Imagine the scene with me for a moment:
It’s 10 minutes before the start of the worship service. You’ve spent several hours working on your sermon. You have perfectly punctuated each primary point. You’ve spent time discipling and shepherding your people throughout the week. You straighten your mic, grab your Bible and head into the sanctuary to be greeted by … well, no one, actually. But there are still a few minutes before the service starts. “They’ll show up,” you say to yourself. “Maybe small groups are running long.” You make your way around the sanctuary to greet the early-comers. You hug the old ladies and shake hands with the new couple. The crowd doesn’t grow much. You go grab your guitar (a replant pastor wears multiple hats, mind you) and lead worship along with the praise team. Then you preach your heart out and wait for the flood of folks committing their lives (or at least, re-committing) to Christ. And you wait. No one responds. As the time for the offering arrives, you pray that the small crowd will be big givers. On Monday morning, you realize that wasn’t the case. Small crowd. Small offering. Small salary. Small. Small. Small. You might begin to wonder, if God is so big, why are things here so small?
I hope you can relate to the story above. For a long time, I walked through this on a near-weekly basis. Now I only wrestle with it a couple of times each month. This is the reality of a church that is going through the hard work of revitalization. So, each week, I have to remind myself regularly of three things I must do (or stop doing) to lead our folks well.
Don’t judge your success by the size of the crowd. This is key. If you focus on how many people aren’t in worship, you will hit a wall. I’ve been there. I’ve been in normative (<200) churches my entire life. I’ve spent the past five years pastoring two of them. Do you know what I’ve learned? There’s often no rhyme nor reason why you’ll have a big crowd one Sunday and a small crowd the next week. Mr. Smith got sick that week. The Johnsons are out of town on vacation. Steve’s alarm didn’t go off (or it did, and he’s afraid to tell you he hit snooze through church). Don’t let your self-worth as a pastor be determined by the size of the crowd on Sunday morning.
Stop day-dreaming of “bigger.” “Bigger isn’t better. It’s just bigger.” That’s a phrase one of my mentors has said to me many times. I’m finally starting to believe it. Don’t buy the lie that all your problems would disappear with 100 more people in worship. Some problems might, but I guarantee a whole host of newproblems would arise. Don’t let yourself start thinking, “Well, if only.” That won’t do you or your church any good. Love on the folks God has called you to shepherd now. Don’t neglect the real church you’re called to lead now for an imaginary church you’d like to lead in the future.
Serve faithfully in the small things. Send birthday cards. Call folks on their anniversaries. Text folks just to let them know you are praying for them. Spend some time in the nursing home. Little things like these are really big things to your people. That’s how they know you love them. And a church that knows their pastor loves them will start to love each other. And a church that loves each other will be a testimony to the community around her.
The simple fact is this: Church revitalization is hard. It can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Progress is often slow. But don’t give up. God has you in your church for a very specific purpose: to see His kingdom increased. Keep serving Him and His people faithfully. Keep in mind Peter’s words about the one who serves faithfully as an elder: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Pet. 5:4, CSB)
Published March 16, 2018