Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Small church pastors must be patient.

One of my biggest challenges when I became the pastor of a small church was to learn patience. I'm the kind of person who thinks microwaves take too long. Everything should have been done yesterday. I'm not an aggressive driver, but I also don't like to get behind someone who refuses to drive the speed limit (and most of those have been set too low!).

It didn't take long for me to find that small churches tend to not run by the clock. I visited a small church recently whose worship service was scheduled to begin at 10:30. At 10:40 the pastor was still talking to people in the congregation when he suddenly asked someone for the time. No one seemed to mind. This is not unusual in smaller churches. The church I pastored did begin its worship services on time, but other activities kind of happened when they happened.

I also learned that everything worthwhile that happens in a small church takes longer than it should. Small churches often have to discuss if they are going to think about something before they ever get around to actually considering it. A decision that, in my mind, should be made in a few minutes often has to wait until the next business meeting for a committee to be formed to consider it and bring a recommendation to the next business meeting. If your church has quarterly business meetings like mine did, that decision can take six months or more just to come up for a vote.

What small church pastors must recognize is that these churches have survived for decades with this kind of decision making process and are not going to change their process just because their pastor wants them to. There is much more going on here than just making a decision. Part of this process is about protecting relationships. Everything that happens in the smaller church is about relationships.

One of the first questions that will go through people's minds when they hear a proposal for a change in the church is how will this change impact the relationships that exist in this church. If the change has the potential to negatively impact relationships in the church it is likely to be resisted.

Businesses look at proposed change and determine its impact on profits and ask about its return-on-investment. Small churches want to take the time to determine the impact a change will have on relationships. And it will take time.

Our church was preparing to build a new fellowship hall, but we needed some additional land. We had nowhere to move our septic system and couldn't build without moving it. The church is landlocked except on one side. We wanted to buy two acres off a field adjacent to our property. Because our trustees knew the farmer who owned the land, and because it was not tillable land we wanted we didn't think it would take long. It took two years, and then he would only give us an easement to move our septic system onto the property.

Why did it take so long? As I said, our trustees knew the owner. They were friends. He was reluctant to sell the land, and they did not want to push him in fear of harming their relationship with him. Even though he was not a member of our church, once again relationships became the key component in this transaction. A deal that should have been reached in a week or less took two years, but when it was over everyone was happy with the outcome.

As a small church pastor you have to learn to work within the timetable most often found in such churches. If you can't do that you probably will not have an effective ministry in a smaller church. Two things to remember from this post: relationships are key in the smaller church and everything worthwhile that happens in the small church will take longer than it should.

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