Proximity Matters

Some time ago, I attended a Century Leadership roundtable that featured Nancy Ortberg as the speaker. She said something profound that day that has resonated with me as I have thought about the state of the church.  Nancy said, “You can admire someone you have put on a pedestal, but you will never be changed by them.” I think what she was getting at is proximity matters when it comes to vital spiritual relationships.

The law of proximity in science states that objects that are close together tend to group together and  become more like each other.  Applied to the church world, we become that which we are close to.  We are changed not by how good the information the person offers, but by how close we are to the person we are learning from. Information without relationship is not enough to be changed or formed.

Which begs a very pertinent question in today’s church culture. A very large percentage of Christians today are attempting to be pastored by men and women they have never even met. The advent of the large church and technology has created this dynamic that has never existed in ecclesiastical history: we have virtual shepherds pastoring virtual sheep Judging by the overwhelming popularity of this model,  both parties seem to be just fine with the fact that they will never meet.

But what Nancy said begs this question. Can the direction of your spiritual formation come from a person you have no proximity to? We can admire what they say, but can we be transformed by them? Relationships without presence are not relationships at all. We may be inspired by someone (a celebrity, a successful entrepreneur, a famous author or a famous pastor) but will we ever changed by them? Is simply good information enough? Isn’t knowing the person we seek to be shaped by essential to our formation?

I don’t know Nancy Ortberg. What she said certainly made me think. I was inspired. But I would imagine, were I to spend time with her or work for her, she would not just inspire me. I would be changed simply by my proximity to her. I would have to think the same would be true in the local church. People can get information anywhere. Just turn on your TV. Just tune into one of thousands of live streaming churches every week.

The church is not a dispensary for good speeches. It is Jesus’ life giving body. Proximity to one another and to our spiritual leaders is not just something we do as an activity. it is the essence of the church itself. Karl Vaters once said mentoring IS discipleship. It is the most natural form of spiritual formation. The larger a church becomes, the more discipleship becomes a program instead of a relationship.  Its does so out of necessity. It seems like church has been reduced to a good concert and a half hour speech by a virtual stranger, surrounded by a bunch of strangers.

Since I don’t pastor one of those churches, I will ultimately never be able to truly be able to evaluate this model. I am simply an observer. It does however challenge me as a pastor of people I know to make sure those I wish to impact know me. It’s a challenge to be known. Without it, I am simply another voice with good information.

As an Average Pastor, you have the awesome opportunity to sit in proximity to your people. You have the opportunity to be known and to know those you are seeking to shape.  Take advantage of this proximity.  Pour into the lives of your people.  Don’t be just another person in their life with good information.  Because you are an average pastor, you have the opportunity to not only inspire, but to transform people.

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A Church You Would Attend

I have always enjoyed meeting visitors on Sundays. I am always fascinated by why families decide to visit churches. I often ask where they live and how they heard about the church.  One common conversation I often have with visitors is about how hard it is for people to find a church that truly fits them. People often talk about how it takes months of visiting churches before they find something they want to attend.

I heard church leadership experts talk about building your church not on who is there, but on who is not there yet.  They often argue that you have all the people you have because of who you are now.  If you want more people, you have to change to try to attract those who are not there yet. Knowing this, I used to  spent a lot of time thinking about how to make our church a place where people would want to attend.

So I decided to spend time and effort focusing on doing things that I thought would attract and keep visitors.  I started to question the format. I worried about aesthetics. I worried about what I would wear.  I worried about who was on stage and what they looked like.  As a Spirit-filled church I worried about what people would think if visitors were to come who didn’t understand the type of gifts we believe in. I put my focus on changing who we were in order to become a church that people would want to attend.  I even found myself making changes that I personally did not enjoy, but I did them to please potential visitors. After all that effort, we didn’t have any more success in keeping visitors. The worst part is, now not only did visitors not want to attend, I didn’t want to go there either!

