Hi. My name is John and I am a small church pastor.
There. I finally said it. What a relief!
Over the past few months, I have been reflecting a lot on the many ways I am a failure as a pastor. I have been the pastor of New Beginnings in Bryan, Texas for about 16 months. In that time I have managed to grow the church from about 45 down to about 30 (on a pretty strong Sunday). After several years of operating a “Fall Festival”, this year there will be none. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, we don’t have Sunday school for anyone except the older members. I am pretty sure we won’t make the “Outreach 100” anytime soon!
I know—and I think I have always known—that there is far more to growing a church than numbers. But over the past few months I have begun to realize just how unimportant numbers really are. Don’t get me wrong; we count attendance every Sunday. Metrics are important. You have to know how many bulletins to print and communion cups to fill. I just don’t let numbers become my barometer for spiritual health.
Rather than focus on numbers, God has recently given me a hunger for overall spiritual health, both for the individuals who are part of New Beginnings and for the corporate body as well. This has renewed my passion for pastoring the local church.
New Beginnings will likely never be a large church. In fact, I am pretty sure I don’t even want that anymore. I would rather see us grow to a level of health and numbers where we are consistently sending people out into ministry. I dream of sending about a third of my church out to plant another local church in our area. I want to stay in the category that church growth experts call a “small church”.
I want to spend some time having a conversation about ministry in small churches. I would like for you to be part of that conversation.
Hi. My name is John and I am a small church pastor.
Will you leave a comment telling me about your church? Is your church a small church? Let’s talk about some of the joys and challenges of ministry in the small church context! (I want to say a special “Thank You” to Karl Vaters at newsmallchurch.com. You are doing a good work! Thanks for your transparency, encouragement, and practical help to your fellow small church pastors.)
I do not read a lot of fiction. As a general rule, I simply do not enjoy it. However, I do have an appreciation for its value. As a communicator, the best way to make a point or teach a lesson is often through the use of a well told – or written – story.
The Map (2010, Thomas Nelson) by David Murrow is a unique blend of fiction and non-fiction. In the first part of the book, Murrow tries to write an adventure story. This story serves as an illustration that will be explained in the second part. I commend Murrow for his creativity and novelty, and it almost works. Part of the problem is that the fictional story is only pretty good. I realize the blurbs and book descriptions on the back cover of the paperback are there to help sell books. That being said, the quote from Robert Lewis (founder of Men’s Fraternity) only sets the reader up for disappointment: “the spiritual punch of C.S. Lewis, written in the style of a Jason Bourne thriller.” Let’s just say it’s a bit of over-kill.
That is not to say the book is bad. Actually, it is quite good! The Map is a follow-up to Why Men Hate Going to Church, and provides some much needed balance. The second half of the book is all about the path men should take to spiritual maturity.
With the understanding that many, if not most, men need visual cues to help them learn, Murrow lays out the journey to maturity in the form of a map. Reaching spiritual maturity is like climbing a mountain, and Murrow’s map is designed to help get us there. To draw this map, Murrow took cues from major sections of Matthew’s gospel. In analyzing the book of Matthew, Murrow saw three journeys Jesus made:
- Matthew 1-7: Jesus is mostly humble, meek, and submissive. His life and teachings reflect a classic feminine pattern. (the journey of submission)
- Matthew 8-25: Jesus is mostly powerful, bold, and outspoken. His life and teachings reflect a classic masculine pattern. (the journey of strength)
- Matthew 26-28: Jesus is mostly meek, passive, and sacrificial. His life once again reflects a classic feminine pattern. (the journey of sacrifice)
Murrow understands that everyone—men and women—have personalities that include both masculine and feminine traits. When he uses the terms masculine and feminine, he makes in meaning and intent clear—and I appreciate that.
Before we go any further, let’s not run aground on the words masculine and feminine. I’m not saying that strength is manly and submission is womanly. I’m simply pointing out that, throughout the literature of a thousand cultures, attributes such as strength, aggression, goal orientation, competitiveness, and conflict are most often identified as male. On the other hand, love, communication, family, nurturing, and harmony are regularly understood as female. (Even modern bestsellers such as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus follow this line.)
