Should Young Pastors Prefer a Large or Small Church?

"Theodore Cuyler took on this question in his book How To Be a Pastor.... His answer is straightforward, his reasoning compelling. It is worth considering today. 'I answer unhesitatingly, the small church.' ...He offers a three-pronged defense of his position." - Challies

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T Howard's picture

What young pastors need to do regardless of the size of church they pastor:

  • Make a long-term commitment to shepherding the flock God has given you. Currently, the average pastoral tenure is < 4 years. Whereas historically, pastoral tenure was > 15 years.
  • Spend most of your early tenure getting to know your people, ministry leaders, and church culture. Build relationships and trust before you begin "casting vision" or making changes.
  • When conflict and difficulty arise in your church (and they will, and you should expect it!), renew your commitment to shepherding the flock of God through the conflict, difficulty, and hurt it causes you and your family.
  • Don't look for greener grass when your church is experiencing conflict and difficulty. You'll almost always find it and find a way to justify leaving.
  • If you do decide to leave your church, don't pull the "God's will" or "God led me to" card. It's a cop out and nothing more than spiritual nonsense. Instead, admit to yourself and to the church the real reasons you decided to leave---and don't blame them on God. These reasons should include your own sins, failures, and shortcomings.
Don Johnson's picture

I agree with Tom Howard's statements above.

I will note that most churches are small churches, so young pastors should look there first, in my opinion. However some small churches are likely the kind of situation where the church is unlikely to grow (very rural settings, for example) so likely cannot support a pastor's presumably growing family. Such churches are well aware of their limitations and probably understand they will be a stepping stone for pastoral development. If a church is such, they ought to embrace that ministry and seek out promising young men on a regular basis.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Mark_Smith's picture

T Howard wrote:

What young pastors need to do regardless of the size of church they pastor:

  • Make a long-term commitment to shepherding the flock God has given you. Currently, the average pastoral tenure is < 4 years. Whereas historically, pastoral tenure was > 15 years.
  • Spend most of your early tenure getting to know your people, ministry leaders, and church culture. Build relationships and trust before you begin "casting vision" or making changes.
  • When conflict and difficulty arise in your church (and they will, and you should expect it!), renew your commitment to shepherding the flock of God through the conflict, difficulty, and hurt it causes you and your family.
  • Don't look for greener grass when your church is experiencing conflict and difficulty. You'll almost always find it and find a way to justify leaving.
  • If you do decide to leave your church, don't pull the "God's will" or "God led me to" card. It's a cop out and nothing more than spiritual nonsense. Instead, admit to yourself and to the church the real reasons you decided to leave---and don't blame them on God. These reasons should include your own sins, failures, and shortcomings.

THoward, I'm confused. You said that if a young pastor leaves not to use "God's will" or "God led me" to describe leaving. But before that you said "Make a long-term commitment to shepherding the flock God has given you." Which is it? Did God give you the flock? Or did you just take the job? How do you know taking the first pastorate was God's will if leaving cannot be His will?

Maybe you should avoid saying EITHER was definitely God's will until you know.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Knowing when it's time to leave is a bit tricky because it almost always contains a large subjective element.  We "feel" that it's time to move on.  Is that God's leading, or my own desires thinly disguised as God's leading? 

I don't know how to eliminate all subjectivity, but I have found the following helpful.  When you feel so strongly that it's God's will to accept a ministry opportunity that you can't do anything else, take it.  When you have another opportunity about which you are unsure, fall back on the certainty of the previous ministry.  If you "know" God led you to A, but are not just as certain that God is leading you to B, stay at A.  Why would you leave a ministry where you are certain God led you, to move to a ministry where you are unsure?

G. N. Barkman

T Howard's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:
THoward, I'm confused. You said that if a young pastor leaves not to use "God's will" or "God led me" to describe leaving. But before that you said "Make a long-term commitment to shepherding the flock God has given you." Which is it? Did God give you the flock? Or did you just take the job? How do you know taking the first pastorate was God's will if leaving cannot be His will?

Maybe you should avoid saying EITHER was definitely God's will until you know.

Great question. I believe Scripture indicates that God confirms his will concerning elders through the affirmation of God's people (e.g. 1 Tim. 4:14; 1 Tim. 5:22). So, a young man only becomes an elder/pastor after being affirmed to that role by God's people. Yet, when he leaves < 4 years later, he usually leaves without the affirmation of those same people. Instead, he claims by himself that it's God's will or God's call for him to leave the church. It's striking to me that God's will almost always corresponds with the pastor experiencing difficulty, conflict, or hurt at the church ... or with him going to a bigger church. This is the behavior of a hireling. And, blaming God for one's own decision to abandon God's flock in the midst of hardship is reprehensible.

If God has called you to shepherd his flock, he wants you to be a faithful shepherd. That means you don't quit or abandon his flock when things get hard (John 10:12-13).

Therefore, if a man leaves a church, he should just state honestly and plainly the reasons he chose to leave. Don't blame God for choosing to abandon his church. Be honest with yourself and with the church.