“We then who are strong ought to bear with…the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself….” (Romans 15:1-3)
Outside observers are often surprised to learn that in many cities after churches grow to a certain size, they cut off fellowship with all the other congregations in their area.
Pastors of those mega-churches pull away from the ministers of the small congregations in the same city, as though they now live in different worlds. They give the impression that they have been elevated to such a higher plane that the only ones who now speak their language lead churches of similar or greater size.
The truth, I sometimes suspect, is that they feel more comfortable with peers of similar status who also make the big bucks and do not feel guilty that their income is ten times that of the part-time preacher sitting next to them.
It’s utterly foolish, if you ask me. It’s prideful, egotistical, and completely counter-productive to the work of the Kingdom.
And it’s not just mega-churches. It’s not just the churches running 10,000 in their weekend services. As a rule, when the other churches in a county are small and the (ahem) First Church runs 800 or a thousand, the same holds true. The pastor and staff may as well be invisible or live on Mars regarding the other churches and their leaders in the area.
During the earlier years of my ministry, I pastored some of the smaller churches in the county. I confess to driving past the large churches and envying the pastors their facilities and resources. “Those pastors have it made,” I thought.
Those pastors were of a different breed, I thought. They had it made.
My last three pastorates were among the largest churches in our cities. I found out my earlier analysis was completely off the mark. Pastoring a larger church is not all it’s cut out to be. Mostly, it means more headaches, bigger financial woes, and more staff problems. A larger audience, a budget in the multi-millions, and a full staff of capable ministers impresses a new pastor for about 15 minutes. After that, he finds it’s just a lot more work.
When pastoring the larger churches, I made it a point to attend the monthly meetings of the local ministers, the quarterly meetings of the church leadership in the association, and other similar gatherings. I insisted our staff and leadership meet with their counterparts, too.
Over and over we would hear it said, “Well, this is a first. Usually, the ministers from your church never show up at these things.”
When the larger churches boycott these gatherings, the small churches feel that they are being snubbed, and rightly so. They are. Pastors of the smaller churches take this as a subtle statement that what they do is unimportant, that they themselves are irrelevant. Now, what ministers of the larger churches actually say to explain their non-participation is more along the lines of “they have nothing to offer us; we would be out of place there,” “we have nothing in common with them,” or “my staff is better trained than the outside experts they import to teach. We would be wasting our time.”
Such attitudes are wrong-headed, ill-advised, and unworthy of servants of the Lord Jesus.
I’m urging pastors, staff ministers, and other leaders of the large churches to show up at the regular meetings in their own town, county, and association, not in order to “honor those people with our presence”–Lord deliver us from such condescension–but as full participants who come to learn and give and serve and enjoy the fellowship.
If the leadership of the dominant churches will do this–if they will attend these meetings of the other leaders of local churches, many of them a fraction of their size–a lot of things will happen, every one of them positive and healthy.
1) You will make friends for life.
A nagging voice inside the mega-church pastor insists that the bi-vocational ministers do not have their act together and that the pastors who have remained at the same church for ages and have never run above 50 or 75 in attendance are not worth getting to know.
That “something” is the voice of the enemy.
As usual, he is lying.
One of many discoveries you will make is that some of those bi-vo pastors are the sharpest people in the room. Some could teach your seminary professors a thing or two about growing a church or dealing with a conflict. Most are bi-vo by choice and not because they can’t make a full-time living from their church. (In fact, I know several bi-vocational pastors whose churches run in the many hundreds.)
But you will never know this if you don’t give them a chance.
2) You will learn from the unlikeliest of people.
Each pastor in that room has been called by the Heavenly Father to shepherd His people. So, we should assume the Lord knew what He was doing.
At a pastors conference where I was the new kid in the room, the leader asked each one to introduce themselves. One elderly gentleman drawled, “Well, I’m over here at Shiloh. And some of you know, there’s always a mess going on at Shiloh. But that’s all right–where there’s no friction, there’s no traction!” I grabbed pen and paper and wrote down that line. It’s one of the truest and best words I’ve ever heard, a perfect analysis for some of the church squabbles I’ve seen over the years. Out of the friction came traction to deal with some issues, face some conflicts, to move ahead.
You have a Ph.D. in theology and understand the Greek and Hebrew. You find yourself sitting at a table praying with a brother the age of your father who never went beyond the sixth grade. Listen up, friend. You might learn something.
3) Your reputation in the area will go through the roof.
Suddenly, the word gets around, particularly among other ministers, that you are “the real thing.” They love the humility they have found in you.
Soon, they will be inviting you to speak to their congregation at some weeknight meeting. No pastor of your massive church has ever been asked to do this out of fear that members of the small church might be drawn away. But simply by your kind attitude and respectful spirit, you have made the other pastors believe you are trustworthy.
You cannot buy this kind of reputation. It’s worth more than gold.