So please don’t judge me when I use feminine to describe the soft virtues and masculine to describe the hard ones. The purpose of this book is not to stereotype. Nor am I assigning certain traits to males and others to females. Quite the opposite. My prayer is that men and women will develop both sides of their personalities. I’m pleading with women to be strong, and with men to embrace weakness. My labels may not be PC, but they’re instantly understandable. (page 105)
After introducing the concept of the three journeys, Murrow spends three chapters examining and describing them in greater detail. He does a good job of continuing the metaphor of map and mountain as he describes these journeys. He also offers biblical examples of men on these journeys, highlighting their successes as well as failures.
The last few chapters were the most helpful to me personally. In Chapter 16, Murrow identifies seven points where men “get lost on the mountain”. I found this encouraging. Some of these are points I have been stuck or have seen other men stuck. It was encouraging to see that my experience is not isolated and that it is possible to get unstuck and continue on the journey.
The remainder of The Map is devoted to incredibly important, but often forgotten (or neglected), task of applying what you have learned to your life and/or ministry context. Please do not miss this step. Murrow good advice in this arena. The reality is that, as men, we are on these journeys. The question is whether we will realize this and allow the journeys to grow, shape, and mold us into the men God has designed us to be—and calls us to be.
I started reading The Map almost hoping not to like it. I wanted to take what could be called an elitist or condescending view of a simplistic, purely pragmatic Christian “how-to” book. Alas, I cannot. It is a good book with simple, but rich, insights into a journey to biblical manhood.
Murrow writes in a style that is easy to read which would make The Map easy to hand out to men you know. I would recommend this book to anyone who finds this an important topic. Church leaders, including lay-leaders, may find it particularly helpful as they provide ministry opportunities with and for men.
While I am neither Lutheran nor Calvinist (I am Reformation Arminian, or Classical or Reformed Arminian), I still trace the history of my theology directly through Calvin and Luther to the Bible. Luther and Calvin: Religious Revolutionaries (2011, Lion Hudson) by Charlotte Methuen provides insight into the dramatic and lasting influences these men left on Christianity, European society, and ultimately all of western culture.
Charlotte Methuen holds the position of Lecturer in Church History at the University of Glasgow. She teaches in the areas of Early Church, Reformation, the Church in the Twentieth Century, and the history of the ministry of women in the Church. She has written several books, contributed to several others, and published numerous articles.
I really only have one complaint of any significance. The book is difficult to read. It is evident that Methuen is not American and that she typically writes for an academic readership. It is a good book, but it is dry and difficult to digest.
Luther and Calvin checks in at just under 200 pages. At that length it should have only taken me under a week to read with my limited time and outside distractions. Instead, I did battle with this little volume for weeks. And battle is what it sometimes felt like.
The book is divided into two sections of two chapters each. There is a section on Luther and one on Calvin. Each section has a chapter regarding the theologian’s historical context and a chapter covering his theology. It really is quite simple. The trade-off for the simplicity is that the chapters are long and a bit unwieldy, adding to the difficulty of the book.
Where Luther and Calvin succeeds is important. Methuen does a good job of putting each man in his historical context. This is critical to understanding what they taught and why they came to that conclusion.
Like all of us, Martin Luther and John Calvin were products of the times in which they lived. Many of the theological conclusions they drew were determined by the personal and cultural contexts in which they found themselves as the studied the Scripture.
Luther and Calvin is a good primer on these two reformers. While I would not give this volume a strong recommendation, I would not recommend against it. There are likely other resources that are a little easier to digest.
This Sunday, at New Beginnings, I will be starting a new sermon series. Christmas is past and a new year is here. I really felt like God was leading me to preach from a text that was more “do” oriented this winter and into the spring. From there, I started reading the book of James and the Sermon On the Mount. I spent almost two weeks alternating between them; one day I would read all of James, the next I would read the SOTM. And I prayed, a lot. I finally had a peace that I was to preach through Matthew 5-7, the Sermon On the Mount.
