If you want a church to grow, you need to become less of a hands-on pastor.
That’s what I’m constantly told. But it’s not entirely true. At least not for most congregations of a typical size.
The go-to Bible passage most church leaders use for this idea is the story of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro in Exodus 18.
When Jethro saw how much time Moses spent judging every petty dispute among as many as 2 million ex-slaves, he suggested a system of under-shepherds for groups of 10, 50, 100 and 1,000. This way, only the most difficult cases came to Moses.
That’s a wonderful model for leading massive groups, which is why Moses adopted it and the Bible tells us about it. Churches of 500, 5,000 or 50,000 can practically cut-and-paste Jethro’s method onto their church leadership template.
But Jethro would not have suggested that model if Moses had been leading 50-100 people – as in the average church size.
One of the reasons we know that is because Jesus never suggested any version of Jethro’s model for the early church. Neither did Paul or any of the early church leaders.
Equipping and Delegating Requires More Hands-On, Not Less
Every pastor needs to delegate the work of the church to as many people as possible, no matter what size the church is.
It’s a vital element in developing a healthy church and discipling the congregation. And it’s something that most small church pastors admit we aren’t doing as well as we could – certainly not as well as we’d like to.
But when you’re pastoring a small church, the Jethro model, while helpful, requires some serious adaptations. And those adaptations are not easy to come by.
Moses was a shepherd. That was his heart and his occupation. He didn’t make the shift from shepherd to manager by choice, but out of necessity. And with some helpful guidance from someone who had significant leadership experience as a priest of Midian.
We’re sometimes told that, if want our church to grow, we need to become managers. I think that’s backwards.
Moses didn’t become the leader of a massive number of people because he developed an administrative leadership style. He adapted to an administrative leadership style because he found himself leading a massive number of people.
One of the dangers of promoting big- to megachurch as the standard, is that we’ve led a generation of ministers to believe that delegating leadership means not being accessible to your congregation. And that such a lack of accessibility is an ideal to strive for. It’s not.
A pastor’s goal should never be to manage the crowd better, but to pastor the people better.
When a church gets big, that can only be done by delegating the pastoral work to a greater number of undershepherds, like Jethro taught Moses. But, in a smaller group, adopting a multi-layer management style means the people get less pastoring, not more.
The Small Church Pastor Is A Level 50 Or 100 Leader
Most people who attend small churches do so, at least in part, because they want to be pastored by their pastor.
Many, perhaps most pastors are called and gifted to be hands-on pastors, not managers, organizers and fundraisers. Myself included. If that’s who you are, be who you are! Don’t let anyone tell you that being a caring, loving, hands-on pastor is the wrong way to do ministry.
In a big church, Jethro’s 10, 50, 100 and 1,000 level leadership model can, and should be fully implemented. When it is, there are at least four levels between the members and the pastor, meaning only the most vital, big issues get to the pastor. And rightfully so in a church of 2,000 or more.
But in a church of 50 or fewer, even if the pastor has done a superb job of training, discipling and delegating Level 10 leaders, the pastor is still dealing with all the Level 50 problems.
That means the small church pastor deals with a lot more personal and family issues than a big church pastor will ever see. And those are the issues that require a lot of time, patience and emotional fortitude. You know, the hands-on stuff.
So, if you’re pastoring a church of less than 100, by all means, train and delegate church members to minister and help each other. But equipping disciples should never be done at the cost of the pastor no longer being accessible to congregation members.
In a smaller church, we can’t equip others to do hands-on ministry unless we’re hands-on ourselves.
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