In nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve learned so much from other pastors.
And it hasn’t just been from pastors of big churches. Pastors of small churches have taught me a lot, also.
Typically, I get one type of wisdom from those in big churches, and a different type of wisdom from those in smaller churches.
Not lesser wisdom, just different.
Each has their strengths and I’m grateful for them all.
Wisdom Is Better Than Genius
This reminds me of a quote that’s usually attributed to Albert Einstein, though there’s no record of him actually saying it.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Other than the first four words, that quote is true. (Genius, by definition, is rare. I don’t possess it and I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who does.)
So let’s look at the quote without that part.
“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (Not Einstein)
Now that’s true. In life, in sports, in education, and in church leadership.
Thankfully, we don’t all need to be geniuses. Because wisdom, while also rare, is more plentiful, valuable and transferable than genius.
There seems to be one tree-climbing pastoral skill set that is valued above all others. The ability to put more butts in the seats.
Grow a large church and people will want to hear how you did it. They’ll come to you for advice. And not just about church growth.
Church-growing pastors have become our go-to teachers for theology, marriage, finance, politics, you name it. Even though the skill set needed to attract a crowd doesn’t necessarily overlap with any of those other skills.
On the other hand, there are a great number of wise, prayerful, missional, humble, and available pastors who could be teaching us a lot about some very important personal, relational and spiritual subjects.
But we don’t go to them for their wisdom. For one reason. Because the churches they serve are small.
In fact, not only do we not think we can learn much from them, we presuppose that they are failures.
After all, they haven’t been able to climb that church growth tree, so what can they possibly teach us about swimming?
Great Climbers Aren’t Necessarily Good Swimmers
Of course they can’t climb that tree! They’re fish!
Why are we expecting fish (small church pastors) to climb trees (grow big churches)?
On the other hand, why do we expect tree-climbers (big church pastors) to be able to teach us about swimming (relational ministry and soul care)?
Some of them may be great at both. After all, there are people who can climb trees and swim. But being a great tree-climber doesn’t guarantee they’re great swimmers. Or vice versa.
Everyone has something to offer. But as long as we’re judging ministry success by only one characteristic (numerical congregational growth) we’ll never see the skills, character traits and wisdom that other pastors can teach us.
And that means we’re missing a lot.
Learn To Swim From Swimmers
As pastors and church leaders, we can’t just take tree-climbing lessons. It’s important to broaden our educational range.
Take some swimming-in-the-small-church classes.
Learn the subtle skills of how to visit the sick, mentor new believers, tend to your own soul, and hang out with regular folks before and after church.
The majority of pastoral ministry is done in small ways. Most of us need to master small church swimming skills, not megachurch tree-climbing skills.
But it’s okay to leave the tree-climbing to others.
Fish gotta swim.
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