By Karl Vaters on May 19, 2022
Principles that make sense in a big church don't always work in a smaller one.
Small churches aren’t just smaller versions of big churches. They have unique gifts, challenges and methods of operation.
But not everyone realizes that fact. Including some small church pastors.
This often leads to frustration when we go to ministerial conferences or read pastoral books. Most (usually all) of the speakers and authors are from large churches, so they offer large church solutions. But when we try to implement them, many of them don’t work for us.
It’s not that the speakers and authors are giving bad advice. It’s just that what works for a big church, often doesn’t work in a smaller one.
And no, I don’t buy the argument that not following the advice of big church speakers and authors is why we’re small. We’ve tried to follow their advice, but a lot of it doesn’t apply to our situations.
As I noted in a previous article, our churches aren’t small because we make small church choices. We make small church choices because our churches are small.
Here’s an example.
You Might Be the Problem, Or…
Recently, a reader got in touch with me, using this opening line, “Karl, I finally have a little time to write you. I’m the senior dude at a small church and I’ve been busy fixing a leak in the men’s bathroom. It’s my calling…”
His men’s room reference was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but it was probably true, too. It reminded me of a video I saw at a ministerial conference a few years ago, promoting Tony Morgan’s book, Killing Cockroaches.
The video tells the story of how, when Tony was a city manager, he was interrupted one day by a screaming woman, running into his office, asking him to kill a cockroach. He dutifully went and killed the offending pest (the cockroach, not the woman). Then he wondered how he’d allowed an atmosphere in which people thought it was appropriate to expect the CEO to kill cockroaches.
Morgan uses this incident to teach lessons about how being a good pastor is like being a good manager. That our days shouldn’t be wasted on trivial tasks, like killing cockroaches.
You can see this short, fun video by clicking this link. Here are the points he makes in it:
Tony Morgan’s “Things I Can Do”
- Blocking time out in my schedule to dream, to plan and to work on the big picture projects
- Empowering other competent leaders, not just delegating the tasks
- Identifying my strengths and then finding others who are different than me to manage around my weaknesses
- Hiring an assistant, someone who’s not a secretary, but rather a leader and a project manager
- Surround myself with problem-solvers, rather than problem-messengers
He concludes the list by saying, “I’m typically the problem when my day is filled with killing cockroaches.”
To which I have to respond…
If your day is filled with killing cockroaches, either you’re the problem, or… you’re a small church pastor.
…You Might Be a Small Church Pastor
Let’s take a look at Tony’s list again. There’s not a bad idea in the bunch. But they don’t match reality for most small church pastors.
- Blocking out time to dream? If you’re bi-vocational, you barely have time to sleep.
- Empowering, not just delegating competent leaders? How about finding one, just one person who’ll volunteer to help out and show up on time.
- Finding others to manage around my weaknesses? (See above problem)
- Hiring an assistant/project manager? Which of the 35 people in the church would be able to do that? And on what (non-existent) budget?
- Surround myself with problem-solvers, not problem-messengers?That roar you heard was small church pastors around the world laughing out loud. What some people call problem-messengers, many of us lovingly call “our congregation”.
Let me repeat. Tony’s list isn’t wrong. Every point is valid. When you’re a manager, you need to prioritize your schedule, hire problem-solvers and make better use of your time and talents. CEOs who kill cockroaches will not be as effective as CEOs who hire cockroach-killers.
But in a small church, the CEO analogy doesn’t apply. Small churches don’t follow a business or city model, we follow a family model.
And small church pastors aren’t like city managers or CEOs. We’re more like older siblings.
Families don’t operate well under CEOs – or under an older sibling trying to act like a CEO.
Families don’t want to be managed, they want to be led. And they want to be loved.
And when you’re part of a family, even the leader of a family, you do things for your family that you wouldn’t necessarily do for your co-workers.
Sometimes you gotta kill cockroaches.
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