Spring is here. Summer is coming, and it won’t be too long until Fall is knocking on our door. Looking at my calendar that means one thing: conferences.
Conferences are great right? They teach you a lot of big, arching principles about ministry, being a pastor, church growth, being healthy, or even just for the fellowship of it all. I was just at a conference last week in central Illinois for small town pastors. As I looked around, there were pastors talking and laughing together, there were some following the leaders around asking questions, others walking around with huge piles of books they just bought, and then there is the cake. There was a lot of cake.
I have my backpack, my snacks, and my notebook ready to go though! I have everything that I need. What will I be taking back with me though?
The good part about conferences is all the tips and tricks you can take home. We all have issues that we are struggling through in our churches that need more experienced answers. As a small town pastor, there aren’t a lot of people in my area to turn to for advice. It is nice to know that I can go and learn from other pastors who have been there, done that, and can give me some advice along the way.
At my recent conference, I was talking to one of the workshop leaders about small groups. It seems like no matter how many times I went to a conference, everyone says small groups. Small groups seem to be the holy grail of churches now. All of my problems will be solved with small groups! In my experiences, leading in rural, small town settings, small groups never seem to catch on the way that the conferences do.
By asking, I learned that it doesn’t work as well in small towns because Johnny and Steve have known each other their entire lives. The idea of sitting together, confessing sins, and sharing struggles together isn’t appealing. In many cases, those sins and struggles may already be known! Word travels faster than I ever thought possible in small towns. So why sit down and rehash it because the pastor said so?
Small groups have always been an issue for me as a leader- not because I don’t value them or don’t know how to start one. The buy in is always so low! Why am I even pushing it? Why do I believe small groups (only by way of example) are the greatest thing? I think it has to do with the fact that we buy into what our celebrity pastors, leaders, and current leading thinkers tell us. I have this idea of what a small group should be and it matches what I see in a larger, more urban church.
I am in rural church of less than 200. We are anything but a large, urban church.
I don’t want this to come out wrong- but the last three conferences I have attended, all of the speakers seem like they were cut from the same cloth. It is like they have similar barbers, the same style of clothes, sometimes even similar speaking styles. But I don’t look like them. I definitely don’t wear skinny jeans.
I’ve already said this, but I am a small town, rural pastor in a smaller church. Conferences don’t have speakers like me- which makes sense and isn’t wrong. The normal pastor or leader at this conference is from larger ministries, urban areas. Our small groups, our children’s ministry, our youth ministry, coffee before service, even our worship will look and be different.
Our church is still small enough that we know every kid, every face, and all the parents naturally. The idea of having complex check-in system, especially ones reliant on technology doesn’t work for us (not everyone has internet or a computer at home).
So I am not that pastor. I don’t fit the models they are telling me. What is wrong with me? I don’t know about you- but often times I can bring home a lot of disappoint and feeling defeated that my small groups don’t look like theirs. I must be doing something wrong. I must be wrong.
So how do you take all this information and new ideas from conferences, blogs, websites, speakers, books- and use it? I find that I have too keep reminding myself of two things:
You have to remember who you are: you were uniquely, fearfully, and wonderfully made.
Because you were uniquely made, you have a unique calling to a unique church.
I am an introvert. I love to teach, preach, and spend time with our youth and children. These are all strengths- all of them. I know then that am not going to be great at saying hello to every single person or the best at visitations. However, I can be the pastor that has a good relationship with parents and families, can help disciple a young youth pastor with my own youth/children’s ministry experience. It turns out- my church currently has some great people at hospitality and we have a youth ministry in need of some work.
I am uniquely made. I am uniquely called.
You can likely make a list about yourself as well- your strengths and personality. Can you leverage that into effective ministry? Take the big, helpful principles that you learn at conferences. Read everything you possibly can and learn all that is available to learn. As pastors, we have to learn to filter all of these ideas, fads, trends, and principals through a filter:
You are uniquely made. You were uniquely called.
If God wanted, he could call John Piper or Andy Stanley to your church, no matter its size or location. God chose you, unique as you are, to a place that He desired for you to minister.
Your church, your community doesn’t need me, it doesn’t need a different pastor. Your church and your community needs you to be who you were uniquely created to be and to uniquely pastor as the person God called you to be.