“Breaking News: Pastor accepts call to a smaller church!”
That’s not a headline you see very often.
Most pastors nearly always are called to a larger church than the one they are leaving.
Recently, I had lunch with one who accepted a call to a much smaller church than he has now pastored for the past 15 years. In fact, it’s almost a tenth of the size of his present church.
No, he’s not planning to retire and just serve this church to supplement his retirement income. He plans to bring leadership and health to this church, so that it can once again begin to minister to the community God has given it.
It’s also not the case that his present church is struggling or having problems. In fact, it is probably one of the healthiest churches I know and has just experienced a significant growth in its facilities and the number of people who attend there.
There is absolutely no reason for my friend to leave his present church except one: God has called him to this other church.
He and I have had more than one discussion about this move. Mostly, I just listened as he tried to sort out the various reasons why he believed God was calling him to a new place of service.
I would occasionally ask questions or offer ideas for him to consider, but mostly I listened. After the first discussion we had, I felt certain he would make the move, and I was not surprised when he called a few weeks later to let me know he was going there for a candidate weekend.
I was expecting that call because during that initial discussion it was clear, at least to me, that this was God’s doing. I had little doubt that God was calling him to this new place of ministry.
As we ate lunch, it was obvious that he was feeling great sorrow at leaving the people he had ministered with for the past decade and a half. But, as he talked about the new church he will soon be serving, there was much excitement in his voice.
He talked about the ministry opportunities in the city where he will soon live and minister. The potential for growth is almost unlimited, and the church facilities are capable of serving many more people than they currently have.
I sensed he feels that God is calling him to that church to lead that growth, and I wondered what his new church thinks about his coming.
They are well aware of the wonderful church he is leaving, so that has to excite the members of this new church. When so many smaller churches struggle with self-esteem issues, this has to make them feel that both God and this new pastor they are getting must love them very much for him to accept the call to their church.
I would think their hope level has been significantly raised in the weeks since he accepted their call.
You see, there is a difference between accepting a call to a smaller church because that’s the only church that contacted you and accepting that call because God is leading you there.
It makes a difference to both the minister and the church, and both can often sense which situation best describes the minister.
Our smaller churches want so much to have a pastor who will love them and be excited to serve as their pastor. When that happens, those churches also begin to believe once again that God is not done with their church but still has a purpose for them.
I have to believe the church where my friend will soon serve feels both of these are true for them, and I predict some great ministry will soon begin to happen in that church.
I will admit that some smaller churches are so far down the life-cycle and so dysfunctional that they are unlikely to ever turn around, but I also know that there are many smaller churches that are just praying that someone will come to lead them who believes in them.
When such a person accepts the call to serve those churches, good things will happen.
Please don’t automatically discount a call to a church that is the smaller than the one you now serve. You could be missing out on an incredible ministry opportunity.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Ind., for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.