People love categories. If they can just divide things into a list of different categories, then they can get a handle on them. So in regard to the church there are small churches, medium churches, large churches and mega churches. There are main-line, evangelical and charismatic churches. There are churches that focus on God the Father, others that focus on God the Son and still others that focus on God the Holy Spirit. It seems like the choices are endless.
Carl Dudley, in his book Effective Small Churches in the Twenty-first Century, gives us another set of categories by which we can characterize pastors. He suggests that there are pastors who are specialists, others who are generalists and still other who are lovers.
The point that he makes is that small churches want their pastors to be a lover.
“The small church cannot afford a specialist and is not primarily interested in measuring success based on program activity. The small church is built around the relationships of people to people. They want to know the pastor as a person, first. Only second are they interested in the pastor’s skills. Members of the small church want from their pastor what they find most satisfying in belonging to the small church; they are not primarily interested in the specialist or the generalist. The small church wants a lover.” p. 81
Dudley, immediately after the above quote, stresses that there is no sexual connotations in the use of this word and even though I can’t imagine that anyone would think in those terms, I would stress that as well.
It is simply that in a setting that is built around relationships, it is important that a pastor know how to love well.
Feeling that love
It is a leader’s deep love for the people whom she serves that keeps that leadership role from being just another job. When my children were teenagers, I used to jokingly say that my job was acting as chauffeur for my children. I just served as pastor on the side.
Some times it felt like I really was a chauffeur in that they were always wanting to go some place. The real catch was that after I had driven them there, I knew that I was going to have to pick them up later.
I never really minded though whatever inconvenience was involved. They were my children. I didn’t drive them because that was part of my job description as a father. I drove them because I loved them.
I have read a lot of material on the subject of church growth. I have read about the importance of vision. I have read about how to apply business principles to the strategy that the church is using. I have read about the importance of leadership. I have read about the importance of establishing brand so that people will automatically associate that brand with your church.
I have benefited from much of what I have read but I have noticed one glaring weakness in much of what is written on the subject of attaining numerical growth. I don’t think that I have ever read anything that teaches me how to love my people. That chapter always seems to be missing. In a small-church setting that is the topic that needs to be right at the top of the list.
Expressing that love
I try to tell my wife that I love her in as many different ways as I can. I’m not saying that I am great at doing this but I do try. She needs to hear me actually say those three little words “I love you” as often as possible but just saying them isn’t enough.
I try to buy her little treats to assure her that I was thinking about her throughout the day. I try to buy her flowers at non-special times. I try to plan special outings. I try to be creative and show her my love so that she knows that I consider myself to be the luckiest husband on earth. I know that I am but I need her to know it too.
As pastors we need to do the same for our churches. We need to tell them verbally that we love them but we also need to be looking for other ways to show that love. I would challenge you to make a list of possible ways that you could show your church that you love them. Try listing ten ways and I will even give you the first two.
1. Brag about them to other people especially if you think that what you say might get back to some of the people in your church.
2. Constantly look for people in your church whom you can praise. Everyone likes to hear that they are appreciated.
The other eight are for you to fill out.
We all have different gifts and abilities. We all relate to people in different ways. You may not be as good a preacher as Bruxy Cavey. You may not be as effective an apologist as Ravi Zacharias. You may not be the scholar that NT Wright is. But there is one thing that you can do better than anyone else in ministry today. You can be the best lover to your church that anyone can be. If Carl Dudley is right and I think that he is, that is what your people really want.