After exhausting myself trying build a church that some imaginary family would want to attend, I started to think about what kind of church I would want to attend. It was a question I asked our team during our vision discovery process. As our team discussed it, I realized that for the most part, the people who were already there all wanted similar things.  We had similar values and were all there because we wanted to be there. We took those things and made them our core values.   What a freeing decision that was. I no longer had to  worry about whether a visiting family liked us or not. We knew who we were and the type of church we wanted to be. 

This is one of the best parts about being a pastor.  You get build a church you would want to go to.  Its sounds sort of self serving, but it is actually not. As pastor, you should love your church. You should be its biggest fan.  Plus, you will only be effective in doing the things you feel the most passionate about. You can change all you want, but if you don’t love what you have become, what good is it?

Instead of trying to chase the illusive goal of building a church that some imagined visitor would want to attend, why not spend your energies working to build a church culture for the people who have already said this is a church they want to attend.   You can go out of your way to change for the people who aren’t there, but often when we do that, we alienate the people who are there!  While its true, that some visitors may not fit what you are trying to do. But lets be honest, that is happening anyway. There are people out there looking for a church that cares about what you care about. 

If you don’t love your church, start by asking yourself a simple question. If you were to leave your church today and had to search for a church to attend, what would you look for?  Write those things down. Discuss them with your team.  Then put your energies toward building that kind of church.  When you love it, when your team loves it, when your church members love it, others will want to join you.

Don’t Be A Boss, Be A Pastor

It is not unfair to say corporate culture has infiltrated how Pastors see the church.  In previous blogs I have talked about pastors seeing themselves as CEOs rather than shepherds. Today I want to talk about another symptom of the corporate culture.  Pastor, you are not a boss, you are a Pastor.

Recently I have had the opportunity to interact with and see pastors in their own elements. I have enjoyed watching Average Pastors operate in their own churches. I have also had the opportunity to talk to and visit pastors of larger churches.  But most importantly, I have the opportunity to talk to the staff in both contexts.  My conversations with both have revealed that in larger church contexts, staff pastors are often seen as employees. That is not surprising considering that most staff in larger context are full time and are paid to perform duties.  But this is not the case in the Average Church. Most staff are part time at best.  At my church, I was able to pay a small monthly amount to our staff.  Because I wasn’t paying them, I saw them differently. I saw them as servants, not employees.

Staff pastors are some of the unsung heroes of the Average Church.  They volunteer to serve because they love the church and want to be useful to God’s kingdom. There are little rewards with these jobs.  Since they are not full time they have to give of what is left from working their regular jobs. They don’t have time to sit around and plan ministry like full time staff.  Even if you can pay them some each week, they are still mostly operating as volunteer ministers.

So as an Average Pastor, how you lead your staff is important.  How you see them and what you expect of them matters.  If you have a full time staff, it is natural to see yourself as a boss who has employees.  In this context you have to make judgments about performance, value and production.  You have to make sure your staff justifies their salaries. But even in this context you have to admit that is a hard thing to do when it comes to ministry.  How do you judge value in ministry?  Salvations? Events? Attendance?  Its just not the same as the corporate world.

In the Average Church, that sort of evaluation is simply not appropriate.  These men and women are giving what is extra in their lives to the church. They have limited time, energy and resources to give to that ministry. If you treat them like an employee, you will lose them.  If you treat them as people who are there to do things for you, you will lose them. If you see them as problems to be fixed, you will lose them.  In short, in an Average Church, a Pastor is not a Boss.  He is a partner, a leader and a mentor. But not a boss.

I know that in the early years I fell into this trap with my staff.  I came from a church with a full time staff. I treated my staff as employees who I expected to produce.  I saw myself as a Boss who evaluated their production.  I even gave yearly performance reviews (Are you kidding me? I can’t believe I did that!).  Often saw my staff as employees who were there to do what I want. They ‘worked’ for me and I felt justified in trying to make them do what I wanted.

