I just finished reading a blog that every leader in a small church should read on a regular basis. I’m thinking that many of you are already registered on it so that you get reminders each time a new entry is published. I am talking about Karl Vater’s blog in Christianity Today.
The entry I just finished reading caught my attention immediately. He starts off by saying that “pastoring a small church can be frustrating.”
If you have served as the pastor of any size church for more than a couple of weeks, you can identify with that statement. There is no question. Pastoring a small church can be frustrating.
There were many times during my career as a pastor when I would come home from meetings and feel like banging my head against my office wall. On numerous occasions I had to spend some time at my desk unwinding from the frustration I was feeling because of something that happened in a meeting.
So if you are experiencing frustration, join the club. Everyone who has ever filled the role of pastor is a part of the “I’m frustrated” club. There are a couple of things though that can lessen that frustration.
Give you leaders time
One mistake that I used to make with some degree of regularity was that I didn’t give my leaders enough time to process ideas.
I would come up with an idea that I thought would improve some aspect of church life. Over the course of a few months I would process the idea. I would do some research to see if anyone else had already implemented the idea. Some times I would even reject the idea a few times and then come back to it more confident than ever that it was the right direction to take. I would then put it down on paper and over the course of a couple of weeks work and rework what I had written down.
Then the big moment would come and I would present my great idea to the leaders. More often than I like to remember, they would discuss it in the meeting and turn it down. When that happened I would go home completely frustrated. What was wrong with them? Why couldn’t they see what a brilliant idea this was? How could they be so short-sighted?
Finally after one of those failures, I made what for me was a startling discovery. I realized that I was expecting them in one meeting to accept an idea that I had taken months to process. The problem didn’t lie with their lack of vision. It lay with my lack of patience.
From that point on I almost never presented an idea to leadership asking for an immediate decision. I presented it as an idea that they could take home and think about. I gave them at least one meeting and some times several meetings to discuss it before asking for a vote. It radically changed my success rate in getting ideas accepted and it improved my relationship with my leaders. I no longer was asking them to make decisions for which they weren’t prepared. I was respecting the process that was essential in making good decisions.
Building relationships with leaders
In the first church in which I served as pastor, I spent a lot of time trying to build relationships with people on the fringe. Gloria and I had them into our home. I visited them in their homes. I took time after the Sunday service to talk with them. I made sure that I knew their children, where they worked and some of the difficulties that they were having at that point in their lives.
The problem was that there is only so much time in any week. The time that I was spending with people on the fringe was time that I wasn’t spending with leaders in the church. I am not suggesting that a pastor shouldn’t spend time with people on the fringe but in hindsight if I had to chose I would invest most of my time into building relationships with the leaders and their families.
There are a number of reasons why this is so but I want to concentrate on just one. It is the leaders who have the authority either to implement or reject your vision for the church. Whether we like to admit it or not in a church setting, relationships are an essential part of getting things done. Leaders get behind a vision when they trust the person who is promoting the vision.
If I was asked to serve as the pastor of a church today, I would still spend some time with people who attend the odd time but aren’t prepared to commit to the church. I would try to get to know them as deeply as I could. But my priority would always be building a relationship with those people who are deeply committed and especially those who are part of the leadership team.
In a small church everything emerges out of relationships. This is especially true at the leadership level. Time invested into building those relationships is never time that is wasted. It is always one of the best investments that any pastor can make.
These two things won’t remove all frustration from the job of pastoring but they sure lessened the amount of frustration that I experienced.