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Beyond capacity?

The questions regarding implementing equipping practices in the small congregation vs. the large congregation continue…

What happens in the small church when the ability to model equipping values conflicts with the capacity of leaders?

Working with a larger congregation means having a bigger pool of volunteers. While this has its drawbacks (bigger pool means its easier for folks to say “no” to serving because there are so many others who can do it), nonetheless it’s generally easier to embody equipping values. In the small church, we “double up” wherever necessary in order to have meaningful worship, hospitality, and Christian education on Sunday. And the volunteers who serve on Sunday are the same volunteers who show up mid-week to serve at the local food bank or neighborhood school. How do we reconcile this duplication with our conviction concerning avoiding ministry burnout?

In the smaller church we often find ministry team leaders who are not only organizing their team to get the ministry tasks done, they are also working alongside those team members on Sunday or at other ministry events. In addition, they may also be serving occasionally on another team. They have marketplace jobs, families, and other such responsibilities to attend to as well. It’s no wonder they don’t have the time and energy to intentionally invest in the spiritual growth of their individual team members. And yet this is a value I try to instill in leaders: we must be more concerned with the people than with the tasks. To quote my friend Pastor Jerry Culbreth, “we have to love the people more than we love our ministry.”

And yet there’s this annoying reality of only so much time and so much energy…in other words, leaders in the smaller church are often already functioning at (and, in some cases, beyond) capacity. How much do we ask of them? Which practices that support equipping values are non-negotiable?

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have ready answers. The familiar systems and processes I employed in the big church are not always easily adapted to the unique culture of smaller congregations. I still believe in the values, of course, but am having to find new ways to live them. I am realizing that the equipping model I’ve always used must be taken apart, re-evaluated, and rebuilt. Comparing it to playing with Legos helps alleviate some of the anxiety…I can take the model apart and it’s OK. Nothing is broken really, because it’s simply a model–a representation. All the pieces are still there; I just need to re-configure them into a model that will work for us.

If you are a leader in a small church setting, I’d love to hear from you! Please share your insights, your frustrations, what’s worked and what hasn’t. In sharing our experiences, we can help each other find answers to our equipping questions!


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