As hard as pastoral ministry can be, why would anyone want to stay in the same Small Church for two decades and counting?
Because, as wild as the ride can be sometimes, the joys far outweigh the challenges.
Here are just a few.
(Today is the last of a 3-part series, looking at the keys, the cautions and the joys of having a long-term pastorate in a Small Church.)
At one year, I was their pastor.
At ten years, they were my church.
At twenty, we’re friends.
At one year, I was their pastor, because that was the title that went with the position. It said so on my business cards and the church bulletin. And the new church ad with my name in it had finally come out in the Yellow Pages. (Yes, kids, we had to wait a year for new phone books. Check Wikipedia to find out what a phone book is).
At ten years, they were my church, because the people who had arrived since I had become the pastor, now outnumbered those who were here when I started. Plus, most of the church ministries were ones I’d launched, and the rest had been changed enough that they were my responsibility now.
At twenty, we’re friends, because that’s what happens when people know and love each other that long. And even those who have come to the church in the last few years have become friends, not just church members, because we’ve let each other into our lives on some pretty deep levels.
I love these people. They’re the best part of the last two decades.
Reaping What You Planted
There’s nothing like eating the fruit of seeds you planted decades ago. Deep roots produce sweet fruit.
I had written an example of how this has happened for me, but a comment from a member of my congregation, following one of my recent posts, blew what I was going to say out of the water. Click here to check out Brian’s beautiful, touching words.
That kind of testimony doesn’t happen without God doing some very special work over a long period of time.
Breaking Through Spiritual Growth Barriers
Just over two years. That’s the length of the average pastorate.
There are plenty of factors that go into that, of course, but one of them is that there are too many pastors who aren’t growing spiritually.
We go to a new church, dazzle them for a few months to a year with fancy sermons and events. Then we run out of material. So we repackage and recycle the old stuff. By the end of the second go-round, people start sensing something’s wrong.
Instead of continuing to learn and grow spiritually, the pastor “feels the call” to find another church, where the cycle repeats itself.
But when you’ve been pastoring in the same church for 5, 10 or 20 years, you can’t keep recycling. There’s no faking anything. It’s grow or die.
Nothing will test, challenge, prod and inspire someone into a deeper spiritual walk like pastoring a Small Church for a long time.
Big Churches are used to pastoral longevity. Churches can’t become massive by having a series of revolving-door pastors. But many Small Churches aren’t used to longevity. So when a Small Church pastor sticks around for a while, it matters. And people notice.
By the simple fact of the passage of years, I’ve become a dependable part of people’s lives. Even (maybe especially) for people who’ve moved away. It’s not unusual now to get phone calls and emails from long-gone church members when they need advice or counsel – sometimes about troubles in their current church.
Why? They know they can trust me. And part of that trust is because they know where to find me. A lot has changed in two decades, but I’m still here.
Trust is like an exotic, fragile plant. It takes a long time and constant care to grow to full size, and can be destroyed by the faintest whisper. So when it lasts for twenty years, that’s something to celebrate.
And the trust isn’t one way, either. Tonight while writing this, I received a text message from a deacon. We had a board meeting earlier this evening, and some interesting challenges were raised. I asked for their prayers and support, knowing they’d give it. The text was a follow-up to re-affirm that they were serious. We’re with you. We have your back.
I didn’t need the text to know it. But it strengthens the bond of trust to receive it.
Life-Long Prayers Answered
When my family and I came to Fountain Valley in 1992 to pastor our current church, our kids were ages eight, five and two. So my wife and I prayed a Life Prayer.
Our Life Prayer was that the Lord would bring us to a church where we could stay in ministry until our youngest child graduated from high school. That way, all three of our kids would not have to be moved around every few years, but could look back to one church and town as the place they grew up. Tragically, that’s a rarity for pastor’s kids.
Veronica, Matt & Phil all graduated from high school in Fountain Valley. The Sunday after Phil graduated in 2009, I told my church about our Life Prayer and thanked the congregation for the part they played in answering it. In 2012, I married my daughter and son-in-law in this same church. A blessing we never even had the foresight to include in that Life Prayer. And now, at 20 years, we’re just gonna keep right on going.
Anything I can say in response to such blessings seems trite. But I’ll say it anyway.
Thank you, Cornerstone. And thank you Jesus, for Cornerstone.
There’s nothing on earth like a great Small Church.
So what do you think? What joys have you experienced in your church over the years?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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