A Well Meaning Absurdity (Welcome to My World)

I have to get a few things out-front and up-top. I’m going to share a quote from a very well meaning gentleman. I have never met this individual, and I truly believe he intends only good, no harm. I have no animosity toward him, and absolutely no offense is intended toward his intentions. But the quote is so absurd, so ludicrous, so off-the-wall ridiculous that I almost lost my mouthful of coffee as I read it. It is just the final nail in the coffin of well-intentioned attitudes that are utterly bereft of any cognitive value. Okay, so I guess I’ve tipped my hand here, so here is the quote-

Being a preacher in a small church can be hard – very hard. Maybe 2-3 elders. Little if any staff – MAYBE a youth minister. So much of this preacher’s work is never seen by the majority of the church. Yet, so many of these people serve for years! May God bless them.

Did you catch it – “Small church” – yet there are two or three elders, a small staff and, catch this, possibly a youth minister on board! Yee haw – such a “small church” would be a huge growth spurt for me!

I hear this kind of rhetoric from a lot of people – mostly those east of the Mississippi, but quite often even from the gilded masses in Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Maybe “small” churches in those states have elders, a secretary or two, and a youth minister. However, from where I sit, the secretary, the youth minister, the education minister, the evangelism minister, the elder/shepherd/pastor, and even the janitor are often the same guy that teaches class every Sunday morning, preaches once or twice on Sunday and teaches a class on Wednesday night. Oh, yeah, there is also planning the VBS every summer, scheduling a guest speaker or two each year, providing 24/7 on call benevolence assistance, preaching for the occasional funeral and wedding, and being available for the local prayer breakfast and sports teams blessing.

I get the sentiment – let’s be thoughtful for the “little guy” who has to muddle through with such a small entourage to carry the train of his robe. But, it is exactly this kind of absurdity that drives me crazy. I have been in full time ministry over 25 years – in five congregations as “the” located preacher, and I have never served in that capacity with an eldership. I have served with two elderships – blessings to be sure – but one was as a youth minister and the other as a campus minister. I really loved having a secretarial team – but I had become so used to doing everything myself I really did not know how to effective use their expertise (and they were GREAT ministers in their own right – ministers as servants of the congregation).

What the above statement reveals to me are two things. First, as mentioned above, I think the intent is genuine and positive – the one who wrote the thought wanted to convey a need to consider those who work in smaller congregations. But, honestly, the quote reveals such a profound ignorance of what “smaller congregations” really means. Ministers who serve small congregations outside of the “Bible Belt” rarely serve with elders, have NO staff, and the only “youth minister” is someone who is willing to take the kids to McDonalds after church services. Where I serve now the nearest fellow full time minster is a 45 minute drive away. I’m lucky. In my last position the nearest fellow minister was over an hour’s drive away – over some nasty mountain passes that become treacherous during the winter.

So, please, do not hurl any invective against me for hating on the person who wrote the above quote. I get, and I appreciate, his concern. But – please do not take the quote with any degree of literalness. I would LOVE to have two or three elders to share my burdens, a staff to help with some of the mundane paperwork, and a youth minister to plan the VBS and bring me my morning coffee.

But, I have the blessing of serving a small congregation, and to be perfectly honest, with the exception of the elders, (which I would genuinely love to have!) I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Author: Paul Smith

Paul Smith was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He holds the Bachelor of Science in Youth Ministry, Master of Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity, all from Abilene Christian University; and the Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Paul's passion is in teaching and preaching the gospel. Beyond the study of the Bible, his main academic interest is in the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is an unashamed mountain-goat, and longs to spend his time with his feet in a cold trout stream.

2 thoughts on “A Well Meaning Absurdity (Welcome to My World)”

  1. I once gave a list of names and phone numbers to a church elder from New Mexico (who had grown up in Texas). The names and numbers were intended to allow him to contact a number of churches in Ohio and Indiana. These churches supported our work in Africa. The numbers were the home or cell numbers of some active members. He threw the list away. Instead he looked up the phone numbers at the church buildings and used those. He wanted to speak to the “senior minister” (whatever that unbiblical term means). He refused to understand that none of these churches had ANY full-time workers (although I had told him). No one was around to answer the phone ringing at an empty church building in the middle of the week. He was deeply offended – but the mistake was entirely his own.

    We are a fellowship of small churches. I am told that the average size is less than 100. My own experience indicates that in the Great Lakes States the average size is less than 75. Yet our colleges train as if everyone is going to serve a church of 200 or more (one of many factors leading to our declining numbers).

    Ignorance is forgivable, yes — but such willful ignorance?

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    1. Bingo, Thayer! I am not familiar with many parts of the country, and I did not want to speak out of turn, but it is my guess that a congregation of 100 would be relatively large in 35-40 of our states. What skews the average are the congregations in the south. Ditto with the existence of elders. This somewhat troubles me, as elders are not an optional add-on, but are clearly an aspect of wise counsel that God has placed a high priority on. I think that is a serious continuing weakness of most of our congregations, but, having said that, I do understand the reality of working with small, spiritually weak congregations. I so appreciate your comment – you “hit the nail on the head.” Thanks!

      Paul

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