A Small Church in A Small Town – The Leadership

I am continuing my series of posts on life in a smaller Church (under 300) in a smaller town (Under 10,000). I have already wrote about the Pastor and the Past. Today I want to talk about the leadership in a smaller Church. I am not talking about paid staff, I am speaking of the volunteer Elders and Deacons who led the Church – many of whom have led for years.

Leadership guru John Maxwell once said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” While I believe that is an overstatement, because I believe everything rises and falls based on God, I do understand his insight. Leaders can move a Church forward or they can hold it back. A good volunteer leader is a valuable asset to a Church. I have made three observations about leadership in a smaller Church

1. Many Churches are held hostage by one big bully. A wiser, older minister once told me this truth. After my experiences in Church and in talking with other Pastors I am convinced he was exactly right. While I believe this is true, I really have no definite answer why this happens. Maybe it is because of sin, maybe because of personal insecurities, maybe because of a lack of faith, or maybe a dozen other reasons. For some reason many smaller Church have one person (usually an older man) or a single family (usually the wealthiest) who hold the Church hostage to their own agenda. These Churches usually have a strong sense of family since everyone is committed to this one person or family, but the faith to attempt new things is often squelched in favor of the tradition this leader likes the most. So the Churches last forever but always remain small. Pastors come and go quickly as they learn they are not allowed to lead in new directions. Unfortunately because of their size many of these congregations hire newly graduated Bible College students and scare them or even hurt them. The damage these congregations can inflict is both local and global for that reason.

2. Many Churches have weak leadership who are doing their best. I have met some very wonderful men in smaller Churches who are trying to lead, but have no gifts of leadership. They are not very decisive, they try to make everyone happy, confrontation is avoided, and vision is non-existent. These Churches usually grow to 100-175 because of the friendly nature of the leadership but they rarely get bigger because of the weakness of the leadership. Something new gets tried and someone complains and the Church abandons the activity to keep existing people happy. This type of Church often has a high turnover rate. New people are coming all the time while other people are quickly slipping out the back door. Strong leaders (and often men) get frustrated and leave looking where they can use their gifts and stretch their faith. People are often proud that they are not like those “big unfriendly Churches” and are very content to not reach out with the gospel in new and exciting ways. The people who attend these Churches are wonderful individuals they have just never had a leadership that could lead them anywhere better.

3. A few Churches have strong leadership. Once in a while a new believer comes to Jesus and he has leadership gifts that he uses for God’s glory. These Churches are stepping out in faith and trying new things. They are reaching new people and building disciples. This type of Church often grows out of the smaller Church definition quickly and into a medium Church category. Sometimes the new leader walks in from the outside as a transfer to the congregation. Sometimes he is the hero who confronted the bully and won. His leadership is attractive to other men, especially younger men, and the Church moves forward in strength and faith. I have seen these congregations go from attendance in the 70’s for years to suddenly over 200 people. I have seen one Church grow to 600 in a town of 1,000. I also notice that these Churches begin producing Bible College students and leaders for the future.

Now, I do believe that God is in control of the world and I have seen Churches with poor leadership experience amazing growth and Churches with strong leaders takes years and years to see any growth. But those are the exception to the rule. Most Churches grow both spiritually and numerically based on the leadership.

So what does that mean for you? Here are a couple of closing thoughts:

Pray for your current leaders. Pray they will listen to God and grow in their leadership.
Pray God will raise up strong leaders. Pray for people to lead the congregation well.
Show appreciation to those who voluntarily lead well. Send an email, a text or a card to that Elder or Deacon and say “Thanks.”
Praise God for the leadership of the past. Someone’s leadership got your Church to this point. Thank God for them.

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