A lot of us may be doing that to the church we’re pastoring.
In a recent comment on NewSmallChurch.com, a reader named Tom Burkholder wrote this: “As a bi-vocational pastor for over 23 years there are very few fellow ministers who do not see small churches as stepping stones instead of real long-term ministries.”
I responded to him this way:
“That’s a great point about stepping-stones, Tom. I think one of the big reasons many Small Churches stay unhealthy when they don’t need to, is that too many pastors aren’t putting their heart into the Small Church ministry they have.
“Instead, they’re looking for something bigger – or they put all their energy into making their Small Church bigger, instead of healthier. This makes the church they are supposed to be pastoring feel overlooked and neglected. That’s not a great recipe for a healthy ministry or a healthy church.”
The New Small Church Theme Song?
The whole time I was writing my response to Tom, the old Monkees song, I’m Not Your Stepping-Stone, was playing in my head. (Yes, I’m that old.)
I wonder how many suffering, overlooked churches would like to sing that song to their long parade of former pastors, if they could?
One of the most universal statistics for healthy churches is this: The longer the average stay of the pastor, the more likely the church is to be healthy. The quicker the turnover of pastors, the sicker the church.
To be sure, there are some churches that are so dysfunctional they chase off pastor after pastor. But more often than not, pastoral turnovers are the result of a pastor looking for greener pastures.
What would happen if every pastor of every Small Church saw their ministry, not as a stepping-stone to something bigger, but as an investment to make with all their heart and soul?
Stepping-Stone Pastorates Are Bad for Pastors, Too
Not only is it toxic for churches when pastors treat them like stepping-stones, it’s toxic for pastors too – and for the pastor’s family.
Too many pastors and their families live like spiritual vagabonds. They move from place-to-place, year after year, without establishing personal, social or spiritual roots. All while complaining preaching that their congregation members should be making a stronger commitment to one church and putting down spiritual roots. That’s a hard message for a congregation to take seriously from their fifth pastor in a decade – which happened in my current church, until I dug in and stayed 22 years and counting.
Most of the time, pastoral relocation is not because churches want them to leave, but because the pastor is looking for something better – and better is always defined as bigger.
Don’t Leave Them There, Lead Them There
No one can pastor a church well if they’re always keeping one eye on something bigger and better. People know when they’re being used.
Yes, we should always strive for more. And we should never settle for less. But we don’t get there by ignoring or belittling the church we’re currently called to, or by treating the people in it as stepping-stones to something better.
We get to a better place by leading the church we’re in to a better place – even if it isn’t a bigger place. And that starts with us making a full commitment to them.
There’s a big difference between settling for less and determining to commit fully to where you are for as long as God has you there.
Do you want to pastor a church you love? Love the church you’re pastoring.
So what do you think? Have you treated a church like a stepping-stone just because it’s small?
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