It is a unique calling, often forcing a person to work another job in addition to shepherding a flock. In the U.S., I am told, there are approximately 240,000 small church pastors. Those pastors know of the drain, the exhaustion, and the joy of being a “solo pastor” to many people.
A Pastor to the Nones
The mega church is a bit of an anomaly in church history. I shepherded a mega-church congregation along with my colleagues for 33 years. Now I help shepherd the “nones”. These are people who find a disconnect between the institutional church and their own desire to connect with God. Many don’t currently have a church home. I’m not a “none”, however. I attend a church as a parishioner and I try to be as encouraging to the senior pastor as best I can. But I think I have a bit of a taste of what it might mean to be a small church pastor. The “nones” seek after me for counseling, teaching, shepherding, weddings, funerals, etc. I used to be their pastor inside a church; now I am their pastor outside of an established church.
What Pastors of Small Churches Have in Common
So, what does that have to do with 200Churches? Here are some of the suggested overlapping experiences.
- Loneliness in the calling– Now that I am a solo pastor, I don’t have many people to bounce ideas off of. I work alone much of the time. I have no “staff meetings” unless I choose to look in the mirror at some length and talk to myself.
- Weariness in the work– When you head out to the hospital at midnight to visit a person in an emergency, you still have to face a full day of ministry the next day. Nobody notices, except your family. You can’t cancel a board meeting just because you have been extending yourself to many others as their shepherd.
- Pain in the pulpit– With the plethora of outstanding preaching at the click of a mouse, how can one possibly measure up to the expectation of a congregation every Sunday? Time for sermon prep seems to evaporate among the needs of people or in the exhaustion of constantly being on call. Isn’t it strange that some of the same people who say “Nice sermon, pastor” are the same ones you see dozing off in their pews? You pour yourself out for the people, urging them to follow Jesus the King and wonder whether the words are making an impact or if they just reverberate among the rafters.
- Numbness of thinking– You may remember your seminary days or those days when Bible college kept you enriched in the study of Scripture and theology. Oh, to be challenged like that again! Small churches have limited budgets for book purchases, and small salaries make investments in “thinking well” difficult when the wallet is already slim.
How You Can Help
As one who has a small congregation of “nones” who gather regularly, it feels somewhat like I am part of the cadre of small church pastors. May I suggest a few ways of encouraging these shepherds? As a member of a congregation or, perhaps, as a pastor in a larger congregation you may wish to:
- Link with a pastor of a small church for the purpose of being a life-giving sounding board.
- Offer to buy one book per month for the sake of encouraging enrichment.
- Offer to enroll the pastor in one of the courses at ntwrightonline.org for further enrichment from Prof. N.T. Wright.
- Think about how to send a pastor to a conference for fellowship and a broadening of the heart and mind, or, perhaps, just for rest.