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At the beginning of any ministry, the countless tasks are all so new, and sometimes all so confusing. How do you sort the necessary from the merely urgent? And especially entering a small, rural church, where should you focus your efforts? A young man recently posed these questions to David Hansen, who pastors two rural churches in Montana. LEADERSHIP received a copy of David's response, and we felt it offered insight even for experienced pastors.
We are rejoicing with you about your impending call. You asked if I'd put on paper some of my thoughts about starting a new ministry in a small church. I've been at my present call almost seven years. Since I have two very different churches, my experiences have been experienced twice. But I am young at this pastoral thing, so I present these ideas with some reticence. Nevertheless, here they are.
1. Spend the first year learning what the church does well. After all, it has survived; there must be a reason. Find that reason. Learning is an attitude as much as anything. Are you going there as their savior? Or are you going there to find out what the Spirit has been up to?
Small churches have gifts like individual Christians do. You will find they have a "corporate personality." The Holy Spirit uses this personality; that is the church's gift. Build on the personality.
Many pastors come to small churches and never look for or find their church's gift. Instead, they spend their few years there (they can't last long) doing everything to subvert it, trying to make the church into something it is not. They spend their time "whipping" the people for what they aren't. Such pastors are only whipping themselves. Instead, discover your church's gift-what it does well-and build on it.
Besides, the people will whip themselves. They will come and say:
"O pastor, we really need a better Sunday school."
"O pastor, we really need a better youth group."
"O pastor, we really need a bus ministry."
And on and on. Ignore them, or, at the most, ...