4) You will help your ministerial staff in the same ways.
Even if you yourself, as pastor, feel a respect toward the outlying churches and neighboring pastors, your ministerial staff does not often feel the same way. The snobbery is not implied; it is genuine. “They resent us.” “Those little churches are so dead; they’ve run the same attendance for the past 50 years.” “They have nothing to offer us.”
No one can treat this prideful malady better than the pastor. I suggest a sitdown meeting, one-on-one, at which the pastor addresses this snobbery. If the staffer is humble of heart and sensitive to the Spirit, a gentle tug might be all that is necessary. But other staffers will require what is sometimes called a “Come to Jesus” meeting at which the pastor reads him the riot act. “This attitude will not be tolerated.” “This is unworthy of Christ’s servants and it bleeds over into the congregation. Some of them are looking down upon our brothers and sisters in those other churches. This must not continue. Are we clear on this?”
The pastor is showing his staff tough-love. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
5) You will honor the Lord.
The strong should help the weak. The sighted should assist the blind. The greater should bless the lesser. And all should be humble, Christ-like, servant-minded.
Anything less brings reproach on His name.
These are His people. Honor them and you honor Christ. See Hebrews 6:10 and let it forever guide you. “God is not unjust so as to forget your work, and the love that you have shown toward His name in having ministered to the saints, and in still ministering.”
God sees. It matters to Him. He will remember.
6) You will bless your own members.
I love it when a large church prays for the smaller churches and their pastors by name in their Sunday services. It speaks volumes to the membership. Then, when the large church hosts the associational gathering from all the other churches, the members serve as hosts and greeters and sometimes cooks.
It builds brotherhood, togetherness, Christlikeness. And, as a result….
7) You will encourage and strengthen those smaller churches.
The leadership of the large church has so much to offer their smaller counterparts. Often, the small church has no committee structure, no safe procedure for handling money, and no system for keeping up with contributions. The financial leadership of Mammoth Church can do wonders for the treasurer of Micro-Church. But that will not begin to happen until the trust level is there. And that is not going to happen automatically nor quickly.
Friendship comes first.
8) The mega-pastor may find himself mentoring young pastors who have bright futures.
Some of those ministers in tiny congregations are just starting out. Look for them a dozen years from now and you might find them serving the leading churches in the denomination. What a privilege it would be for you to have mentored and encouraged one of these. For the rest of his wide-ranging ministry, your counsel would bear lasting fruit for the glory of the Lord.
Barnabas encouraged and mentored Saul. Thereafter, as the Apostle Paul planted the gospel in fields far and wide, Barnabas shared in the fruit of his labors. Barnabas encouraged and mentored John Mark. Whatever God did through this young man–remember, we possess a Gospel bearing Mark’s name!–much of it was attributable to the faithful work of Barnabas. The Father in Heaven, He who keeps good records and pays His debts on time, has a special reward in glory for Barnabas and others like him who encourage the called of God in their early years.
9) Some day in the distant future, those you encourage along the way will be there for you.
In retirement, they will honor you. They will invite you to preach in their churches. And they will seek you out for counsel.
I’m 75 years old this month. Now, don’t let that fool you. I’m as active in the ministry as I’ve ever been, for which I thank the Lord. And, if I may be allowed to say, one of the ten thousand blessings of ministry at this time of life is running into people whom I barely know but who remember me from years ago. Just this week, a minister from another state reminded me that 40 years ago when he was just beginning in ministry I had invited him to a reception at my home. Church leaders from all over the state were there, relaxing and enjoying the fellowship following a denominational meeting in our city. I laughed when he told of a mega-church pastor asking him how to find the bathroom. For some reason, that moment thrilled him.
I remember almost nothing about that evening. He recalls every detail.
10) Perhaps the biggest reason of all why you, the large-church pastor, should associate with the leaders of the smaller congregations in your area is that it’s just the right thing to do.
Some things we do simply because it’s right, not because we expect to get something out of it.
Some payoffs are invisible and unseen until we get to glory.
You’ve read the Gospels. You know as well as anyone how severely it displeased the Lord Jesus when the disciples put certain ones in their group above the others. (See Mark 10:35-45 and see if you can find yourself.)
However. There is one group of pastors who should avoid gatherings of his peers at all costs.
If you really do look down your nose at other pastors and consider the small churches as dead and without value, please skip these meetings with the other leaders. They are better off without you.
And, lest someone protest that no pastor would be guilty of such snobbery, I need to say that early in my ministry I knew such a pastor. They do exist.
Dealing with them, straightening them out, is not my job, I’m happy to say. The Lord of the Church is on the scene; He sees and knows and deals with the haughty in His own way. My dual observation is that a) He keeps cutting them down to size and b) others rise to take their place.
They are of no concern of mine. My job is to be faithful. As the Lord said to the Apostle Peter who was putting his eyes on his brother, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:23).