What a foolish mistake. These people give of themselves, not for me, but for Christ and his church. They are there to serve God, not my agenda.  Once I figured that out, I became their pastor who helped them find their calling rather than a Boss whom they worked for.  I got more joy out of seeing what they wanted to accomplish than seeing them execute what I wanted to accomplish.  That is a Pastor. A Pastor shapes people and helps them become something for God. A Boss only looks over the shoulder of those who work for them to make sure they are doing what they are told.  Don’t be a Boss, be a Pastor.

Your staff are a gift from God. Cherish them. Listen to them. Help them achieve their goals rather than using them to achieve yours.  Build them up by investing in them rather than tearing them down when they don’t measure up.  Be a Pastor, not a Boss.

What is an Average Pastor?

It was nearly three years ago that I started this blog on the average pastor.  Since that time this blog has been viewed over 7,000 times and has over hundred of followers.    The response to this information has been so humbling and encouraging.  The success of this concept of the Average Pastor has proved one thing:  Average Pastors are looking for resources for the average church experience. This is why we published The Average Pastor book which is being enjoyed by pastors around the US. Here are some of the testimonies from those who have read the book:

  • “I can not put it down. I hope all of my Facebook friends that Pastor a “Small Church” buy it immediately! You will not be sorry.”
  • “The book is phenomenal and I highly encourage every medium to small church pastor to read this book. You’ll laugh, perhaps occasionally tears will well up, but ultimately you will identify with Pastor Isgrigg’s words and experiences.”
  • “Some great stuff packed into a small book – if you pastor a small or midsize church grab a copy off of Amazon today and be encouraged.”

With more and more exposure to this concept of  being an “average pastor,” some people still misunderstand why we use that label.  So as a reminder, I want to share the first chapter in the book to remind people what we are talking about. You are average, not because you are mediocre, but because your experience as a pastor of a church of under 200 is the average experience of the average pastor of the average church in America.

You Are Average

No that is not an insult. It is the data. If you are a pastor of a church of under 100 you probably feel small. The recent trend of mega-churches and multi-site churches has made you feel this way. Not to mention that all the pastors conferences are focusing on these churches. But it is not true. You and I are not small church pastors. We are Average Pastors of Average Churches.

 

What is average? When it comes to describing quality, people often think of average as being the middle of the road: not exceptional but not terrible. But in statistics, average is a statement of what is typical. It is not a value statement for quality, it is a numerical statement of quantity. Average is the number that represents the most common result of a given range of data sampled. On a bell curve, the average is where most people are. This means that the most common human experience is the average experience, not the exceptional experience.

One of the first leadership books I remember hearing about was “The Enemy Called Average.”[1] Nobody wants to be labeled as “average”, especially not pastors. Everyone of us believes that we will be the exception to the rule. We want to be the one that starts a church that grows to 10,000 people or who takes over a struggling church and builds it into a mega church. Every pastor I have ever met has always started thinking they were that person. I have come to realize that my experience as a pastor of 100 people is the rule, not the exception.

Consider the data:[2]

  • 8% of churches are 100 people or less[3]
  • 2% of churches are under 250 people
  • Average church attendance is 76 people
  • Only 2.4% of churches are over 1000 people
  • 62% of pastors of less than 100 people are full time
  • Average salary is $31,000 for FT pastor[4]
  • 72% of churches under 100 have an annual income of less than $100,000[5]

The Barna group tells us, “Despite the enormous cultural impact of mega-churches and mega-church pastors like Joel Osteen and his 40,000+ Lakewood Church, the largest group of American churchgoers attends services in a more intimate context. Almost half (46%) attend a church of 100 or fewer members. More than one-third (37%) attend a midsize church of over 100, but not larger than 499. One in 11 (9%) attends a church with between 500 and 999 attenders, and slightly fewer (8%) attend a very large church of 1,000 or more attendees.”[6]

What these stats tell us is that the pastor of a church of 100 is normal. It is average. The truth is the mega-church and the large church are both very rare. They are the exception, not the norm! Yet, have you noticed everyone expects all churches to grow to a mega-church? Have you noticed that the conference speakers are always pastors of the exception, not the norm? Have you noticed all the books written by the 2% and not the 98%? Why are so few resources available for the pastor leading a volunteer staff or the church in the rural community?

