Small Church Equipping Values

big-or-smallHow do equipping values differ between the large church and the small church? They don’t; there is no difference! The values are the same:

  • Prayer–Developing an equipping culture requires Holy Spirit power. The path to that power is through prayer.
  • Vision of the church as contained in Ephesians 4–The role of the leadership is to equip the people for the ministry of the Church.
  • Servant leadership–The leaders and the laity are partners in ministry. Leaders set the example by serving others.
  • Team ministry–No one does ministry alone.
  • Intentionality–Equipping doesn’t happen on its own. It requires intentional preaching, teaching, discovery, and connecting people to meaningful serving opportunities
  • Proactive towards change–Change is inevitable; resistance is futile! Learn to evaluate and respond to change as it comes.

The values may be lived out differently in the smaller church, however, because the challenges are different. For example, smaller churches are often more inclined to view the pastor as the one who performs all the ministry of the church. Their reasoning may be that the church is small so there’s not that much to do. But that completely misses the point in 1 Corinthians 12 that every member of the body has a function and a role, as well as the pesky mandate in Ephesians 4 that the pastor is to equip the people to do the ministry!

Another common scenario in the small church is the person who has served in a particular ministry for so long that she and the ministry have become synonymous. So whereas the small church may only need one adult Sunday school teacher for their one adult class, there may be others with teaching gifts to be employed as well. Creating a teaching team–even if it’s only two–says that shared ministry is valued.

In larger churches, there is usually a variety of classes and programs offered. Keeping those classes and programs running smoothly requires many volunteers. On the other hand, the smaller church doesn’t offer such a wide variety because they don’t have the multitude of people wanting or needing it. So it may be tempting to “fill the slots,” get the ministry essentials covered with a few willing volunteers, and let the rest of the people off the serving hook. It requires a different kind of intentionality in the small church to connect people with ministry because it becomes necessary to look outside the walls of the church for places and ways to connect your people to serving opportunities. And that means it is all the more necessary to preach and teach about following the example of Jesus as servant because serving outside the walls of the church can be less convenient than serving inside the walls!

The values are the same no matter the size of the church; it’s the way those values are recognized and executed that is different. The challenge for the equipping leader in the small church, then, is to adopt the equipping values which apply to all churches, but adapt the processes that are designed for a large church to something more applicable in the small church context.

Are you an equippingleader in a small church? How have you adapted “big church” methods to fit your church? I invite you to share what has worked…or what hasn’t!

 

Equipping Culture, Small Church Style

 

small church

Eighty-five percent of all churches in America average less than 200 in worship attendance.

I can’t say exactly when Rick Warren obtained this statistic, but I know it’s at least a few years old. I’m not inclined to spend time tracking down that information because I can’t imagine anyone in church leadership who would dispute it! Small churches are everywhere. Not every pastor is called or gifted to lead a large church and that, I believe, is by God’s design. Likewise…

Some people love being in a really big room for really big church services. The size of the crowd inspires and encourages them. When they worship Jesus, they see that they are a part of something far bigger than themselves. The crowd helps draw them into a deeper place of faith. And that’s great.

But a lot of people worship and minister best in smaller settings. They’re drawn into a place of deeper faith through a worship experience that is more intimate and relational. The size, structure and spectacle of the bigger church is a distraction to them. It doesn’t draw them in, it puts them off.      –Karl Vaters

I served on staff in a large church with a high level of structure for ten years. I learned much about developing an equipping culture as I read voraciously and attended workshops, seminars and conferences. Most of it was really great stuff and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I had through the support and encouragement of that church. But that experience has also been a stumbling block for me.

My thoughts, habits, and practices regarding equipping people for ministry were developed in the context of the large church. However, I have been serving in a small church these past five years, and I’ve found that most of what I learned about structure and organizational practices just doesn’t fit here. By far, most of the resources available are written and presented for the moderate to large church, not for small congregations. I find this very interesting since small churches greatly outnumber big churches! Where are the equipping resources that pertain to the congregation of 100 or less?

Perhaps there are so few resources available because the answer for the small church is so simple: relationships.

If you serve a small church you don’t need all those structures and processes that are necessary in a larger church. What you need to do is come alongside folks. You need to meet with them, get to know them, invest in them. Help them discover how God has wired them for ministry, then help them find a place to live it out. (That may be in the church, but more likely it will be outside the church–more about that in a future post.) In many ways, this is much easier than the practices I employed in the larger church–less administrative detail to attend to, fewer systems to continually evaluate and tweak, fewer cracks for people to slip through.

Letting go of the large-church mentality proved to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated. However, I think it’s making me a better pastor, a better leader…a better equipper.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service… -Ephesians 4:11-12

Seasons of Ministry

question markIt’s been over a month since I’ve blogged. There has been much going on in my corner of the world over the past several months, leading me to consider whether the Holy Spirit might be pointing me towards a new season of ministry. Let me say that it’s much easier for me to articulate that today than it was two weeks ago! I’ve prayed, journaled, met with my spiritual director. Of course, I’ve been true to my behavioral style and processed with trusted friends and my pastor! At last, I think I’ve found a few answers and a lot of peace.

“What’s your theology on seasons of ministry?”

This question posed to me by my spiritual director has been critical to my process of discernment. As an equipper, I often find myself encouraging my volunteer ministers to be aware that the Spirit is continually equipping them, sometimes even for a new ministry. So, when asked this question, the response came easily: The Holy Spirit gives gifts according to His good pleasure. There are a variety of gifts and a variety of services and, when we make ourselves available, He will use us whenever and however He chooses. Hmmm…could it be that this applies to me as well?!

In early October I was ordained to the vocational diaconate of the Anglican Church in North America. At my ordination, the bishop laid hands on me and spoke these words: “A new day, a new anointing. Don’t just do what you have always done, what you’ve been doing. Watch for the signs.”  I am grateful that I’ve developed a  habit of journaling, because the bishop’s words were almost lost in the ensuing busyness of a life enveloped in ministry! But as I found myself in a place of confusion and doubt at the dawn of 2013, I sensed the Spirit drawing me back to my ordination. I pulled out my journal to refresh my memory and pondered the bishop’s prophetic words.

There have indeed been signs that I’m being led back into a season of being equipped for new aspects of ministry. My ordination was an acknowledgment by the Church of my true vocation as a servant of the Church. And while I have the spiritual gift of shepherding and believe I am a pastor at heart, I need to improve my skill set for this new season of ministry. In addition, several of our lay leaders are transitioning out of leadership, providing an opportunity for me to invest in new leaders and further build our equipping culture. I’ve said before that implementing equipping systems in a small church is far different than doing it in a large church (the context where I gained the most experience), so I have an opportunity to hone my leadership skills as I experiment with new approaches to equipping the intentionally small congregation.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?                -Isaiah 43:19

I could easily have missed it. How about you? What’s your theology on seasons of ministry? Have you considered that the Holy Spirit may be doing a new thing in your life and ministry? Look for the signs!

 

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!