It seems that the grass is always greener on the other side. The church is not immune to this type of covetousness, with the small church finding itself especially susceptible. After all, not only is the grass of the larger churches greener, but there are more sheep grazing on it! If we aren’t careful, we as small church ministers and leaders will spend much of our career longing for those “greener pastures,” in the process failing to appreciate why we are blessed to be with the sheep God has placed in our charge. So, here are a few observations to help us remember the blessings of small-church ministry.
They think your grass is greener as well.
Longing to be like other churches is not just a phenomenon that exists among smaller churches, but is commonplace in larger ones as well. In fact, many larger churches have an expressed desire and a felt need to become more like smaller churches. Isn’t it ironic that just as we in small church ministry often look at our fellow-laborers in larger fields with more sheep, wishing we could be them, that they in turn are casting their gaze in our direction, wishing that they could work in a setting that allowed them to know their sheep by name? One of the biggest, most well-known churches in the nation is North Point Community Church, just north of Atlanta. For the last decade they have been a trend setter, even among the so called “mega-churches.” And yet, despite their thousands upon thousands in attendance each Sunday, this is what they have to say about the ideal setting for spiritual formation:
If you want to grow in your relationship with Jesus, you need to have intentional relationships with people who have the same goal—and Community Group is the ideal place for that. In a Community Group, eight to twelve adults in the same stage of life and area of town meet regularly for a year or more to pursue spiritual growth and healthy relationships.
Eight to twelve adults—to one of the largest churches in the nation, that is the ideal size for a community of those seeking to form healthy relationships and foster spiritual growth. This desire among larger churches to create a small-church atmosphere is a testimony to the inherent value of community that is found in so many small churches. Though there are many things that small churches cannot do, we can build community in ways that larger churches try to emulate.
Take off those rose-tinted glasses.
When I was in college, my church was just a few miles from a rather large lake. I knew many who spent the better part of their weekend out on the lake, zipping from one end to the other in their boat. What fun it was to cast those fishing lines and drag those inner-tubes through the water at ever-increasing speeds! I remember one gentleman who was so taken by all the fun that he decided to get a boat of his own. Some time after he had gotten the boat, I asked him how he was enjoying it. “Oh, I got rid of that thing,” he replied. It turns out, that while he was very enamored with the fun that could be had, what he did not enjoy was all the work it took to maintain the boat! Now of course, wherever you go in ministry there will always be work. Small church or large, urban church or rural, the work is ever-present. The point is we should be careful about dwelling on the challenges of small-church ministry, while simultaneously focusing on the blessings of larger congregations. Do not be deceived, each context comes with its own unique challenges.
Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t.
The Bible we study so diligently reveals a God who delights in using the small, unlikely, unexpected things of this world in a powerful way. The old and barren Sarah gives birth to Isaac, the child of promise. The stammering, stuttering Moses serves as God’s mouthpiece before Pharaoh. David, a young shepherd, slays the giant Goliath with a sling and a stone. The young Virgin Mary gives birth to the Messiah, and raises him with her carpenter husband Joseph—in Nazareth of all places! Fishermen become preachers, and persecutors are transformed into church-planters. God did all of this not because of who these people were, but in spite of it. I would even go so far as to guess that God chose them because by working through them, it became obvious that it was not their own work, but the work of God.
We would be much better off if we focused on the blessings that come with our own specific ministries and churches, rather than fixating on other contexts that seem more alluring. Maybe if we struck up a conversation with someone in ministry at a larger church, we would discover that their work comes with its own unique set of challenges. What if instead of lamenting our lack of resources or our small size, we rejoiced in the fact that when God works through us, it is all the more evident that our great God is all the resource we need!