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 the shape of leadership

Increasing the Effective Capacity for Ministry in a Small Church

Biblical principles that work — regardless of your congregation’s size

Karl Vaters on July 18, 2018

Pastoring a small church is one of the most challenging and undervalued roles in ministry today. But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as we sometimes make it.

I learned this lesson the hard way — through a season of growth that our church couldn’t maintain. Our congregation struggled for more than 15 years to grow from 30 to 200. Then, in a 24-month span, it grew from 200 to 400. After holding at that level for a little while, it started to go downhill — fast.

In less than a year, we went from our high of 400 to under 100. Yet there had been no scandal and no split. So, what happened?

There’s never one factor, of course. But one of the main issues was I wasn’t pastoring the congregation well. Instead of equipping the saints to do ministry, I was doing it for them. Because of that, the church’s sudden growth didn’t make ministry easier or more joyful. It put an even greater stress on me and our pastoral staff.

So, we hired more staff, which put a greater financial strain on the church. The blessings of growth became a curse.

Since then, I’ve learned that the best way to pastor is not to push for numerical growth, but to use biblical principles to increase our capacity for effective ministry — regardless of the church’s size.

Pastor Better, Not Harder

There’s a lot of talk lately about pastors needing to pastor less if their church’s capacity for ministry is going to grow. But great churches don’t happen when we pastor less. And, thankfully, we don’t need to put in more hours, either. We can pastor better.

Wise pastors are relentless about increasing their church’s capacity for effective ministry. It’s about using our limited resources for greater effectiveness. This happens when we follow two simple biblical principles.

The first principle is reliance on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Since the Day of Pentecost, every born-again believer has direct access to God. We have one advocate with the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are a Kingdom of priests.

Wise pastors are relentless about increasing their church’s capacity for effective ministry.

Especially as Pentecostals, we understand that every believer, from the new convert to the long-time saint, can hear from the Lord for their lives and for the church.

Unfortunately, we don’t always minister that way. Instead of relying on the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in every believer, we sometimes act like the pastor is the only person in the congregation who is able to receive a word from the Lord or do the work of the church.

That attitude is a great hindrance to effective ministry because it requires every idea to come from and through one person. And it stifles others from expressing what the Lord lays on their hearts.

The second principle is to equip the saints for ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12 contains what I call the Pastoral Prime Mandate. God doesn’t call pastors — or apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers — to do ministry for the rest of the congregation; He calls us “to equip his people for works of service.”

If you pastor 20, 50 or 150 people and you’re the only minister, you will run out of ministry capacity very quickly.

But if you pastor 20, 50 or 150 people and you’re equipping them to do the work of ministry, you can have a church of 20, 50 or 150 ministers! That’s unlimited ministry capacity.

Instead of overworked pastors and under-performing church members, an equipping ministry leads to building up the body of Christ “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

The Blessing and Challenge of Pastoring a Small Church

Because of the hands-on nature of small-church ministry, there’s a strong temptation for us to slip into the role of enabler instead of equipper.

Certainly, in smaller churches the pastor will do more visitations and counseling and have more direct relationships with church members than our big-church counterparts. For many, including me, that direct pastoral access may be one of the reasons we went into ministry in the first place.

The good news is, we don’t have to give that up to do better ministry; we just need to channel it into equipping the saints.

Trust and Equip

If you’re called to be a pastor, be a pastor. But don’t take all the burden of ministry on your shoulders.

Even if you’re the only person in the church with official credentials, you’re not the only person with a calling to ministry.

Trust the Holy Spirit. Equip the saints. Together, God can use us to turn our world upside down for Jesus (Acts 17:6).

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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