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

 

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 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.

Reclaiming the Office of The Pastor

Pastor Banner

What does a pastor look like to you? What images come to mind?

A few weeks ago I called a local business about an event we were doing.  The lady on the phone took my information down and asked me, “so are you the youth pastor?” I replied, “No ma’am, I am the pastor.”  She was surprised that I was THE pastor because she didn’t expect THE pastor to do such menial tasks as make phone calls.  In her mind, she thought surely I must have a secretary, assistant or another pastor who would be more suited to taking care of trivial issues.  Her response is not uncommon in my experience.  Others have responded to me in similar fashion.  This is the way people see pastors today. They have the image more like that of a CEO of an organization than an approachable person in the community.   But as an average pastor, we don’t always have the luxury of having people who take care of things for us. We have to do the little things to keep our churches going.

My experience on the phone that day, and other experiences like it, have caused me to wonder about how the role of the pastor has become more equated with the CEO than the person who cares for the affairs of the household of God.  The reality is that the phenomenon of the mega church and multi-level staff organizations have turned many pastors into CEOs.  Nearly all the pastor conferences are nothing more than leadership conferences that teach organizational leadership principles. Today’s pastors have people to do pastoral care, make business decisions, manage the staff and do all sorts of jobs that used to be the pastor’s responsibility. One of the fastest growing positions in the church is the Executive Pastor who runs the day to day operations and staff of the church.

The idea of a pastor being a CEO just isn’t the reality of my pastoral experience.  I have to participate in every level of ministry and church life.  Even though I have a staff, they are part time and aren’t always available to me to help with the day to day.  I make my own phone calls, do my own media, sometimes clean the church, run the errands, manage the calendar, preach the sermons, do pastoral care and do many other tasks that people today do not think a Pastor should do.  But, this is the reality for 80% of us that pastor an average church.  That is what average pastors do.pastors-office

I don’t want to be a CEO.  I want to be a pastor.  In the next few blogs I will look at a couple images the Bible gives for the pastor that have nothing to do with being a leader of an organization.  I believe it is time we take back the corporate images of the Pastor and reclaim the biblical model for pastoral ministry found in the images of the shepherd, the levite and the elder.  These images of being a pastor are not celebrated today as they were in years past, but they are still the dominant roles for pastors of average churches like ours.  I will share about each of these images and how they empower the average pastors to embrace our identity and reject the pull toward corporate church models.

Some Observations on Father’s Day

Fathers-Day

Father’s Day is always on a Sunday.  Like many churches, this year I had to wrestle with what we were going to do for fathers on Fathers Day.  I usually try to think of something simple (and cheap) to give to the fathers just like I do on Mother’s day.  Last year I gave out “Dad’s Rootbeer.” This year I chose a small ratchet strap.  It seemed like something Dads would need.  But a day or so later I was talking with a friend.  He said to me, “What does a ratchet strap have to do with being a father?”  It was a good question.  I admitted I didn’t really know.  He went on to say “What do fathers want?  Time with their kids.  Ratchet straps are for men, not dads.”  His words have been resonating with me.  I have been thinking about them for a week now.  I have also been thinking about the pressure I  feel when I see what other churches did for men on fathers day.  Some churches go all out.  And many times I am jealous of what they do for Fathers. But my friend’s comment has me thinking.

What I am about to say is just some observations.  So please forgive me if they come across as critical. Maybe they are, but they aren’t meant to be.  Please just hear my own struggle in these observations.  Pastoring is a tough enough job without having our fellow pastors criticizing each other.  But I think a few things need to be considered when it comes to Father’s Day. These are thoughts about how we celebrate Fathers Day I am struggling with.

First, I question how Mothers day and Fathers day became Christian holidays to begin with.  Its obvious, if they land on a Sunday, everyone expects the church to do something.  Many pastors, including myself, have shied away from the whole “mothers stand up and we will honor you” thing.  I think we all realize that family situations are so much more complicated.  That applies to Dads as well.  My Dad used to alway say that he hated Fathers Day at church because on Mothers Day the Pastor would say how wonderful mothers were. On Fathers Day, the pastors would beat up on the dads for not doing enough.  I don’t think he’s alone in that sentiment.  Being a parent is really hard. And no one thinks they do a good job at it.  Because of these things, I have had to stop making the service about Dads or Moms and just keep our focus on Jesus. I figure the families can celebrate their own parents well enough without me.

