There are no small leaders in God’s kingdom, only leaders.
Though I know my worth is not found in the number of people that attend Journey Church on a Sunday morning but rather in my being a child of God, I still struggle at times with this dichotomy. I’m not down on megachurches, in fact I have been very blessed by them, but in our Western, rock star pastor, megachurch culture it’s hard not to struggle with this as a pastor.
Small Churches Are Changing the World
I was ignorant of this fact until recently. According to Karl Vaters who has a blog called New Small Church, “There are more than 2.2 billion Christians in the world. Almost 1/3 of the world’s population. 100-150 million attend megachurches. That is something to thank God for. But over half the Christians on earth are involved in churches with less than 250 people in them. Which, when you do some basic math, leads to this astonishing conclusion,”
More than one billion people choose to worship God in Small Churches.”[i]
America worships celebrities and the American church culture isn’t much different. I remember being at a church planting training once where I overheard two of the presenters talking during a break. They were both young successful pastors whose churches were growing very rapidly (which is why they were presenting I presume). Anyway, as they were sharing what was happening in their churches, they expressed a desire to go visit one another to share best practices. I thought that was great, until they got to the next part. They proceeded to tell how most of their friends were from much smaller churches that weren’t growing as quickly and how important it was to learn from peers that were in a similar place. Again, I agree fully, but then came the punch line. “It’s great to have friends from smaller churches though” one of them remarked. “It keeps you humble.” I wanted to slap him. Not because I’m the pastor of a small church, but because of the arrogance of such a statement. It sounded more like pride than humility. I thought, Is that the reason you want to be friends with pastors from small churches? So you can gloat over your own growth and have a constant reminder that it could be much worse?
Maybe I took it personally, but it was kind of hard not to.
Whether or not you are a pastor, you probably find yourself falling into the comparison trap.
- Look at the picture of her perfect family or perfect home on Instagram?
- I wish I had a house like that, or a car like that, or a whatever like that
- Why can’t I be as successful as him?
- Look how well behaved their kids are (while yours scream and cry)
I often fall into the trap of comparing myself and our church to other leaders and other churches, or compare my platform to someone else’s (my good friend, Joshua Finley, recently wrote a great article about understanding the platform God has given you.) In fact, I have to admit that even while I’m writing this post, I’m secretly hoping it will go viral. Just being real. I have a confession to make. I’m a comparison junkie. In the end, it leaves me feeling the same as a real junkie; it feels good for the moment but then I crash until the next fix.
In my mind I go there all the time with an axe to grind about why my church is not as big as another, or why we aren’t growing as fast (or sometimes at all), or I find excuses and reasons why my situation is different from theirs, but I think the Bible is pretty clear on this one:
Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. 5 For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (Galatians 6:4-5 NLT)
If your church (or whatever you are leading) stayed the same size it is right now at this moment, would you do it for the rest of your life? That’s the question the Lord posed to me not long ago.
Maybe I’m the only sinner that also happens to be a pastor but my initial answer was “no.” The Lord went on and said to me,
Then you should quit now because if you are not willing to do that then you are doing it for the wrong reasons.
Whether the church He has called you to lead is 25, 50, 500 or 5000, the flock of 25 is just as important to the Lord as the flock of 5000. He wants both flocks well cared for, well fed and well led.
So why is it that we place such importance on numbers? How is it that numbers have come to be the mark by which we measure success? Now I agree, God is interested in people finding Him, but I’ve heard all the slogans for growth and while I agree with many of them on the surface, they sometimes come across as disingenuous,
- Numbers matter because people count
- We count because people matter
- If something is healthy it will grow
- God is not just concerned with faithfulness but fruitfulness
- God cares about numbers, after all, there is a whole book in the Bible named “Numbers”
- Numbers represent souls…and souls matter to God
(For those of you that think rapid growth is glorious, here’s an article that may change your perspective.)
It’s easy for big churches to justify why they think numbers are important, but it’s just as easy for small churches to discount why numbers are important. But whether or not numbers matter to God is not what this blog is about. What’s more important are your motivations. If you want to have a big church, why? If you think churches should stay small, why? In the end, I’m not debating whether or not numbers are important; I’m simply saying we shouldn’t let numbers determine our significance.
How Do You Measure Success?
Think of how Western church culture reinforces the idea that numbers equal success. If not, then why are there virtually no leaders of small churches that speak at church conferences? Why are there very few pastors of small churches that are highlighted in magazines or that are guests on leadership podcasts? Are there no pastors of small churches who can speak just as well or whose ministries have abundant fruit? Is it due to the assumption that if you lead a small church then you are not a very good leader? After all, there must be some reason you are small, right? We equate success with buildings, big budgets and butts in seats.
I think the question we need to be asking ourselves is how should we measure success? Karl Vaters wrote a fantastic article on feeding the flock VS. numbers.
We are not going to be judged on how many people come to our church, we are going to be judged on two things – knowing God and doing His will. Here are some definitions for success that I really appreciate,
- Success means having those closest to me love and respect me the most (John Maxwell)[ii]
- Success is knowing God and doing His will (me).
- Success is doing the best you can with what you have where you are (Mark Batterson)[iii]
Success can be different for different areas of life but its important to find out what success means to God and to you. Overall, I define success by my life mission statement,
I exist to bring God glory in all I do, love my family and live for the good of others as I experience His transforming love.
I’ve always found this portion of the “Citizen In A Republic” speech by Teddy Roosevelt to be quite inspiriting. This is another definition of success for me. It’s called, Man in the Arena,
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.[iv]
What’s your definition of success? How have you dealt with the comparison game?
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