One of the most important question a small church asks its pastor is, "Pastor, do you love us?" As I've written before, everything in the smaller church revolves around relationships. A small church functions much more like a family than an organization. People do not join a small church; they must be adopted into the family. Within the first few months a new pastor also must be adopted into the family before he or she can offer any significant leadership. That adoption will not occur until the church, and especially the matriarchs and patriarchs, believes that the pastor truly does love them.
Part of what lies behind this question is the rapid turnover many of these smaller churches experience. It's not uncommon for pastors to serve a smaller church for 18-24 months before moving on. Before I arrived the church I served as pastor had an average pastoral tenure of 12 months. Remember, that was the average!
If your church had a family whose husband/father abandoned them every 12 months you would say the family was dysfunctional. The abandoned family would soon decide that there must be something seriously wrong with them if they are abandoned that often. Churches often feel the same way. They wonder what is so wrong with them that no one loves them enough to stay.
Some smaller churches had decided that their role in the Kingdom of God is to be a place where pastors can come to hone their preaching and leadership skills before going off to a "real" church. Personally, I don't find the kind of church described anywhere in the New Testament.
Other churches have a different vision of ministry, but they realize that if they are to live into that vision they will need leadership. Many if these churches do not have concerns about what theological degrees their pastors have or where they earned those degrees. More important to them is how the pastor feels about them because if they can be certain that the pastor loves them they will feel more free to follow his or her leadership.
It's always easy to respond to the question by insisting that we do love this church, but our actions will speak much louder than our words. We show we love them by getting to know them as persons, not just members of the congregation. We demonstrate our love by staying with them and not constantly looking for the next available (larger) church. We spend time with them apart from the church or one of its ministries. We love them by listening to them. One important way we demonstrate our love for the church is by learning the history of the church. A lot of things over the years shaped the church you now serve, and you should want to know as much of that history as possible. There are so many ways to show our love for your church, and you need to know that the people in your church are watching to see.
Once your congregation knows that you truly do love them, they will be much more willing to follow your leadership. It will take months, and maybe years, of consistent behavior before they will believe that you love them. But, once that day arrives your ministry will take on a whole new level of excitement and effectiveness.