Big churches and small churches all have something to contribute to the body of Christ.
But, because of their size, the contributions of big churches tend to get noticed more. That’s okay. We don’t do this to be seen. (At least we shouldn’t).
And sometimes the attention that’s received by the glaring spotlight on big- and megachurches is unfairly harsh and critical. So our big church brothers and sisters need our prayer and support, not our jealousy and criticism.
But there’s an interesting side-story going on in the church that no one but small church pastors are in a position to notice. Small churches don’t just contribute good things to the body of Christ in general, we’re providing ministry for big churches that no one else is aware of.
If we’re not looking for credit, why am I writing this article? Because it’s frustrating to see so many of my fellow small churches and their pastors doing such valuable kingdom work while continuing to read and hear that we must not be contributing much if we’re staying small.
The truth is, it’s often our small size that allows us to provide much-needed assistance to the body of Christ.
Here are 5 ways small churches help big churches that no one but a small church pastor may ever see:
1. Training Your Workers
You can’t use the stage of a large church to figure out if you’re a good singer or musician. It wouldn’t be fair to the church or to the minister-in-training to put them in front of, or in charge of hundreds or thousands of people. People need to be trained in a smaller, more personal, more sympathetic environment.
Certainly, most big churches have ways to train their own folks to do that, but that’s not where most of them got their start.
So many ministers who manage large groups of people, lead thousands in worship, or preach to massive crowds, got their start in a small church. Small churches are great places for people to discover, hone and use their gifts at a time when they’re still figuring out exactly what those gifts are.
We’re glad to do it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating when, after helping someone reach a higher level of skill, they leave our church to use those skills at a bigger church.
We get it. But still.
2. Counseling Your Members And Staff
Over the past 25 years, ministering in a community with so many megachurches, I’ve been a sounding-board (aka, counselor) for dozens of megachurch members and 11 megachurch staff members. Yes, staff members.
At one point I was providing pastoral support and encouragement for three different staff members from local megachurches. All of them were in major staff positions, running departments that served hundreds, even thousands of people, but only one of them had even met his lead pastor.
Every one of their churches had great counseling departments. But staff members felt like they couldn’t use them for fear that word would get out that something was wrong.
So they called me. And I’m grateful they did. In our times of prayer and conversation we were able to see God do some wonderful restorative work, enabling them to either go back into ministry with renewed vigor, or make wise decisions about what to do next.
3. Marrying Your Members
I once heard the pastor of a megachurch brag about how, now that his church was big, he didn’t have to ‘waste his time’ performing weddings any more. To a certain degree, I get where he was coming from. Weddings are tedious after you’ve done a few, especially if you don’t have a close relationship with one of the families.
Like the counseling centers mentioned in the previous point, megachurches have care pastors who perform wedding ceremonies – sometimes hundreds a year. But that’s exactly the problem. When your wedding is one of hundreds being performed that year by a staff pastor, it’s hard for it to feel special.
So a lot of people call the pastor of the small church they used to attend before they moved away. And we’re glad to show up.
4. Burying Your Members
Small church pastors do funerals for members of megachurches for the same reasons we do their weddings.
At times of deep grief, people want a pastor who knows more about the life of the deceased than what they read in their obituary.
5. Providing New (Transfer) Members
If, like me, you pastor a small church in a highly populated area with lots of big churches around, you may have a few folks in your church who used to attend a bigger church, but came to your congregation for a more intimate worship environment. But they are vastly outnumbered by those moving in the opposite direction.
While it can be frustrating to train, counsel, marry and bury family members only to see them go back to the megachurch, it’s a serious gut-punch when it happens with someone you led to faith in Christ.
Sure, we’re happy that they’re still serving Jesus and attending a good, Bible-believing church after they leave our congregation. That’s truly all that matters. So it feels petty to think, feel and admit this, but it’s true.
Maybe it shouldn’t.
Maybe it shows lack of character, spiritual maturity or generosity.
But it still hurts.
If We Don’t Want Credit, Why Did I Write This?
Other than the first point receiving a glancing mention in The Grasshopper Myth, and a few “yeah, I get it” conversations with other small church pastors, this is the first time that I’ve talked about these issues.
But, if we’re not looking for credit, why mention them at all?
Because I’ve had a few of those “yeah, I get it” conversations recently, that have been filled with more frustration – even anger – than usual.
So this article is not written to complain to my megachurch pastor friends. It’s to encourage my fellow small church pastors.
What you do matters. Even if it feels like you’re doing more work for less credit, keep doing it.
We all have a vital role to play in the body of Christ.
Sometimes, doing work that is almost literally in the shadow of a bigger church can be discouraging. But that doesn’t make the work any less valuable.
In the end, we’re only doing this to hear “well done” from one person.
Even if no one else gets how you feel, Jesus does. He sees what you’re doing in the shadows. And he is pleased wih the light you’re shining there.
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