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"Team, Leaders, and Congregation" (Chapter 7)

Callahan says some significant things about pastoral leadership in a small church setting that run counter to a lot of what we hear about church leadership.  I was struck by a comment made by a church member to Callahan about the pastor: "He is one of us.  He helps us discover what we do best."  This is not the role of the pastor having the knowledge and vision and the congregation learning and getting on board.  Rather, it's akin to the leadership approach described by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk in "The Missional Leader."  The role of the leader is to cultivate an enviornment in which the people of God find their place as a community in the mission God has given them.  I was intrigued by Callahan's list of the primary competencies of pastors in a small church setting: a good shepherd, a helpful preacher, a wise, caring leader, and a community pastor.  In these settings effective pastors learn to love, listen, learn, and then.

The leadership style advocated here necessitates long leadership, providing the time needed to develop a relational network and mutual trust.  As I was getting close close to being called as the pastor of a small church, one of the Elders provided hospitality overnight for my wife and me on the interview weekend.  He asked some pointed questions trying to discover if this would be a long pastorate or not.  If not, he didn't want to invest time in the relationship. Pastoral leadership in a small church means relational leadership, committed for the long term.  Anthony Pappas writes, "One of the worst things to befall the small church is revolving-door leadership, especially pastoral. . . . Abrupt or frequent transitions ensure that all available energy will be expended in adjustment and recovery, leaving precious little for mission, evangelism, discipleship, and growth." (Entering the World of the Small Church, 2000, The Alban Institute, p. 9)

Lengthy stays in small church pastorates are not the norm.  A study by the Southern Baptist Covention (Ellison Research 2005) puts the average stay for pastors in congregations under 100 in attendance at 7.2 years compared to 8.7 years in larger churches.  From a sampling of 33 pastors of EPC small churches, it's about the same in our ranks.  The financial realities can make it tough to stay in smaller settings.  My wife and I could made ends in a small church setting because she was employed as a teacher.  I remember reading a study saying that a key predictor for a pastor staying for a long time in a small church is the satisfaction in the spouse's own employment. (I've lost track of where I read this - if any of you know the reference, let me know.)  As I look at what I've written I have to confess that I did not practice what I've been preaching.  I was in a small church setting for a year less than the average.  It was painful to watch the church I left stop growing, lose members and energy and eventually dissolve.  The story is too involved and the questions too many for this venue, but I haven't been immune from all the "what if" questions.  What if it had been a long pastorate?

Add your comments

What do you think of Callahan's list of competencies for a pastor of a small, strong congregation?

Callahan says, "One of the advantages small, strong congregations offer is the ability for people to participate--whether children, youths, or adults--in the whole of the congregation, not just the parts" (p. 192).  This seems contrary to what many visitors indicate they are looking for - good programming for their children.  What do you think?

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George Carey on Sep 23, 2008 1:14pm

I read the entire book, Small Strong Congregations, during my study leave and shared some of the encouragement of it with my session at our last meeting.

In regards to chapter 7.

Page 196, first paragraph..."Indeed, small, strong congrgations are teaching larger congregations that what many people want to do is to partici8pate in the whole, not the parts."

Involvement (struggles, trials, joys, sorrows) in the total life of the congregation is healthy and brings out the best potential in the people.

The largest church I ever pastored numbered 300 people, the least satisfying of all my pastorates. I have otherwise always pastored small congregations, my current one being less than 100 people in it but strong in many ways, reminding me of a childhood phenomenon that occurred for me in my love for baseball.

When I was ready for my first baseball glove, for reasons of finances and some ignorance I guess, my Dad purchased a glove for me significantly smaller than the average glove, causing me embarrasment and resentment, not to mention a bit of anger. I did, however; begin using it. It's pocket was so small it would not "snag" a ball. In order to catch a grounder or a fly ball, I had to make lots of extra effort and squeeze more tightly than was normal and usual. Looking back now, I see what that extra effort to use that glove did for me. It brought out in me a potential I didn't know existed. Lots more reativity on my part was required to succeed with that small glove. I pushed myself harder and harder to catch grounders and fly balls. Skills began to develop within me that had never been manifest.

Seeing my success with this small glove, classmates who earlier laughed and derided my glove were asking to borrow it. But, when they did so, they didn't like it. They missed grounders and fly balls with it coming and going. Their success with my small glove was nil, as it took far more effort and determination than they had learned with their larger gloves.

A small congregation where individuals are a part of the "whole" provides a setting to challenge and bring out untapped and unknown potential in the individuals who are a part.

Thanks to God for all the positive influence that brings out much potential in a small, strong congregation.

George R Carey

Mary Ann Dean on Sep 24, 2008 1:11pm

After reading the book twice and viewing the parts in regards to the whole I feel that Chapter 7 would have been more productive after Chapter 2. Chapters 3-6 would have had a better foundation for implementation.
The overall view of Chapter 7 is the ability of the congregation to live and share as a team, as well as having the capacity to focus on the whole, not just on the parts. Everything rises and falls on leadership. There must be solid, competent leadership in place that flows down through the congregation. When this is the in place the entire church can learn and experience compassion and shepherding, can develop community and belonging, be self-reliant and self sufficient and express worship and hope.
The capacity to love, listen, learn and then lead is basic to leadership. I would like to suggest the sequence be listen, learn, love and then lead. One must be willing and take the time to listen and learn before they can truly love with the compassion to build a team. Of course, these three must be in place before people willing follow leaders. This is a powerful chapter one that can be read many times over, and applied.