Studies regularly show that many seminary graduates today refuse to serve a smaller church. There are a variety of reasons for this, but I think these individuals are missing a great blessing.
Regular readers of this blog know that I served as the bivocational pastor of a small church for twenty years before being asked to serve our judicatory. My first book was published in 2000 with the working title of The Joy of Bivocational Ministry. When the publisher changed the name to The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry I managed to convince them to at least leave my title in as the subtitle.
A pastor friend of mine who served a fully-funded church at the time asked how there could be joy in bivocational ministry. He felt such ministry would be impossible, a belief many people share.
I know some pastors of smaller churches who do feel they are asked to do the impossible. Working with as many small churches as I have over the past three decades I know some can be very difficult to pastor. In fact, in recent weeks I've stated in this space that some do not deserve a pastor and should close due to the way they treat pastors and others. But, that was not my experience and is not the experience of many other bivocational pastors I know.
As the pastor of a small church I was able to be a presence in people's lives. I could be with them in both the good times and the difficult times. I wasn't expected to keep office hours, manage staff, attend countless meetings, oversee a large bureaucracy, and act as the CEO of a corporation. My view of pastoral ministry was to serve people and help them grow as believers in Christ, and I was able to do that in a small church.
The church I served all those years loved me and my family. They gave me a lot of freedom and overlooked a ton of mistakes, especially after I demonstrated my love for them by staying for a few years. We were able to develop a mutual trust and appreciation for each other that made ministry there a joy.
I was able to see people come to Christ and grow in their faith. I watched as people developed their leadership and ministry gifts and had a part in that growth. God trusted me with these people, and I still feel joy as I think of how some grew into mature believers.
In the book I mentioned above I share how the church struggled when I first went there and some of the things we were able to accomplish before I left. I take credit for none of those accomplishments. As I told the congregation before I left, my main contribution was to hang around long enough to help them believe in themselves as much as I believed in them. I give God and our congregation credit for the good things that happened, but I still feel great joy as I think about those things.
A pastor may find greater prestige serving a larger church and find it easier to climb the ministerial ladder of success. He or she will enjoy greater financial advantages serving a larger church. I would imagine many pastors of larger churches enjoy the ministry they are called to. I certainly do not want to imply that serving a smaller church is superior to being the pastor of a large church. I will, however, state again that there is great joy in pastoring a smaller church. Some who refuse to do so do not know what they are missing.