Most pastors serve in small churches. Pastors of small churches experience many blessings: we get to know a particular group of people we know by name. We get to shepherd people, not manage complex systems. If you pastor a small church, you get to enjoy blessings that many pastors of large churches don’t.
But there’s a tradeoff: many pastors of small churches feel like failures. We hear the message — sometimes explicit and sometimes implied — that small churches should grow large, and that capable pastors should progress until they pastor large churches.
In a book that’s worth reading regularly, Francis Schaeffer wrote an essay called “No Little People, No Little Places.” His message:
The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God… To be wholly committed to God in the place where God wants him—this is the creature glorified… Take the smaller place so you have quietness before God.
Small churches are not insignificant in God’s sight. Pastors of small churches can be used by God in significant ways when they’re consecrated to God. “We all tend to emphasize big works and big places,” Schaeffer writes, but God doesn’t. We should be suspicious of the ungodly ambition that lies within all of us. If we ever move beyond being servants, we’ve moved too far. Our aim shouldn’t be a big assignment but the lowest place unless God tells us otherwise.
When we’re discouraged because our churches are small, we’re in danger of missing out on the assignment God has given us. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood,” said Paul (Acts 20:28). Our small churches were obtained with Christ’s blood. He’s called us to pay careful attention to these churches and to our souls, and to fulfill our role as overseers. It’s an important charge to a people bought at great price.
Pastors of small churches have every reason to be encouraged. We’re not the junior varsity team. The idea that our work is insignificant reflects the world’s values, not God’s values. Because it’s so counterintuitive, we need to take regular steps to recalibrate what we think, and reading books like Schaeffer’s is helpful. (I’ll be reviewing another book, Small Church Essentials, next week.)
There are no small pastors and no small churches. Let’s stay faithful where God has placed us and love the little, low places so that we can have quietness before God. And let’s believe that in the end that it matters, because God says it does.