Second, it seems Fathers Day has turned into a sort of “man day” or an annual celebration of men.  In the same way that not all women are mothers, not all men are fathers.  It seems to me that car shows, barbecues, tool give aways and manly events are becoming the most popular way to celebrate fathers today.  But so many of those things are stereotypical ”manly” things. But are they ‘fatherly” things?  I wonder how the female children of that father enjoy the car show?  I wonder if that 50 inch TV will encourage a father to spend more time with their kids?  What if the father doesn’t like cars or bacon or doesn’t fix anything around the house?   What if they love to read? What church gives away books?  What exactly are we celebrating about fathers by giving away WD-40 and big screen tvs?  Those seem more like man things (if that is such a thing).  Like my friend asked, “what does that have to do with being a father?”  I even have a friend who has never had kids who won a pressure washer at a Fathers Day service a couple years back.  He wasn’t sure if he should take it.  You see?  Isn’t it confusing?  I think next year I will give away something that will give fathers time with their children.  To me that would honor fathers. I am not sure what yet. But I have to think of something.

Thirdly.   I fear that the modern church has turned every holiday into a marketing scheme.  Remember when we used to have big Christmas productions so that we could invite all our friends to church?  Now we do that for every holiday: Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Mother’s Day, Fathers Day, Grandparents Day, Memorial day…you get the point.  I know why churches do it up big on Father’s Day.  Its another opportunity to invite people to come to church.  Maybe it works.  But I am afraid its starting to feel like a gimmick to get men to go to church. We sure brand it that way with all the meat, cars and mustaches!  Plus, it really doesn’t work for the average church. Many times these are our lowest attended services.  We don’t get holiday bumps like larger churches. My father comes to my church on Father’s day, but I am the pastor!  Many of my members go to be with their fathers at their churches on Fathers Day. And most of them go to the big churches who have the big events.

On the one hand I don’t think we do enough to honor both fathers and mothers for the role they play.  I believe parents have a tough job.   Fathers who stay engaged should be celebrated.  On the other hand, I hope the way we go about celebrating fathers doesn’t distract us from the true value of fathers.  I don’t want to celebrate men, I want honor Fathers.  Fathers matter to children.  Especially to the fathers of children who are still in the homes. These are the fathers I want to go out of my way to say thank you to.  Thank you for playing with your kids when you are tired. Thank you for putting down the remote and reading to your kids. Thank you for taking a trip to the park. Thank you for putting your wife’s needs ahead of your own. Thank you for showing up at the doctor appointment.  Thank you for playing barbies and princesses with your girls.  Thank you for teaching your child when they do something wrong instead of just punishing them.  What can I give a Father who does that?  Do you know?  What can I pass out on a Father’s Day that will encourage and honor Dad’s who do that?  Because that is worth celebrating.

The Economics of the Average Church

MoneyMatters_categoryGraphicOn this blog we try to focus on the average experience for the average pastor. So much of the church world is focused on the exceptional experience of the most successful churches. Many of the experiences written in leadership books usually reflect the 5-15% of pastors who pastor churches of over 200.

One place where the experience of the average pastor is most profound is in finances.  Nothing is perhaps more of a struggle for the average church than church finances.  My experience over the past 6 years has been a good one.  It has always been a struggle but we have managed our finances well and have had very few crisis moments. For that I thank God and my leadership team that has helped me navigate that.  My church pays me a full time salary and I have several part time staff members we are able to give a small weekly salary to.  But, I know even my experience is the exception.  For many average pastors, they would love to have even my experience.

The economics of the average church are difficult considering a couple of factors:

  • The average church is America is 80 people.
  • The average giving per attendee per month is between $80-$100.
  • The average church in America can only sustain one full time salary (if they can afford it at all) and only at the attendance level of 120 are they able to hire someone to help them. For example, 60% of churches in my state are pastored by bi-vocational pastors. These churches cannot afford to pay a full time salary.
  • Churches that are under 100, if they can pay a pastor full time, usually have to devote between 45%-55% of the income to the salaries, where as larger churches can be 35%-50%.
  • Many average churches are in smaller communities that do not have professional jobs available to people. Smaller communities are only getting smaller. And small churches are only getting poorer.

