Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Small Church Temperament

"Eureka!" Well, not exactly; maybe "Amen" might be a better statement.  A blog I check in with regularly (the author of which posts faithfully, so checking in regularly is actually needed), http://newsmallchurch.com, recently listed the 6 types of small church pastors he has encountered the most. After I read through the list, I went back and settled on number 2, the pastor who is in a small church due to temperament.

Eureka! There appears to be a kind of drive that causes a person to skip from one church to another, looking for bigger things. There is a similar kind of drive that causes a person to work toward making their church bigger. The drive seems to have very little to do with caring about the people, and more to do with caring about people in general and big numbers/prestige in particular. In both situations, the goal is the larger, and the smaller churches or the people who come are simply the means to the end. I've never been able to master this attitude, so I assume I am consigned to pastoring a smaller church.  Amen.

You see, it isn't just about quiet, small gatherings over crowds that gives me a small church temperament. In fact, I would love to preach to larger groups. I might even have the right disposition for it, as one of my earliest mentors in seminary discerned that I would probably be happiest as a larger church pastor, acting, in his words, as a rancher instead of a shepherd. He was probably right. But, oh, what you have to do to get there! How you must treat people when they are a means to an end. Difficult or nonconforming members are viewed as chaff and deadweight, and conforming members are tools to be used for the pastor's, I mean the church's, own benefit. Life within the church becomes the criteria by which a person is judged to be living faithfully. Not based on how well they live for Jesus or how they work or treat their family, but on what they are doing in and for the church. Oh sure, Jesus is still mentioned, but He is the reason to serve or the reason we are drawn together; the focus subversively rests on the church. There is very little room for dying to yourself or taking up your cross and following Jesus when you are working on building your brand for a greater impact.

Please know that I am not against the Holy Spirit doing a great work. In fact, I long to see it. I suppose my struggle is the question of what is the work of the Holy Spirit and what is man's effort? It seems we are surrounded by man's effort. Oh, what I wouldn't give for something that we couldn't doubt, that we could tell is truly of God. He did it with Elijah and Gideon. He did it with Moses. But, there are also times when we are not so sure. The great acts of David's mighty men, did God do them? David's victory over Goliath - probably just David's skill and his willingness to fight for God's honor. Much like faith, maybe the great works are not so much either/or, but both. God and man, working in and through man.

I guess I just wish God's work didn't have to be done in a way that treated people so horribly; a way that told them they weren't needed if they didn't fit into a certain system. The fun (and maddening) thing about a small church is that you can't dictate the pegs based on the holes. You receive what pegs come your way, there aren't enough to be choosy. Then, you build holes based on the pegs. Generally they're square pegs, not as cool as the round ones, but sturdy and stable. A large church can say, "we need 5 round pegs," and they can overlook the square ones that don't fit. A small church says, "I'll help you find a place, and I'll make you a place if need be."

Even this analogy leaves me cold, because people aren't pegs, and there is more to a person than what they can do in a church. And as long as I believe that, I'll probably be pastoring a small church.