You don’t know me. We have never met. I haven’t written any books, been the headliner at any major conference, or preached to crowds of thousands. I am a simple, country preacher at a church that barely averages 100 in weekly attendance.
And I don’t know you. Sure, I’ve heard you preach, read your books and download your podcast. But I don’t know you. I don’t know how you like your coffee (I like mine with cream and sugar), or how you like to spend your free time. But I do know you hold a position of great respect amongst American church-leaders. So when you blithely referred to churches of 200 or less as “selfish” and that we “don’t care about the next generation,” I wasn’t merely disappointed.
I was upset.
I was discouraged.
I was angry.
I know you have since apologized via twitter, and as a brother in Christ, I accept your apology and I forgive you. But I also want to encourage you to be careful how you wield that influence with which God has blessed you, because there are some things you need to understand about small-church preachers.
1. We Often Feel Alone
In many a small congregation there is only one person on staff. That’s one person preaching every sermon; one person doing the pastoral care; one person organizing both adult and youth programs. We don’t get a staff meeting to share our burdens. We don’t have someone to help us shoulder the load. A few, fortunate ones (like myself) are blessed with wonderful volunteers who help make ministry a joy. But even then, we can feel alone with no one to confide in other than another preacher at a different church who is just as burdened, just as busy, and just as lonely as we are. So when a fellow preacher, who is supposed to be in this battle with us makes disparaging remarks about us, we only feel further isolated.
2. We Struggle With Feelings of Failure
It took me years of ministry in small church environments to come to grips with the fact that small churches are just as much a part of God’s plan as large churches are. Until then I was constantly frustrated by what I viewed as a lack of results in my ministry. Most church growth books are written by mega-church preachers. Most speakers at national conferences are from mega-churches. The implication many young ministers get is “a successful ministry is a large ministry.” So we buy the books, attend the conferences, and return to our churches to find stagnation and frustration. This frustration often spills over into feelings of inadequacy, failure, and at times, despair. I’m not alone in this. The church landscape is littered with the damage that frustrated ministers have inflicted on both flock and family. This is why your words angered me. How many more young preachers, who look up to you, will now grow more frustrated that their ministry doesn’t look like yours? Instead of helping them bear fruit, you have heaped an even heavier burden on their backs.
3. Many of us Already Felt Marginalized by the “Megachurch Guys.”
As I have already mentioned, the book deals and the big speaking gigs largely go to big church preachers. I have listened to more than a few ministers ask “When do the little church guys get to have their voices heard? When do we get to share our success stories with the rest of the church world?” Perhaps there is more than a hint of vanity in these questions. But the vanity does not overshadow the validity of their query. Small church guys also have tales of victory to share. We have words that can encourage the 85% of ministers who serve in a single-staff environment. We have voices too. Your comments just pushed us farther into the shadows and silenced us once more.
4. We All Want to Grow
There is not a preacher I know who doesn’t want his flock to grow both spiritually and numerically. Whether he preaches to twenty or twenty-thousand, he wants his flock to make even more disciples. We may differ in our philosophies of how to best achieve this growth, but we all want to grow. Perhaps this was the most disappointing aspect of your careless speech: you painted our churches as churches who have no concern for the lost or for young people, when nothing could be further from the truth.
So Andy, while I forgive you and accept your apology, I implore you, please understand the plight and passion of the small church before you rail against it. After all, we are on the same team brother, no matter what size challenge the Coach has placed before us.
Your servant in Christ,