One of the greatest problems new pastors have at small churches is trying to do too much too soon.  You go to a new congregation and are all gung ho for the new ministry.  You are there to accomplish something, to make a difference, to get things done!  It seems obvious to you that this little congregation has suffered from a lack of ideas, and you have the answers they are waiting for.

                After all, you have a degree from Bible college.  You have gone to the big church in the big town.  You have seen it all (or so you think) and you know what needs to be done to get the small church God has placed you in to become the mega church He desires (because God only desires mega churches, right?).  Everyone should be sitting on the edge of their pews to hear the great advice from your highly trained mind so they can get in on God’ program.

                Problem is, you will find that although your congregation loves their new pastor, and although they do indeed want to hear some new thoughts and ideas, there is a big difference from listening to thought about change and actually changing.  You are going to discover that one of the things that people resist the most (and church people are no different) is change.  Many young people like to claim that they love change.  They want to always be on the “cutting edge” of anything going on in life, including church.  But when you get to testing this claim, you will find that even the younger generation prefers for things to remain the same.

                I can recall my seminary president, Dr. B. Gray Allison, sharing at prayer request time that we needed to pray for so and so.  He went to a new church and tried to implement a bunch of new programs and now the church was upset and thinking about firing him.  This happened several times while I was in school.  Dr. Gray would always look at us as he finished the prayer request and say: “When you go to a new church, don’t change anything for at least a year.”  What he was telling us was a new pastor needs to be patient.

                When I went to my first little rural church I wanted to do evangelistic visitation in the community.  I wanted to get a church tract made with the church’s name, address, a brief gospel presentation, a simple map showing how to get there, and a word from the pastor.  My pastor at the church I had been serving at had such a pamphlet and found it very useful.  He always had some in his pocket to give to people both as a witness and a way to let people know where we were.  I naturally thought I needed the same thing and brought it up at a business meeting soon after I became pastor.

                Such heated debate!  What seemed like a simple matter to me became the subject of much discussion.  Why did we need this?  Would it really be useful?  Was it a wise use of the church’s money?  The debate ended when the church treasurer went to a Sunday school room and came back with a box of mailers the church had printed under a previous pastor to be used for a mass mailing in the community.  It contained most of the information I had mentioned, but was in the form of a piece of mail, not exactly something you could easily carry in your pocket for ready use.  But as far as the church was concerned that was it and had I pressed the matter it would have been a scene.  I dropped it and walked away from the meeting dejected.

                On another occasion I really set things off.  In talking with another pastor friend I found that his church paid for his health insurance premium.  He told me that most of the churches in the area did that and that I should ask my church to do so, since I had no health coverage of any kind.  How I wish I had not listened to my friend!  I brought the idea up and oh my!  They did not know how I came up with such ideas.  The pastors before me had wives who worked secular jobs that took care of their insurance needs (in other words my stay at home wife ought to get out and get a job).  I ended up apologizing and the matter was dropped.

                Now here’s the interesting part.  After I left, the church felt like they needed an experienced pastor.  They had, after all, taken on several novice preachers, including me.  As they began to interview prospective men, they were surprised that each one had the same question.  And what were they asking?  They wanted to know if the church paid for the pastor’s health insurance premium!  Needless to say that set them to thinking and they voted to start making that a part of their minister’s salary package.

                If you are going to successfully pastor a small church you have got to be patient.  Things will not change overnight.  They may not even change during your time as pastor.  Small church people have usually already had pastors come in who had lots of new programs they wanted to implement.  These new ways cost money.  And they also required the people to do things in a whole new way.  Very often they found that they would no sooner get these new programs in place and the pastor would leave for another church, leaving them holding the bag for the whole thing.  With the new leader gone, the new idea fell to the side and all the church had to show for it was a lot of money spent and a lot of time invested in something that never really got off the ground.

                Like it or not, you have to recognize this dynamic when you go to a small church.  Why should they get all excited about your new plans when the remains of your predecessor’s brainstorms are still sitting around?  True enough, you may have the idea that is going to change the church forever, helping it to grow as never before.  But if it is such a great program today, it will still be good tomorrow.  And if it cannot stand the test of time, then you really don’t need to put it off on your congregation anyway.

                The Bible is full of admonitions to wait.  If you are going to survive and thrive at a small church you must be willing to bide your time until the Lord shows you the moment is right.  Sometimes you can mention something in a sermon or lesson.  This will plant the idea in the minds of the people.  You can then occasionally mention it again, giving the folks time to ponder and get used to the plan.  Very seldom in a little congregation can you expect to just bring up something new and expect it to be accepted.

                God’s work has always required patience.  The apostle Paul wanted to visit Rome, but God did not let him do so until he had spent time in jail for preaching the gospel.  William Carey, the father of modern missions, when speaking of the need to spread the gospel, was told to sit down because if God wanted the heathen saved He would do it on His own.  Most successful ministries have had detractors who told the pastor it could not be done.

                My wife runs her own Christian daycare.  It is her joy to work with little children and help them develop physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  She is very good at what she does and it is not unusual for the children entering public school from her care to score high on the preschool tests.  But she can tell you that things don’t happen with children overnight.  You have to be patient when working with kids.  But rather than getting bent out of shape saying that the daycare could move forward if this child or that would just get with the program, she waits for the light bulb to go on in their minds.  Instead of beating her head against the wall in frustration because a certain child should know this rule or that, she takes the time to teach and reteach each principle until it is grasped.  After all, what would be the point in getting upset with a kid who just simply did not understand?

                Many small church pastors could take a lesson from my wife.  Just because you get it, just because you understand the principle does not mean everybody else does.  You must learn to deal with your people with patience if you want to see the results you are after.

                A spider spends many hours spinning a web.  It is a difficult and painstaking process.  When it is complete it is a beautiful sight to behold.  But a dog or cat coming by can tear it down in just a few seconds.  What happens then?  The spider will go back to work and build it again.  Patience is built in to the laws of nature and should be a part of our lives as well.  Getting in a hurry for some change you want to make will only cause you trouble with your church and give you ulcers.  Try going at the pace that God chooses instead of always trying to rush things.