Average is the normal experience for most pastors of most churches. It is not a problem to be fixed, its normal.

If you are reading this, chances are you are an Average Pastor. Average is not a sign of poor leadership, difficult people or lack of God’s blessing. Average is the normal experience for most pastors of most churches. It is not a problem to be fixed, its normal. It certainly has challenges, that when compared to the experience of larger churches seem to be huge disadvantages. But those challenges are simply normal challenges. If we continue to compare ourselves with the exception we will always feel like a failure. But if we can compare ourselves to the normal church experience, we will see we are not failures at all. We are normal churches with normal challenges to be faced with faith and courage. You are an Average Pastor with an average size church in America. And that is OK!

 

[1] John Mason, “The Enemy Called Average” (Insight Publishing, 1990).

[2] http://www.thearda.com

[3] http://www.thearda.com/conqs/qs_295.asp

[4] “The 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff” Christianity Today, 2011, p. 35.

[5] http://www.thearda.com/conqs/qs_314.asp

[6] https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016

 

It’s Finally Here: The Average Pastor Book

20170113_113530It’s finally here. The Average Pastor Book is now available.  Inside are reflections from an average pastor of an average church.  Now pastors of churches of under 100 have a resource that addresses their unique set of challenges.  The book contains revised blog posts as well as new material to help the average pastor of the average church to embrace their calling. Thank you everyone who follows this blog and believes in this mission.  Your belief in what we are doing has made this book possible.

Buy now on Amazon

Read a sample chapter by clicking the link below.

average-pastor-sample-chapter

Guest Post: Perks and Quirks of the Average Pastor

This post is a guest post of one of my fellow Average Pastors, Jason Byers.  Jason knows what it means to be an average pastor of an average church.  Two years ago, Jason left the comfort of a position in larger church to serve a in the rural church. He is one of my heroes. He is a great pastor, a great leader and a great friend.  

quirks

Perks and Quirks

by Jason Byers

                  A friend of mine was mentored by the legendary youth pastor Jeanie Mayo for a couple years. At his very first meeting with her (along with 20 others from around the nation), she took the group to her bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. Stuffed inside were many vitamins, prescriptions and some over-the-counter meds needed to sustain proper health for her and her husband (then, a lead pastor). She spoke candidly to her guests and explained that she was a very real person who was just trying to do the best she could with what she had.

My friend got to see a side of Jeanie Mayo that I’ve never seen. To me, she is a legend with very few mistakes and many epic achievements! To those who got close enough, they saw both her PERKS and the QUIRKS.

Everyone has them.

We all have strengths to our personalities that we cater to; and weaknesses that we cover up. Yes, even pastors of congregations less than 150 have both perks and quirks!

Churches expect their pastor to have perks. It gives them something to boast about at company picnics and community softball leagues. The pressure to deliver an ideal version of God’s Anointed can be exhausting! But being perfect simply isn’t realistic; just like your favorite team can’t be the world champions every year.

Since every personality has its drawbacks, the trick is to manage the tension between arrogance and self-loathing. You were created by God to be an instrument for His glory! Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought. And, don’t put yourself down either.

If you are an average pastor struggling to keep this balance, here are a couple tips about dealing with your own strengths and weaknesses.

 

YOU’RE NOT AS GOOD AS YOU THINK YOU ARE.

You are a leader for a reason. But some of us are tempted to think we deserve to be where God has graciously assigned us. There’s a fine line between confidence and conceit, and I’m not convinced I’ve mastered that boundary.

