bits from bob....

The Preacher and the Small Church

by Robert J. Young
©, 2002, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

The nature of ministry in the small church is often misunderstood. Many preachers have become frustrated in working with the small church, and some have thus given up on ministry. Let us consider some of the unique dynamics and challenges.

Avoiding the "Messiah Complex"
Preachers often enter a work in a small (backward) church with a Messiah mentality (a book by Carmen Renee Berry suggests the phrase, and raises the possibility and questions concerning what we should do "when helping you is hurting me...") The Messiah complex says, "I am going to change everything wrong, fix everything broken, make functional everything dysfunctional. I am going to be the Savior of this church." Thus we are tempted to impose a private agenda inconsistent with the congregational personality and nature.
In such situations, the preacher easily becomes a rescuer, but a rescuer (according to the Karpman triangle) quickly becomes the persecutor. Especially in a small church, preachers must not go in to fix everything. The resulting frustration will not be so much a symptom of personality conflict between the minister and members as of a conflict between his plans and the church personality. To preserve integrity of church personality, members will either summarily reject plans or devise defense mechanisms against their fulfillment. Churches, like individuals have 1000s of ways to protect their personality.

Determining What Kind of Ministry Is Needed?
Churches, especially small churches, do not hire preachers to do what needs done so much as what they want done. In matching churches and preachers, we mostly match by need and not by want. onsider what would happen if you took the same approach to marriage. If we are hired by need, rather than want, we may be constantly trying out. Choosing ministers and ministry in small churches must consider wants as well as needs.

Dangers in Program Development
If we use a metaphor in which the preacher is the husband and the church is the wife, then programs are the babies. Many preachers (and churches) want to see how many babies can be born, as a mark of success. We need to learn "planned parenthood" in small church ministry. There is no surrogate parenthood. If we will not spend the 5-10 years to bring babies to maturity, forget the birthing process. Wives and kids do not need a successful father--they need a faithful father. Enough abuse and the wife will kick you out. This is why preachers often leave in the early stages of ministry, especially in the first 18-24 months. They have given birth to 14 kids (programs), they are running the mother (church) ragged, and it simply is not worth it.

Faithfulness in Small Church Ministry
How can we be faithful? We must ask, What is God's agenda for this church? Discover a faithful, biblical agenda for the small church. What is God's unique design for this church? What does God want in Anyplace, USA? Get that picture, be faithful to it.

Preachers and Self-Esteen in Small Church Ministry
Preachers, do you get your sense of worth from within self or without (from the church you are working with)? The success of too many individual preachers is wrapped up in success (so called or perceived) of the church. A great need is for self-differentiation, to define one's own goals and values in life apart from others and those external pressures. This differentiates "ascribed worth" vs. "attained worth."
Is your success, self-worth dependent on being with right church? in the right town? In the right place? It cannot be so! God is faithful. Task of any church is faithfulness to God's agenda, and God has a unique, healthy place for the small church.
We must establish open, vulnerable relationships in the small church, between the church and the minister. The church is not to be used to climb ladder of success. People are not targets, prospects, prey, victims, or clients. Evangelism must not be done with a Messiah mentality, Christ is the only Messiah.
We share the human predicament, as men and women of God, to be God's person. Learn to love the small church too because God loves the small church.

Four Suggestions for Small Church Ministry
There are basically four things church wants to know (and these are especially important in the small church):

May God give us strength to be sincere, caring, competent, and committed.

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Last updated June 1, 2004.