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"Self-Reliance and Self-Sufficiency" (Chapter 5)

Self-reliance and self-sufficiency certainly is the traditional American way - especially on the frontier, but is it the biblical way for churches?  If we're talking about our relationship to the Lord, the church is in a relationship of utter dependence.  God forms the church, empowers it, gifts it for service, and includes it in his mission to the world.  If we're talking about the larger body of Christ, I see interdependence, not independence as the biblical model.

Although I still have some discomfort with these terms, in the end I found Callahan helpful in thinking through how small churches and their denominations relate to each other.  It's easy to see how the two get into a co-dependent relationahip.  One of the top five pressing issues identified by EPC pastors of small churches was "Resources: financial, human and physical."  Constantly facing the lack of resources makes it easy to think, "We need some help from outside to survive."  Or, "if we just had a financial boost, we could grow a little."  The church wants help, the denomination wants to help, and sometimes it becomes a perpetual, unhealthy cyle and hard to bring to an end.

Being self-reliant and self-sufficient as a church is healthier than being co-dependant, but I think we have to draw some limits around what this means.  Self-sufficiency gone to seed can cancel out dependence upon God.  Self-reliance gone sour isolates us from others and doesn't demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ.  I do think there is a way that small congregations can cultivate a healthy interdependence that expresses the unity of the the body of Christ and brings meaningful connections between leaders and churches.

Here's one example.  Prior to my beginning as pastor of a small congregation, the church had received regular outside financial help, designated for the pastor's salary.  For four years the church made little if any progress toward financial independence.  When the previous pastor left, the congregation used the common small church budget balancing technique - going for a year or so without a pastor to pay.  But in that period of time they decided that they would never again seek outside help for the pastor's salary.  It had made them too dependent.  They were determined never to ask for that kind of help in the future.  Not too long after I arrived we did apply for funds made available by the General Assembly with the understanding that they would be dedicated exclusively toward various outreach and visibility-raising projects that we couldn't finance on our own.  Did that put us in a co-dependent relationship?  I don't think so.  I think it was a cooperative arrangement, not a co-dependent one.  The assistance gave a helpful boost for a couple of years and in the process the church got beyond struggling to simply survive. 

Add your comments:

What kind of help would you find beneficial from your presbytery or the General Assembly?  What kind of "help" would you rather not see?

What do you think of the idea that a pastor can give a church too much help (146-151)?

What helped you or raised questions for you in this chapter?

Comments(2) Login to Post Comments

Dan Krodel on Sep 9, 2008 12:10pm

Wouldn't it be great if each Presbytery had a consultant like Callahan to travel around and help the small churches?

As far as Pastors and the help they give churches I find similar thoughts in many of my colleagues. One expressed it this way, "why let someone else do something you can do better?" Many of us are too tempted to think in this fashion. The other thought we are forced to remember is that our jobs, unfortunately, depend upon performance in the eyes of the congregation. I know it shouldn't be this way but I don't know a whole lot of Pastors who don't feel that their congregation is judging them by how much the do? The axe could fall at any time if the congregation feels the Pastor hasn't come up with enough activities, enough visitation, enough creativity, etc. It's a tough road to walk.

Ken Stiles on Sep 29, 2008 10:07am

Dan, Did you make those comments about "how lots of Pastors feel" to see if the rest of us were awake? Although I admit there is a temptation to judge a Pastors performance by how much he does I think most parishioners would agree that at best that judgement would be short sighted and at worst, sinful. And to have a Pastor that felt like the "axe could fall" based on the feelings of the congregation at any given moment seems to me like a recipe for an extremely unhealthy relationship. To the contrary, I know a whole lot of parishioners who look to the pastor as the example, not to judge but to model their behavior after him (to include all the areas you mentioned: activities, visitation, creativity etc).
Take the subject of this chapter - self reliance and self sufficiency and apply it to the relationship between a Pastor and a congregation and you can have the same problems on a much more personal level (dependence/co-dependence). I would echo Ed's thoughts in this area: the author's use of "self" throughout the chapter was all together too much! Instead we rely and depend on the love and grace of our almighty Lord.
One important sign of a "strong congregation" is whether or not the people in it have come to the realization that they aren't self-reliant or self-sufficient. That it is God's strength and provision that we rely on and that His grace is sufficient for us.
How a Pastor leads his congregation to this goal is how he is judged. Indeed, how all of us will be judged. As Paul says "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith". That all of us might one day stand before our Creator and be able to say those words is truly the goal.
Dan, not being a Pastor please deal me a health dose of grace for my naivity and ignorance of what you go through and let me know if I am way off base. Your Brother in Christ, Ken