Paul said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ ” (1 Cor. 13:21)

God has a way of keeping us humble. Try keeping yourself humble first! The ones who say, “I’m not quirky,” are misleading themselves.

         There is a hidden fool inside all of us.

 

YOU’RE NOT AS BAD AS YOU THINK YOU ARE, EITHER.

Do you want to know a secret? You’re pretty awesome. To think that God didn’t create you with something special to offer is an insult to His divine creativity. He didn’t make a mistake! We may be full of flaws and miscalculations – which are quirky – but there are perks in our personalities too!

Paul said, “The weaker [parts of the body] are indispensable!” (1 Cor. 13:22)

Don’t think for a moment that because you’re at a “small church” you must be a “small person.” The royal blood of Jesus Christ covers you! Realize His anointing on your life! Unleash the perks He has strategically placed in your nature.

         In Christ, we are more than conquerors!

 

I want to thank Danny for letting me write this entry as a guest. This blog (from my good friend) serves as an encouragement to the average pastor – the men and women who aren’t in the spotlight of mainstream ministries. The stigma of the “average church” is that it is inferior to the large churches, and as such will inherit an inferior leader. The temptation of the leader is to mask weaknesses as part of a lie that we’re all super awesome and getting better. This is a mistake!

Accept the truth that everyone – including us average pastors – has PERKS and QUIRKS!

Reclaiming the Office of the Pastor: The Levite

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My first job in ministry was the janitor of the church I attended.  Every week I set up chairs, mopped floors, vacuumed and took out trash.  My pastor used to tell me, “Your job caring for the church is a holy calling.”  I never really saw it that way, especially after I cleaned the same toilets week after week. But I did enjoy the job.  Several years later, I had finished college and the same church hired me as the Children’s pastor. For the next 10 years, I served in ministry but others did the cleaning.  But because I know what it takes to clean the church, I always have been willing to pick up a broom if necessary.

When I became the lead pastor at my Average Church, I found myself right back in the role of taking care of the physical needs of the church.  In an average church, you can’t hire a janitor to clean, paint walls, organize closets, mow and spray for weeds.  I have been an Average Pastor of an Average Church for almost seven years and I still paint, clean, mow and organize this church that God called me to serve. I always thought it would be nice to grow our church to a place where I could afford to pay someone to clean, mow, paint and such.  But, eventually you have to realize that keeping the church clean, freshly painted, maintained and organized is part of the duties of the Average Pastor.  Of course, its always best to get church members involved, which I do.  I have had many people help clean, mow and help when something needs painted or repaired.  But we don’t always have those people when we need them.

If you see pastoring a leadership position where you are the CEO and you have employees who should be doing the day to day, it is easy to get discouraged when there is no one to clean or mow this week.  I have often felt that although I am willing to do these tasks, I shouldn’t HAVE to do these tasks.  It doesn’t help that I look a the church across the street who has a mowing service do their mowing while I am out there as the Pastor on our mower.  It feels like I shouldn’t have to do that.

One day as I was painting a room (and I have personally painted nearly every room in our church), I was having one of those “I shouldn’t have to do this” moments.  But as I was making this room beautiful, I thought back to the levites of the Old Testament.  Here is what God said about the Levites;

“The work of the Levites was to assist the priests, the descendants of Aaron, as they served at the house of the LORD. They also took care of the courtyards and side rooms, helped perform the ceremonies of purification, and served in many other ways in the house of God.” (1 Chronicles 23:28)

The Levites whole calling was to serve the needs of the church.  They were not allowed to own land or have jobs. The Temple was their home and they cared for it. They cleaned, ministered, and took care of the physical needs of the temple.  Pastors are the Levites of this day.  The care of the temple (church) is inherent in our calling.  So why shouldn’t we clean, paint, mow and spray weeds?  That is part of our calling.  For generations priests and monks saw themselves as caretakers of God’s house and many still do today.  The beauty of God’s house is in the levite-pastor’s care.  Sometimes we can have others who help us with that, but it never becomes ‘not our responsibility.’  A CEO can believe that they shouldn’t have to do these tasks, but a pastor who is a true levite can’t.