A few days after I settled my text for the beginning of the year, I began collecting resources. I ordered a couple of commentaries on Matthew’s gospel (Life Application Bible Commentary and Cornerstone Biblical Commentary) and a couple of volumes dedicated to the SOTM (Sermon On the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message To the Modern Church [Vol. 11 of NAC Studies In Bible & Theology] and The Message Of the Sermon On the Mount [by John R.W. Stott from The Bible Speaks Today series]) .
A few days later, I was catching up on some blog reading and came to Rob Morgan’s blog. One of the posts was titled “Living Out the Sermon on the Mount”. In it he offered the simple outline he developed to guide the series he had just completed on the same text. It was very similar to how I was working my way through the passage in my study. I took this as confirmation that this was what I was supposed to preach to my small congregation at New Beginnings.
I spoke on the phone with a member of the staff at Morgan’s church, The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee. As I told him how God had confirmed to me that I was supposed to preach on this text, he was excited to hear how his pastor and church, 800 miles removed, could be used by God to be a service to another pastor and church. The Donelson Fellowship has been very gracious and generous to allow us to use some of the resources they developed to support Pastor Morgan’s sermons. My heartfelt thanks goes out to this pastor, his staff, and church.
Based on the title alone, I am not sure I would have bought and read Church Planting is for Wimps (2010, Crossway). Wimps? Really? But I met Mike McKinley and heard him speak at a conference earlier this year. After that, I HAD to read the book!
McKinley is pastor at Guilford Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia. I previously reviewed Am I Really a Christian?
Church Planting Is for Wimps is the story of McKinley’s move from being on staff at Capitol Hill Baptist Church preparing to plant to taking on the role of revitalizing the existing Guilford Baptist Church.
I have only one quibble with this book, and it is admittedly a small one. The title leads to the assumption it is about church planting. The story is one of church revitalization. While there is much overlap, they are not the same. Please do not let that stop you—or even slow you down—from reading this book! That detail is quickly forgotten and the book is too practical not to read.
McKinley tells not only the story of his church, he does so in the context of his own story. This is not a method or plan or strategy that would work for every church planter. But with who God crafted him to be, it was a good fit. Instead of reading the book as a how-to manual, read the stories and look for the principles; they work with anyone’s story.
One of the things I most appreciate about the author is his transparency. While not going into unnecessary detail, he is honest about the hardships of planting a church, especially on his marriage. I cannot speak with experience about the toll on a marriage of planting a church, but I do know that full-time ministry does bring an extra serving of stress into the relationship; and McKinley treats that honestly, pointing out that it is often our own sin that leads to that situation.
Perhaps the best chapter is the closing one. In it, McKinley made a few observations which were a real encouragement to me:
As a general rule, pastors should stay where they are and tend the flock long-term. He quotes an unnamed older man as saying: “Young men tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in the short term and underestimate what they can accomplish in the long term.”
The obsession with church size is killing many church planters. I would add that it is having the same effect on pastors, in general. Regardless of the good ministry we do, we often struggle with disappointment over the size of our congregation. Pride on the inside and influence (books, conferences, etc.) on the outside encourage us to equate “big church” with “good pastor”.
We need to redefine extraordinary. God’s extraordinary work is not necessarily big crowds, big buildings, and big budgets. It is when proud, angry, selfish people have their hearts changed by the gospel. It is when churches are selfless with their time, money, and prayers to multiply their ministry. It is when marriages are restored and when cultural prejudices give way to unity through the gospel.
If you are planting, thinking about planting, or have planted a church, you should read this book. I would encourage it for pastors for some perspective on the task at hand. If you pastor a church that is in decline or on its way out, read this book as you pray about the future of the congregation. In addition, most any believer should find it interesting. I recommend Church Planting Is for Wimps without reservation.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5, NLT)
Abide. This was the theme of the recent D6 Conference. Abide in Christ. What a great topic. Over the course of the event, I made not of a few specific nuggets from the various speakers. I want to spend the next few weeks interacting with these thoughts.
Pete Wilson made this remark:
Our primary ministry responsibility is to abide—remain. Why do we focus on so much else? If you abide, fruit will come.