Let me put my cards on the table first and let you know that I am the pastor of a small church that is also a young church, barely a year old. We have a large handful of people, meet in a back room of a preschool that recently had a jackhammer in the ground due to construction happening to expand the building. We have very few resources by American standards and operate during the week from my office at home. I build the worship guides and a church member makes it fit on a single piece of paper that looks nice and readable. Another members print it off from their own personal printer each week.
I say all of this to give you a feel of what our church is like on a Sunday from an operational standpoint. Our church really is church planting in the raw, from the ground up in this regard. Thankfully, this barely scratches the surface in understanding our church and the people that make it up. We are more than ordinary bulletins in a rented space. The people of our church love the Lord Jesus and they show it each week. They arrive early to help set things up, prepare food for a lunch we have every Sunday after the service. We meet before the worship service begins to pray for our worship services, each other, other local churches and our city’s spiritual condition. After praying and getting the food set up and the children in their seats settled and ready for worship, we begin our worship service. We hear the Scriptures read and read the Scriptures together, confess of our sins privately and corporately, sing songs and hymns that make much of the Triune God, pray some more, preach the Scripture, observe the Lord’s Supper, sing some more, and are sent out with a benediction from the Scripture to go and enjoy fellowship with each other in Christ. Sunday is a full day for us because it is the Lord’s Day and we have much in the Lord to celebrate.
There is much here to celebrate because the evidence of God’s grace is all around us. People who love our Lord and each other surround us. There are people worshipping God together from four months in age to grandparent age. There are people from different parts of the country who in God’s providence and plan met each other, were called to Christ and are now members of our church. There are people who are life long Desoto County residents and those who haven’t been here a year. We have people in stages times of life and many in the same stage. It really is a body with diversity and different gifts.
What I love most about pastoring this church is the rawness of our church. Outside of Sunday mornings and a couple of other things during the month, our church has no other choice but to be a body and practice the “one another’s” outside of a formal program or class. This is partly due to our age and lack of our own facility, but it’s mainly due to convictions. We want to give as much attention as we can to the Lord’s Day that will allow us time to be together the rest of the week, while also not making Sunday another part of our Christianity, but the center point of our week. The Lord’s Day is the spoke of our bicycle wheel. This freedom allows me as a pastor to devote more time to praying, pastoral care during the week, sermon preparation, Scripture study along with other things to study and hopefully more writing for our church, the wider church and world. (Recently I’ve been considering in private what my public writing life should look like, which has caused me to have nothing out for public use over the last couple of months). I really am blessed to be able to serve God at this church and to focus on the things that first compelled me to desire pastoral ministry.
There are many other pastors and church planters in smaller churches who have the same convictions and context in their own churches. Even so, there is always a pull on the small church pastor that can take us away from this conviction: The desire for more people. More people to come to worship services, more people to join the church, more people doing more things. Now I don’t believe this is a bad desire. I want more people to come to our church and hear the gospel. I want to see more people converted, more repentance and a revival of the church in our city. I want more people to love the Lord Jesus, and these are right desires. So what’s the problem? Small church pastors feel they have to try more stuff to get more people, change their preaching styles/methods and many other things like this. This is the internal struggle of the small church pastor in 2014 United States. He has convictions and desires that are seemingly in contradiction. What is he to do? Simply, He should trust in the Lord with all his heart and lean not on his own understanding. He should be thankful that God has given him such foundational convictions and seek to keep his convictions and desires in harmony. He should keep shepherding his flock and keep his eyes focused on Jesus.
Here is what that means though: We may or may not change up some the ways we seek to build these convictions into the church. This doesn’t mean you can’t have small groups, new bible studies, evangelistic endeavors, etc. What is does mean for the small church pastor is that we quit looking at larger churches and comparing ourselves to them. God has not called you to be the pastor of any other church except the one you are currently in. God has called us to feed the sheep in front of us, not others. Most certainly we should be praying for the larger churches and if you are granted an opportunity to serve another church through preaching or at a meeting of some kind, then by all means do so and do so with a thankful and gracious heart. We have to ask ourselves an honest question: do we want to see the glory of God shining from larger churches or do we just want their numbers, resources and notoriety to be our numbers, resources and notoriety? Having sound convictions and desires for growth does not atone for the sins of bitterness and malice.
Small church pastors tend to err in two different ways when we consider larger churches. We are so envious of the larger churches that we will do whatever we can to have some of their blessing. We end up more like Esau, willing to give up whatever we must to have some notoriety and the feeling of success. Or we end up like Satan, bitter that someone else receives something we want and hasn’t been granted to us. As a small church pastor, I can tell you that this is my struggle and sin. I’m not willing nor do I desire to throw out all my convictions and practices that flow out from these convictions. What I end up doing is being bitter that others would rather go to another church, specifically a larger church that I don’t believe to be as faithful as the “real” churches and this is dangerous because bitterness will deaden your soul quicker than anything else. You can be completely correct about other churches doctrine and practice but the question for you is, does it allow bitterness to seep in? In other words, if these churches that aren’t faithful to Scripture or aren’t preaching the true gospel were to shut down today because the members were converted and left to join biblically faithful churches and none of them joined your church, would you be ok with that? If you say no, then there is a level of bitterness towards larger churches that might have set in your heart. We desire our own name and fame more than we do the fame of Christ and it’s also the same sin we accused the larger churches of. I am a sinner and so are they. I’m not more faithful because my church is small and they aren’t less faithful because their church is large. I miss the target in places where they don’t and I hit the target in places where they don’t. Isn’t this true of all churches, large and small?
We don’t need to hear this and swallow the postmodern pill that says we are all ok and we can keep “doing church” however we decide to. The church needs serious repentance and revival in theology and practice. We all need to repent of our shortcomings in this regard, no matter the size and age of the church. I could make an extensive list of things the church needs to repent of and repudiate. But there is also an extensive list we could make that are encouraging and items from both lists are happening in large and small churches, contemporary and traditional, liturgical and non-liturgical, Reformed and non-Reformed, programmatic and non-programmatic. We all could be much worse than we are and we are all far from where we should be. This is why we continue to worship, preach, and take communion each Sunday. We must be renewed and reminded of our covenantal belonging to God, his faithfulness to keep us this past week and his promise to keep us until He returns or calls us home.
I love the church I am allowed to pastor and be a part of. I pray that many more would come trust Christ and that this church would cease to be a small church and be at least an average sized church. If we become an average size church due to people repenting of sins and trusting in the finished work Christ, then Amen. But right now, my prayer for my ministry and my heart is to not think of myself or our church as above a large church merely because we are small and are seeking to be faithful. The number of people in a church is no indicator of the faithfulness of that church. We are only faithful because Christ was faithful first. I pray that all pastors and churches like our church and me will do the same.