Small Church Ministry
The Lonely Small Church Pastor: Breaking the Cycle
The smaller the church, the more likely the pastor is doing most ministry alone. But there is hope.

Why are you doing this alone?

That question is printed on a card that sits on my desk every day. It reminds me not to fall into the trap that too many small church pastors get caught in. That I tend to get trapped in.

Being a small church pastor is one of the loneliest, most stress-filled positions in the world. We have all the work and responsibilities of our big church counterparts, but we operate with a sliver of the staff, the money and the time.

Being a small church pastor is one of the loneliest, most stress-filled positions in the world.

People come to us for answers and comfort, but we often have nobody we can go to when we need answers or comfort ourselves. The stress builds and our health and effectiveness falters.

I’m not stating this as a complaint, but to set the stage for the need to deal with this challenge in a healthy way.

Why Do Small Church Pastors Do So Much Alone?

1. Lack of Time and Money

Conferences, seminars, golf, even a lunch meeting costs more money and time than most small church pastors can afford. This is not an excuse, it's reality.

For those who work a second job, or if pastoring is their second job, it’s even harder.

2. Lack of People In the Church

It's easy to tell a pastor they need to delegate more church tasks to others or to work as a team, but the smaller the church, the harder it can be to find someone – anyone – to step up and help out.

3. We’ve Developed Bad Habits

It starts with lack of time, money and people. But for many, those realities create bad habits that don't allow us to see opportunities when they do come along – or to create opportunities when we can.

4. A Lot of Pastors are Introverts

This is me. Big time. And if studies are to be believed, this is the case for a lot of pastors, in churches of all sizes.

I love people. But being around them drains my energy. It’s like physical exercise. The more I need it, the less I want to do it.

5. Pride

We’re the pastor, the boss, the teacher, the counselor, the administrator, the one with all the answers. We’re not supposed to have needs, we’re supposed to meet needs.

But the idea that I can do most of my pastoral ministry alone is unhealthy, unbiblical and stressful. It can even become sinful.

Jesus and Paul did almost no ministry alone. Even when they found themselves alone, it usually wasn’t by choice. If Jesus and Paul needed friends, how do we think we’ll make it without them?

How Can We Break the Cycle?

1. Use a Lifeline – Phone a Friend

On the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? if you can't answer a question, one of your lifelines is to phone a friend and ask for help.

There are too many small church pastors who, if they were given that lifeline, wouldn’t know who to call. That has to change. Now.

Pick up the phone and call five people you trust, or could trust. If they don’t pick up, leave a message, send an email, a Facebook message and a text. And keep at it with all five of them until at least three people agree to meet you over coffee or Skype.

Why three? You aren’t going to mesh with everyone. If you strike out with one, you need backups. And what’s the worst that could happen? You end up with three new friends instead of one? God forbid.

2. Reach Up, Out and Across

UP: Find or reconnect with a mentor, a long-term small church pastor, an old seminary prof or anyone else with more ministry miles and wisdom. Download some of that experience and wisdom into your heart and spirit.

Find another small church pastor who’s in the same situation as you.

OUT: Find another small church pastor who’s in the same situation as you. Not to start up a monthly minister's fellowship. You don’t need another meeting to organize or attend. You need a friend.

ACROSS: Before you go on your next pastoral care visit or prayer at City Hall, call a few church members to see if any would like to come along for the ride. You might be surprised who says yes.

3. Let Your Church Be Your Church

This is the main ingredient I missed out on for years – and the one that has blessed me the most since I started doing it in recent years.

As pastors, we constantly tell our church members not to neglect being in fellowship. That they need to be connected to a home church to receive essential spiritual nourishment. But most of us aren’t in fellowship ourselves. And we’re suffering because of it. So are our churches.

Your church needs to be more than your workplace, and you need to be more than its pastor.

Your church needs to be your church, and you need to be a church member, including all the blessings that go with it.

I understand that there are risks with that. But I’ve found that the benefits are worth the risk.

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Recent Posts

Read More from Karl

Follow Christianity Today

Free Newsletters

More Newsletters ...