In a recent blog posted on the Gospel Coalition site (here’s a link), Tim Keller wrote about the benefits of being a solo pastor in a small church. Two years into a church plant, my experience tells me that he’s onto something.
When I worked in a large church, I learned a certain set of ministry functions, mostly focused on the specific area in which I worked. I dabbled in other areas, but never really “owned” any of them. There were lots of things I had never done before and never would have done in a large church.
When I decided to move on to a lead pastorate, I had the opportunity to go to another good-sized church as my first “lead pastor” position. Instead, I chose to come to North Carolina and plant a new church in a rural area that was rapidly changing to incorporate new growth. Of course, the economic recession had something to say about the rapid growth and that has modified our timeline. We are still more rural than anyone would have guessed when we launched the church. In time, that will change, but for now, I’m learning a lot in our current situation.
Why Pastor a Church Plant or a Smaller Church?
Well, the first reason is the call of God. When we began exploring options, my wife, Nan, and I sensed that God was calling us to launch a new ministry here in the largely hyper-educated region known as the research triangle. There was a sense that we had the opportunity to do something for the kingdom that no one else was doing in our target area.
Another reason I chose to plant a church was that I believed it would force me to learn new things and become more well-rounded as a pastor. Keller writes about this:
You can’t teach a younger pastor much about things they aren’t actually doing. And in a large church they aren’t a) bearing the burden of being the main leader, b) leading a board of elders, c) fund-raising and bearing the final responsibility of having enough money to do ministry, d) and doing the gamut of counseling, shepherding, teaching, preaching.
In a church plant setting, I’m forced to learn the full breadth of ministry. There isn’t any place to hide. If something needs to be done, I am usually involved in one way or another. We have a second pastor on the team now, and we’ve got a great group of volunteers that make ministry happen. We wouldn’t be a church without them. But when something goes wrong, I almost always get the call.
Along the way, I’m learning to counsel marriages, share the gospel, wade through personality conflicts, mobilize servants, build a leadership team, work through communication issues, encourage generosity, confront sin, nurture spiritual renewal, comfort those who are hurting, and so many other things. If I were in a larger church, I could delegate, program, or hire to avoid personally doing any one of these important parts of ministry.
I’ll love it when we have more people on the team, but I’m glad that I’m not missing out on this step in the journey God has for me.