Monday, October 8, 2012

Where do I begin?

I recently received an e-mail from an individual who said he was a first time pastor of a small church.  He is serving as a bivocational pastor.  The church is not healthy, and he wanted to know which of my books he should read first as he attempts to lead this church to become healthier.  I recommended he begin reading The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues.  This would help him with several different areas of church life that may need to be addressed.  I also felt the last chapter which contains diagnostic questions he and his church leadership could answer together would be beneficial.  However, as he reads this book there is something he needs to be doing before he starts addressing problems.

Everything in a smaller church is built around relationships.  When change is introduced one of the first questions people will ask is how it will impact the relationships that exist in the church.  Smaller churches are often referred to as family churches for a very good reason: they operate like a family.  There are patriarchs and matriarchs who sit at the head of the table.  New people can join a small church but they never really become part of the family until the patriarchs and matriarchs adopt them into the family.  (By the way, that includes the pastor as well.)   A new pastor of a smaller church must be very intentional about building relationships with the people in the congregation before attempting to make any significant changes in the way the church operates.

Small church pastors cannot spend the bulk of their time in the church office.  They have to be with their people.  I remember visiting one of the patriarchs of the church I served and found him in the barn working on a piece of farm machinery.  I grabbed a nearby five gallon bucket, turned it upside down and sat there with him as he continued working.  Our entire visit was spent in the barn as he finished getting his disk ready for spring.  When I was leaving he smiled and said, "You know.  You just might do all right here."  I had entered his world and was not uncomfortable and we were able to make an immediate connection.  It also helped that I was raised on farms so it wasn't the first time I had ever sat on a bucket in a barn.

Relationships are key to an effective ministry in smaller churches.  Spend time with your people where they work, in their homes, at school functions.  Get to know their hearts and allow them to know yours.  The time may come when they will disagree with an action you want to take but will trust your heart and be willing to follow your leadership.  As you know them you will avoid making decisions that you know will create undue pain in their lives.  That kind of wisdom cannot be learned in a classroom but can only be found through the relationships you have with people, and that will make you a much better leader.  It will also lead to a healthier church.

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