small church must work harder at growing a healthy church than the pastor of a larger church. In a small church, often times church health is the key to church survival. Focus on growing a healthy church and leave the numbers to God.

imagesI just got off the phone this morning with a representative from Compassion International. You’ve probably heard of them, if not, go here. The staffer who interviewed me is also working on a Masters and her thesis is on How Organizations Overcome Obstacles. Kristin shared with me how CI has done pretty well in reaching out to and working with larger churches but have recently admitted that they have not done so well with small churches. She wanted my help in understanding better the ethos of small churches.

I asked Kristin what did she mean by ‘small church?’ She replied, 250 or less. I told her that this wasn’t a bad definition as long as she realized that more than half of churches under 250 would be under 100. Further more, I explained that a church of 50 is significantly different than a church of 250. And if you think about it, a church of 100 can be different than a church of 250. Because of this, I shared that CI’s desire to understand the culture of a small church would be difficult. There are different subsets of the 250. I would identify these as, 0 – 50, 50 – 100, 100 – 175, and 175 – 250.

What range of ‘small church’ does your church fall under?

My experience in working with pastors of small churches is that many will never break the 50 barrier, or the 100 barrier, or the 175 barrier, or the 250 barrier. But wait a minute…where does it say that there is a ‘barrier’ that we have to break through? The Church Growth Movement of the 80’s and 90’s told us there was a 200 barrier to break through, and then a 500 barrier to break through, and on and on and on. I’m not convinced that there is such a barrier to break through. Having said that, I’m not suggesting that we quit trying to reach new people with the good news of Jesus, but that we learn to be content without becoming complacent.

I think the biggest barrier small churches need to break through is the barrier of self doubt.

We can be small and think small. We can focus on what we can’t do rather than what we can do. We can listen to our church-culture that tells us because we are small that there is something wrong with us, we are broken and need to be fixed. We can be made to feel invisible, insignificant, and pathetic. But these are all lies.

Each subcategory of 250 has it’s own unique beauty and challenges, it’s own strengths and weaknesses. What if we’re more concerned about breaking ‘growth barriers’ than God is? What if God is more concerned about having the healthiest church possible regardless of it’s size? Once again, a healthy church will want to reach new people, but that is a focus all churches are having a hard time with, even if they are above 250.

I expect to have more discussions with Compassion International as they try to understand your world better. They seem very sincere. I don’t think it’s about getting you to partner with them. They want to learn how to partner with you. Kristin called the small church, “an untapped resource.” I agree.

Break through your barrier of self doubt.

You’re okay.

imagesMaybe if the other disciples had not been listening in, Jesus would not have rebuked Peter like he did. “But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Mk. 8:33) Peter felt uncomfortable with Jesus’ prediction of his upcoming crucifixion. “Don’t talk like that Jesus.”, Peter said, “Things are going great! Your numbers are growing…you’re the most popular thing happening in all of Israel.” And in the back, behind Peter, the rest of the disciples were nodding their heads in agreement. But Jesus wasn’t interested in his growing popularity. Nor was Jesus interested in setting up some new political empire. This misconception of Peter and the rest had to be dealt with quickly and brutally. “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

What an interesting statement by Jesus. There’s more to it than merely a harsh correction. Apparently there are things that man is interested in and things that God is interested in, and often times they are not the same.

I read this story from Mark a couple weeks ago during my quiet time and it made me wonder. What if some of the things pastors are interested in, or have been told they should be interested in, God is disinterested in? I’m referring to church things, ministry related things. Are there, could there be, things we think are important that God does not think important? How many of our ideas about church, church growth, church management, and ministry originate more from our western culture than from the heart of God? And if this is true, could it be that God is disinterested in the size of our church? I wonder.

I’ve been out of the pastorate for ten years now. But prior to starting Small Church Pastor I’d served in five churches over the course of 28 years. Looking back I can now see that there were many things I was worried about that I didn’t need to be worried about. There were things I gave my energy to that didn’t really turn out to be as important as I thought they were. I had my interests and God had His. Sometimes ours were the same and, apparently…sometimes they were different.

What if some of the things we’ve been told about how to do church and how to grow a church are things God is disinterested in? What if? I wonder.

UnknownMaybe if the other disciples had not been listening in, Jesus would not have rebuked Peter like he did. “But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Mk. 8:33) Peter felt uncomfortable with Jesus’ prediction of his upcoming crucifixion. “Don’t talk like that Jesus.”, Peter said, “Things are going great! Your numbers are growing…you’re the most popular thing happening in all of Israel.” And in the back, behind Peter, the rest of the disciples were nodding their heads in agreement. But Jesus wasn’t interested in his growing popularity. Nor was Jesus interested in setting up some new political empire. This misconception of Peter and the rest had to be dealt with quickly and brutally. “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

What an interesting statement by Jesus. There’s more to it than merely a harsh correction. Apparently there are things that man is interested in and things that God is interested in, and often times they are not the same.

I read this story from Mark a couple weeks ago during my quiet time and it made me wonder. What if some of the things pastors are interested in, or have been told they should be interested in, God is disinterested in? I’m referring to church things, ministry related things. Are there, could there be, things we think are important that God does not think important? How many of our ideas about church, church growth, church management, and ministry originate more from our western culture than from the heart of God? And if this is true, could it be that God is disinterested in the size of our church? I wonder.

I’ve been out of the pastorate for almost ten years now. But prior to starting Small Church Pastor I’d served in five churches over the course of 28 years. Looking back I can now see that there were many things I was worried about that I didn’t need to be worried about. There were things I gave my energy to that didn’t really turn out to be as important as I thought they were. I had my interests and God had His. Sometimes ours were the same and, apparently…sometimes they were different.

What if some of the things we’ve been told about how to do church and how to grow a church are things God is disinterested in? What if? I wonder.

COMING SOON!

COMING SOON!

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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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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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