Thirty-one pastors of EPC small churches took part in a survey to reach a consensus on the most pressing issues facing small church leaders. The issue that surfaced second on the list was "Lay leadership." Of course, lay leaders reading this may be thinking if they were the ones surveyed this category might have been "pastors of small churches."
Many comments on the survey were predictable. A small church has a small pool of people from which to choose their leaders. Lay leaders in those settings tend to re-cycle and may have a tendency to be overcommitted. I know from my personal tendency of taking on more responsibility than I can accomplish, that it comes with a loss of of good creative thinking and getting just plain tired. Burnout is a reality with lay leadership as it is with pastors. Comments in the artice on "Church Ministries" apply here also. A small church with a missional focus isn't worried about offering the same repertoire of progams as the large church down the street. It seeks God for discernment as to what "one excellent ministry" they can pursue with the gifts and resources God has given them. Partnering with other churches and compatible agencies may also be part of how this happens.
The comments that surprised and, frankly, bothered me can be summarized as "Existing leaders are resistant to training." At least two causes come to mind. In some cases, this could be an expression of frustration with a program orientation to ministry: "We bought the program, went to the training, it didn't work. Why bother with another one? It's not worth the effort." A missional small church taps into the wisdom and experience of others, but knows that programs can't simply be transferred from one context to another. They must be adapted. In other casees this attitude may be an expression of a serious spiritual problem. It convicts me to pray for God to work a change of heart in some of the lay leadership in our small churches. Missional leadership is called to a place of constant faith and discernment, seeking out what God is doing in their context and what God wants them to be doing. It is a posture that requires openness to God's leading and to learning new things, not resistance.
One way pastors can address the issue of lay leadership by shedding other things in our schedules so that personal discipleship of future leadership is a priority. Start first with existing leaders, but look for those God is calling for future leadership roles. I cut my ministry teeth many years ago with the Navigators, and I realize that their emphasis on one-on-one personal discipleship was an integral part of how I vew ministry (2 Tim 2:2). As I think back on my time as a small church pastor, the things I remember most, and were the most fruitful, were the times I spent over coffee talking about the Word and our walk with the Lord with people who are now in leadership postions. It's not rocket science. It's giving and receiving from one life to another.
What do you think? What's your experience? Join the discussion and let someone else know about this forum. This can become a place to share our best practices and bless each other.