The economics of the average pastor and average church presents a unique set of challenges that small churches have to face:

  • You are expected to do more with less – People visiting your church expect you to have everything a larger church has, but with only a fraction of the resources.  We simply can’t keep up.
  • The pastor is expected to be just as committed to church life, despite the fact that 60% work jobs outside the church.  There isn’t enough time in the day to be working on developing vision, programs and people like  churches that can support a full time pastor.
  • The pastor usually is dealing with the burden of both the church and their own family money pressures.  Its a double edged sword for most pastors.
  • Many of the burdens of the menial tasks and issues cannot be solved by hiring people or buying a new one of something.  That means more energy is given to keeping something going by doing it yourself or going without.

Average Finances in the Average Church

As frustrating as the above challenges are, some economic realities also come into play for the average church verses the larger church.  If the average church is 80 people and the average per capita giving is $100 per month, then your average monthly income is $8,000.

  • If you pay a pastor, its $3,000 – $4,000 per month (45%-55%).  That is about the average salary for churches that can afford a full time pastor.
  • If you have a mortgage, a good range is 30% of your income; $2,500.
  • That leaves you $1,500-$2,500 for other expenses taxes, insurance, utilities and emergencies.  There is not much room for purchases, additional staff and luxuries like advertisement, hiring people to do lawn care, etc.

However, the example given above of $100 per month per person is the exception.  $80 per month for 50-70 people might be more normal for most of the average pastors I know.

  • Total income would be $4,000-$5,600 per month
  • Pastor’s salary could only be $2,000-$2,800 per month
  • Plus a mortgage, utilities, etc.
  • It is a real challenge to have a great church that offers lots of things and does lots of ministry when you barely can make your financial obligations!

Here is the reality of the average church and economics.

If you lose a family of 4 for whatever reason (move, go to another church, etc), you stand to lose $300-$400 per month for that one family leaving.  If you lose several families in a year, you could lose up to 15-20% of your income.

  • That could mean not buying a new computer for the pastor. So he buys it himself
  • That could mean the church not paying the pastor’s medical insurance (if they are able to at all).
  • That could mean not being able to pay a part time kids pastor or worship leader.
  • That could mean not doing an outreach that would cost $300 or not spending money on an event for the church.
  • That could mean not being able to buy ink cartridges to print bulletins.
  • All of these are realities that average pastors deal with simply by losing one family.

On the flip side, if it is a church of 300 people and the average income is $24,000 per month and they lose one family ($300 pm), you may not even notice it.  It doesn’t change whether or not you pay insurance, whether you can buy printer ink, whether you can by curriculum.  In many ways, a larger church may not even notice an average family giving an average amount in an average month.

The Blessings of Average Church Finances…

Yes, there are some! Its not all bad news and difficulty for us average pastors. There are some benefits I have found for average church economics:

  1. I am forced to be creative.  I used to just buy everything. Now I think of ways to do something without the option of buying it.  For example, most of my stage designs cost less that $25 because I buy things at the dollar store or borrow them from others.  Once you get used to not buying things, you appreciate the value of creativity.
  2. I am forced to use people.  Its easier to hire someone to mow or fix plumbing  or clean the church or build something.  But when you don’t have money, you look to the people in your church to chip in.  I have found that there usually people who enjoy those small tasks that make a big difference.
  3. I appreciate what giving means.  Every dollar has a face in a small church.  I see hard working people giving because they love God.  Therefore I respect each dollar. Its precious and is a gift of worship. The fewer dollars you have, the more you appreciate the people who give them.
  4. One family can change everything.  Because losing one family affects the average church so much, gaining one family can also help so much. For us, there is a huge difference between 70 people and 90 people.  Gaining three or four families can take the stress off and allow us to do so much more. There is a lot of hope that one of two families can bring.

Walking in Spiritual Leadership

This Way Is 30:21Leadership has taken over the church world.  Rarely can you find a pastors conference any more. Everything is about leadership.  I am trying to recover from leadership overdose.  You see, if you look at my library of books I have read as a pastor, they are dominated by leadership books.  Many of them I enjoyed greatly and gave me great principles to be a good leader.  But I think I have focused too much on leadership and not enough on Spiritual Leadership.

