Brethren, we cannot all be large and megachurch pastors.
You believe that God has called you to the Christian ministry so you leave the job you have and make a considerable investment in a seminary education in terms of finances, time, and family disruption. You rightly and properly understand that your new occupation, “calling” is the term you prefer, is sanctioned by God Himself and is a good work, an important work representing the Lord Himself in a local community, sharing the eternal Gospel and being a leader in Kingdom work.
Then you take a church and struggle with congregational expectations, criticism, modest pay, and marital and family adjustments. What you envisioned for yourself isn’t quite what you find. The reality on the ground differs considerably from the grand vision you had for yourself.
I see no way, no program, no seminary class, no counsel that will ever remove the matter of unrealistic expectations in the Christian, especially the pastoral, ministry. Is one of those unrealistic expectations the one that visualizes for ourselves a large or megachurch in the future?
How many pastors will start work on their MDiv this semester with the aspiration to be the pastor of an average-sized Southern Baptist church?
I don’t know the answer to that but I was in the office of a pastor the other day. He had a photo of himself and a megachurch pastor on the wall – more than one photo, I think. Has someone done the research on this? Are many or most young guys who feel called to preach coming from churches that are considerably above the average in size and budget? I get the feeling that this is true but do not have the numbers to prove it. And, does this impact the goals and aspirations of the young men who enter the pastoral ministry? I suspect so.
If the model for a young seminarian is a large or megachurch pastor, if his church experience is in a very large congregation that had multiple clergy staff members, specified ministry roles, and a sizable budget, that person may consciously or unconsciously aspire to the same type of church. Nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with a goal of serving a large church but, save for a tiny fraction of pastors, it is a goal that will go unfulfilled.
About one half of one percent of SBC churches are megas, weekly attendance of 2000 or more. The last number I saw was under 200 and that out of about 50,000 SBC churches. Mid-megas, churches with weekly attendance of 1000 or more, make up less than one percent. Dip down to large churches and you’re still talking about maybe only 5% or so of all SBC churches. Chances are, the student who plops down in a seat in his New Testament survey course is never going to pastor a large, mid-mega or megachurch simply because there are so few of them.
The kinds of churches that are available are much smaller with 50, 75, 100, 150, maybe 200 in worship every Sunday. In these churches many of these things will be found:
- The pastor will be the only full-time clergy staff, but if your self-esteem demands it you can still count all the volunteer or part time staff and tell you buddies about your “staff .”
- The pastor will relate to all the members all the time, rather than having a staff to relate to most of the membership. Look at it this way. You would never learn some things God wants to teach you if you got to choose the select group that you would relate to individually. Look at some members as God’s challenge for you.
- The pastor will be called with what he might consider minor, even inappropriate, issues like the church sign has a misspelled word on it or routine building issues. Keeps you humble.
- Everyone in the church will know what the pastor is paid and will expect to see where all the church money goes. Deal with it. It’s their giving that puts food on your table. Why shouldn’t they know?
- Members will certainly want the pastor to take plenty of time to prepare sermons, just so long as he can get everything else done. You can probably do as well taking six or eight hours to prepare a sermon as twenty, especially of some of the twenty is in a boat on a lake thinking about the scripture passage.
- The pastor may have grand visions of that megachurch a few years in the future but folks who sit in the pews just want a pastor today and it’s tough to pastor the church you have and the church you want later all at the same time. Try just one at a time. Some of the brethren think they can do three at a time, their last pastorate, their present pastorate, and that future large or megapastorate. Self-delusion.
- You will not have a research assistant, unless your wife gets tired of hearing dumb things in your sermons and volunteers to fact check some of your stuff before you blurt it out publicly.
- You will probably not be given enough convention money to stay at the convention headquarters hotel next to the meeting venue, but a Best Western twenty miles distant that your church pays for is better than anything you pay for.
- There is an endless list of unwritten expectations for you…and you get to discover these one-by-one. An adventure every day.
But look at it positively,
- You and only you are the pastor of this group of people. They are your flock. God gave them to you. How great is that?
- You get to relate to all of them, all the time. Some will have fond thoughts of you as their pastor for decades hence.
- Your church actually pays you to do all this.
- You can make your own schedule, so long as you get everything done.
- As the pastor of a church, you have already gone as high as you can go in Southern Baptist life. How about that?
One day, while in my first year at seminary, the prof came in and said, “One of you guys might be the next pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church.” Now there’s a striking thought. God could so work that one of the young theologs, the untested ministerial students, would advance to the pulpit of what most of us considered to be the premier church in the SBC and be the successor to Adrian Rogers.
Well, one of us wasn’t but most of us went to just as high a position in the pastoral ministry. After all, I heard Adrian say many times that the pastor of the smallest SBC church has gone as high as he can in the ministry. It just took some time to adjust the daily expectations.