Lakeside Wesleyan Church, in Lakeside, California was the first church I served as a staff member. It was a small church and I learned much! Rich Lauby was the pastor then and the church accomplished significant life changing ministry. For more on that story, see the previous Pastor’s Coach article, (Part 1) which includes “6 Words for Small Churches.”
The first church I “officially” consulted was a small church in Ruston, Louisiana. Ever been there? The pastor’s name was Mark and we hit it off immediately. Mark picked me up from the airport and I discovered a loaded .357 Magnum in the front of his truck. I asked him what a preacher was doing with a loaded .357 and he said: “What would I want with one that wasn’t loaded?!” Right then I knew I loved that guy! Of course it was legal, licensed and all that good stuff, but a preacher that packed, that was a first. I quickly learned that Mark loved Jesus, his family, and his church and really wanted it to be healthy and grow. Mark said I was helpful, and I hoped I was, though I was really green as a church consultant. I returned home to write up a report, and mailed it to Mark.
The story took a turn. He called me and said: “Dan, this report is not at the standard I expected or hoped for, it’s not what you can do, I appreciate you, but you need to know that this probably won’t cut it for the churches you consult in the future.” Whoa! He wasn’t asking for another report, he just wanted to be helpful to me. I took his words to heart, and I did write a second and much better report.
Mark was a leader of a small church and he made a big influence in my life as a rookie church consultant. He said something I’ll never forget: “Dan, God has given you great gifts in leadership and ministry, but you have not yet learned how to consult others with what you know.” I am forever grateful for his courage and insight. I realized that there was a difference between being an effective church practitioner and someone who could successfully help others in their ministry. I immediately went to work on becoming a better consultant! I’ve been back at one local church for over ten years now, and I don’t have much time for “formal” consulting, but when I do, that lesson and subsequent growth is still with me.
I’m convinced the number one difference-maker in a small church is the pastor as leader. Like Mark, the pastor sets the pace for the rest of the pack! He influences the other leaders and volunteers, and we all know that next to the favor of God, everything rises and falls on leadership.
In Part 1, I offered “Six Words for Small Churches.” That is, of course, for leaders, but now let’s jump into something specifically about your leadership.
Six Words for Small Church Leaders
Leadership requires courage, and courage doesn’t recognize the size of a church. When you face a fear or take a risk, it doesn’t matter if you have 50 or 190 attending your church. Whether you are at the edge of your budget or need to confront a board member, it feels the same regardless of the size of your congregation. The difference is the size of the leader. Leaders grow by gaining courage. It may sound strange, but you have to practice courage. You can’t read about it and get it. You can listen to a talk or read something and be inspired to do what you need to do, but you don’t really gain courage until you take action. What is before you today that requires courage?
Think of pouring into your leaders like consistently depositing money in a bank account and leaving it there. At first it doesn’t seem like much, but in time the dividends are substantial. That’s how leadership development works. It’s ok to start small. It fact, that’s a good idea. Leadership development is not an event oriented program in which you see how big a crowd you can draw. Here’s how you start. Gather your top 5-8 leaders. Pick a good leadership book. Meet monthly and ask these two questions. 1. What are you learning? 2. How are you applying what you are learning? That’s it! In time you’ll have other groups and add to the learning experience, but simplicity and consistency are essential to the process.
Great leaders have great faith. This thought has humbled me over the years because I don’t know that I always have such great faith. But God is kind and grants favor for belief even the size of a mustard seed! I’ve learned it’s not just how big my faith is, though that matters, but it’s more about the source of my faith! The fact that I trust God for my daily breath and bread, and for every moment of leadership favor, leads to my own increasing faith! I think that is true for you too. You have faith in God for your salvation. You know His grace and love. That’s the foundation you build upon to see Him do great things in your church through your leadership!
What are you good at? That’s the question all leaders must grapple with. What is the strength of your leadership? Are you a good communicator? Perhaps you’re more of a recruiter and equipper? Maybe you are a fantastic administrator, or you are really good with people. Are you a visionary with great ideas?
No leader is good at everything. So figure out what your strength is and lean into it. Improvement is always worthwhile, but don’t try to be great at something that’s not your gifting. Surround yourself with others who can buttress your weaker areas. Let me address one specific area. What if you don’t consider yourself to be a great speaker, how do you fix that? First, speak shorter, about 25 minutes is good. Second, let others teach too, perhaps 12-15 times a year.
We all want our people to mature in less time, we want the budget to increase quicker, and our church to grow faster. But it doesn’t work that way. Even for churches that seem to experience explosive growth, I promise there are things that challenge the patience of the leader.
Growth is organic, not a result of a mechanical function. You can’t “make” your church grow. You can do the right things like pray, encourage, develop leaders, share your faith, invite people, and teach God’s Word. It’s important to remain consistent in those things, with passion, but also with patience, because ultimately the harvest is up to God.
I’m reading a couple of good books right now. Love Does by Bob Goff, and Love Works by Joel Manby. They are great practical reminders of a truth that we as leaders know, but might lose sight of under the pressure of daily leadership. God’s love for you is extraordinary and the core of your leadership is based on that love. No matter how tough it might get, or how blessed you might be, or discouraged you might become, God calls you to love people! Take time to reflect on God’s love for you. Really. Take a minute. Let that love flow through your leadership.
My prayer is that will continue to bless you and your leadership!