Could it be that God gets glory from your ministry not only in the pulpit, but in the room you paint or the carpet you vacuum? Could it be that being a pastor is more like my first job, the janitor, than being a CEO or president of a corporation? If you see these jobs as beneath you as the pastor, you may have bought into a corporate model of what it means to be a pastor.  What my pastor said is still true, “Your job caring for the church is a holy calling.”

I encourage my fellow Average Pastors not to resent your role in caring for your church.   It is a holy calling. Every toilet you clean, every table you set up and every menial task you do is a work unto the Lord.  You are in a long line of people called to care for God’s house. Caring for God’s house is very pastoral.  That IS what a pastor does.  That is what we do.

Pervious Post: Pastor as a Parish Priest  

Reclaiming the Office of the Pastor: The Parish Priest

Pastor BannerIn a day and age where being a pastor is being equated with an organizational leader, the average pastor still fills traditional roles typically associated with being a pastor.   A few weeks back I received a phone call from a family I know from a previous pastoral position. They informed me that the father had passed and the 17 year old son asked if I could do the funeral.  I was happy to be there for the family.  When I arrived at the house, they introduced me by saying, “This is our pastor.” It was an honor to be called that but it wasn’t exactly true.  See, I hadn’t been officially their pastor in nearly a decade.  Yet, when they needed someone, they called me.  This family saw me as a their pastor whether they were members of our church or not.

In the past few weeks I have done a funeral and a wedding. In both cases, members of the family commented, “It is so nice to have someone do the service that knows the people they are doing the service for.”  I have wondered about their comments.  It can only be that Pastors today are so removed from their congregations that they don’t perform those functions anymore.  A pastor in a large church may have a staff pastor who does the weddings or funerals because the pastor is too busy.  This is one of the factors that has contributed to the Pastor-as-CEO phenomenon.  Pastors just do not perform historic pastoral functions anymore and the church members know it.

I once heard a pastor say that the role of Pastor is shifting from the hurts and needs of the congregation to the hurts and needs of community.  This statement resonated with me.  I have a congregation that I pastor. But I also have a community that I pastor as well.  Over the past six years I have been asked to do weddings, funerals, counseling, and visiting dying relatives by people who never set foot in the doors of my church.  Being an average pastor has given me the space to be available to people in our community.

Grantchester-Season2-early-iconThis model of being a pastor is reminisent of the English Parish Priest. This reality is depicted well in a PBS show I watched recently called Grantchester.  In the English church, a church was the center of community and the priest felt responsible for everyone in town, whether they attended or not.  In Granchester, Sydney the Priest, often had individuals come to them for their spiritual needs.   They didn’t show up on Sundays but that didn’t mean they didn’t see the pastor of Parish as their pastor.  The Parish pastor is a traditional pastoral paradigm that came from the idea of a Pastor as a Shepherd. The Shepherd takes care of a flock.  He doesn’t run the farm or the city.  He just looks after the sheep and helps whoever is in need.

This is the a paradigm that works  for many average pastors because pastors of larger congregations cannot logistically be available. As average pastors, we are more available to perform these historical functions for people in our church and our community.  I have been in the room of people who have died. I have performed marriages for people who had no other options. I have counseled  people who would never show up in my church but who trust me enough to bear their soul to me.   There are times I feel like there are more people who I pastor outside the walls of my church than inside.  This is one part of being an average pastor I love.

So next time you wish to have the perks of being a pastor of a larger church, remember that you have a ministry that many of those pastors are no able to have.  As an average pastor, you can pastor your community in a way that many pastors cannot.   It is needed in the body of Christ.  The average pastor throughout history has filled this role. It is what Pastors do. Embrace that calling.