To balance this over-emphasis on organizational leadership in the church, the Century Leadership movement that my local denomination launched provides good principles from the leadership world without neglecting the role of Pastor as a spiritual leadership.   Darren Pilcher’s passion is to develop true spiritual leader in our local churches. (Darren blogs regularly on this topic. check it out!). It takes more than organizational principles to be a good pastor.

Organizational leadership is necessary in large church organizations that have multi-levels of staff or leadership. But in the average church, the organizational structure is fairly simple and often fairly flat.  Many of the principles taught at leadership conferences only address the experience of the larger church.  The average church operates differently.  It has too.  However, it seem to me that leadership in the small church has some leadership tendencies that I have found out personally never work:

  • Leading by Culture – This is where Pastor decides the direction of the church based on “what others are doing.”  While I certainly never want to become outdated in my leadership, culture should not be the organizing principle of my church. Not even church culture. To me, the drive to imitate what is working elsewhere destroys our uniqueness.  And its never worked for me. What will make your average church successful is embracing its uniqueness.  Be who you are and don’t be driven by where the church world is going.
  • Leading by Fear –  Many pastors are afraid to lead the church into what they feel God wants because of fear of losing people or losing what little financial support they already have.  It is reality we all deal with.  When you lead from fear you always end up with an incomplete version of the church God wants you to become.  The fear of not realizing God’s vision for your church should overrule the fear of those who won’t embrace it.
  • Leading by Knowledge – This type of leadership is the type that is always looking for a magic bullet to success and growth.  This assumes that if you just had the right information on how to do things, it will get better. We fall into this trap so many times.  When we learn something new, we go to our church and say “this is what we should do.”  Meanwhile, our people are saying to themselves, “this is what he about the last idea.”  Gain all the wisdom you can from good knowledge, but realize there is no magic bullet.

I think what is needed today for the average pastor is good spiritual leadership.  There is wisdom in the leadership movement, but true Spiritual leadership is needed in the church because it is God’s church and not ours.  Our agenda for the direction of our church is irrelevant.  We are shepherd, Jesus is the true leader.  Therefore, the only leadership that matters is God’s leadership.

Spiritual leadership is needed in the church because it is God’s church and not ours.

Spiritual leadership is Spirit-focused.  To be “spiritual” is to be full of the Spirit.  To lead spiritually is to have the direction you lead be lead by the Spirit.  The best principle for leadership in your local church is: “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church”(Rev 2-3). The church will go nowhere without the Spirit.   When we don’t listen to the Spirit it is easy to miss God’s purposes for our churches.   Every book of the New Testament was God’s Spirit filled instructions to a church in a particular location.  Let the Spirit of God lead you as you lead your congregation.  The book of Isaiah reminds us that this type of leadership. God says to his people:

  “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

The best Spiritual leadership is listening to that voice that tells you, “This is the way.”  Your leadership as a Pastor is not to follow the culture, fear or the latest ideas.  It is to follow the Spirit. That means that the best leadership for the local church is a Spirit-led pastor.  The Holy Spirit is the filter that allows you to sift through ideas that you have for your church.  When you are led by the Spirit, you have the freedom to discern not only what you should do to lead your church, but also the when you should do it.

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The Spirit gives us confidence to say no to good ideas when knowledge says yes.  The Spirit gives us faith to make brave decisions that will be in the best interest of our church in spite of the fear of what it will cost us.  The Spirit gives us confidence in who we are instead of measuring ourselves against the paradigm of those around us.    The Spirit leads us into all the fruit we wish for our personal life.  How much more will “keeping in step” with the Spirit produce the fruit we want to see in our church (Gal 5:25)? Today you will make decisions about your church.  Be a Spiritual leader.

Selfishness and the Church Size Debate

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Last week, popular pastor and church leadership expert, Andy Stanley, made headlines over controversial comments characterizing people who like small churches as being “selfish.” During a sermon discussing the benefits of church he offered to let his listeners in on a “secret” of large churches.  His goal, he said, was to have a church big enough to have both a Jr. High and High School ministry.  The benefits of that sort of arrangement are obvious to a large church. However, what he said next got him in trouble.  He said, “If you don’t go to a church large enough to have Jr High & High School ministry…you are selfish.”

You can watch what he said here:

Andy of course apologized, to his credit.

