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Maybe God is calling you to be a small-church pastor

| by Ronald Keener

Karl Vaters begins his new book, Small Church Essentials [Moody, 252 pages] with three facts: 

1. Most pastoral-ministry students will never pastor a church larger than 250 people

2. Virtually all pastors will lead a small church for at least some time in their ministry

3. You can pastor a small church well without settling for less

At last, a well-written, useful, informative book on the small, even little, church. After all, referencing Carl George, Vaters reminds us once again that “half of this continent’s approximately 320,000 Protestant churches run about 80 in weekly attendance.”

And that “at the 100 mark in attendance, a church has become larger than 60 percent of its peer churches—at 140, 75 percent and at 200, 85 percent.” Says Vaters, in light of those statistics: “Let’s stop acting like we’re embarrassed by all the small churches in the world. Maybe there are so many small churches because they’re God’s idea, not our failure. Instead of making pastors feel guilty that they didn’t ‘make it’ when they pastor a small church, let’s help them do it well—and passionately.”

And on every page following, that’s what Vaters does so well in this new book. There is the section on “What’s wrong with top-down vision-casting?” where he reminds us (in the NIV translation) of the full quote so often shared, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who needs wisdom’s instruction.”

Then there is the section, “Better discipling through mentoring (without overworking the pastor)” in which mentoring is given more attention than discipleship, noting that “we’re not mentoring as well as we could because we’re seldom as intentional as we need to be.” And, says Vaters, It makes me wonder if a lack of mentoring could be part of the reason the current wave of people—especially younger people—are leaving the church in record numbers.” And, again, “An over-reliance on curriculum can lead us to believe we’ve been discipling when all we’ve done is help people finish classes.”

Vaters sets to right thinking in Chapter 8 that is titled “Is Your Small Church Stuck or Strategic?” and pretty much answers that with the view, “If your church is small right now, but is being healthy during the time you’re small, you’re not stuck, you’re strategic.”

Of course, “being healthy” as a small church is mostly what this book is about. (Church health has long ago replaced the desire and slogan of the much maligned, church growth movement.)

Vaters also has a website, and a quick review of his travel schedule April through October shows that he is spreading the small church gospel several times a month. You can probably catch him as a keynote speaker at “a church near you,” so to speak.

Summing up, Vaters writes on the penultimate page, “Your church is big enough. Right now. Today, at its current size. Whether you have a too-small building, no building, or too much building, your church is big enough to do what Jesus is calling you to do and to be who He’s calling you to be. Your church is big enough to minister the healing grace of Jesus to its members, and you have enough members to take that grace to your community in an overflow of joy, hope, and healing. Pastoring a small church with passion and joy is not about settling for less, it’s about doing all you can with everything you’ve been given. Now.”

Ronald Keener

Ronald E. Keener was editor of the national business and leadership magazine, "Church Executive," for eight years, and writes from Chambersburg, Pa. His church interests lie with congregational transformation, church health movement, church strengthening and revitalization and reporting on churches that have not just survived but thrived. 


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