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CT did a story about it and he explained how he doesn’t really feel this way.  Christianity Today Article

I won’t try to speak for Andy on whether or not he actually believes what he said. I can’t know his heart.  However, I am absolutely convinced that the phenomenon of the large church has created a culture that believes exactly that.  “If you go to a small church, you are robbing your family.”  We all know that is exactly what people believe and what large churches believe as well.  The irony of Andy’s comment is, you cannot say on the one hand “Circles are better than rows” and at the same time say “its better for your kids to be in a church large enough” to have everything they need to not “hate church.” If circles are better, are not small churches the BEST environment of your kids? Or is it only the amenities offered in large churches that makes kids either like or “hate” church?  I’m confused!

Andy said what the church world believes:  Bigger is by definition better.  Bigger means more people, more stuff, better quality stuff, better quality people and programs.  We have so bought into the lie that bigger is better we are even willing to guilt trip people into NOT going to an AVERAGE size church.  That somehow, if you chose a small church, you are robbing your child.  If your child hates church its because they didn’t have all the things his friends church had.  Is this what the Kingdom of God has been reduced to?  Is this the church that Jesus established?  Churches big enough to provide the best possible environment for youth to make friends and love going to church?

Nonsense.  And just plain wrong.

I am trying to think of what I can say to this phenomenon. I am at a loss.  I am just plain frustrated. Not at Andy or LifeChurch or anyone else. But at the system. Here are some questions I have been asking myself after Andy’s comments and talking to my fellow Average Pastors:

  1.  How many churches have closed because of the large church in your area is offering something better (ie. bigger)?
  2.  How many pastors of average churches are 2-3 families away from being viable, but our culture has told people they shouldn’t go to a small church because they are selfish?
  3. How many pastors, who went to a bible school or university, got credentials and have a call to minister but have no where to go because  another church plants a satellite campus and replaces a pulpit with nothing more than branch manager of a video venue?
  4. How many millions of dollars are used to build foyer areas that have a coffee shop with $30,000 wifi system, when a fraction of that could revitalize and revolutionize an average church in the community?
  5. How many of the 80% of Average pastors who pastor churches of under 150 could receive a salary for serving their church if just 20 out of Andy’s 30,000 member church would be “selfish” and chose an Average church?
  6. How many churches employ full time graphic artists, meanwhile  62% of pastors in Oklahoma are bi-vocational and have to work a second job just to provide for their families?
  7. How many young aspiring minister who in a small church could have the opportunity to be used and gain experience end up sitting as just another attender in a church staffed with “professionals”?

Is this really better?

What Andy described as his vision for the best kind of youth group is the exception, not the rule!  Andy Stanley’s church represents the reality for less than 2% of churches in America.  The church world has bought into that lie that they should be normal.  There is a place for Andy’s church.  But it is supposed to be the minority.  The AVERAGE CHURCH that he is decrying is NORMAL.  Your church, with a small youth group, a hand full of kids, no coffee shop, no HD video cameras, just small circles of people who are becoming more like Jesus, WE ARE THE CHURCH. We are Average Pastors of Average Churches.

In the past two months I have seen Average Churches I know of:

  • 6 people worked all day to put on a relationship workshop for  20 couples from the community, free of charge.
  • A church give an extra 25% of a months income to help another church in our community stay on its feet after a church split.
  • A youth group of 3 kids decide together that will raise money to send the one kid that wants to compete in a fine arts competition.
  • A church give food out to 40 needy families on a weekly basis despite not having enough income to pay the bills this month.
  • A small church full of people organize a city wide festival for its city of 3,000 people.
  • People called to serve Jesus show up week after week to teach 3 kids in a preschool class because those 3 kids are important to Jesus.
  • Pastor’s wives work child care so that the nursery workers could go to a church service.
  • Volunteer staff take elderly members to doctor’s appointments.

Don’t tell me that people who love churches like that are selfish.  Don’t tell me our children are not benefiting from that type of community and culture.  We are the unselfish ones who give our lives, sacrifice our livelihoods to make a difference in the local church.  The ones who will worship in your church this Sunday are not selfish, they are brave. They are going against the tide of our ‘bigger is better’ culture. They are choosing something that is counter to the message our culture is sending them.

This Sunday, take time to thank your people for being unselfish.  Thank them for choosing to worship with you.  Whether the church world believes it or not, you have some of the greatest people in the world that call your church home.