An Open Letter To Texas Baptist Denominational Leaders:
As a pastor I receive both of our state conventions publications including The Baptist Standard*(The Baptist Standard is not technically a publication of the BGCT) and the SBTC Texan. The magazines and papers you create and the websites you run are all informative and helpful for knowing the landscape of our denomination in our state. I want to start by stating my appreciation for all you do. But, I want to challenge you a little bit.
A few weeks ago I was reading one of these publications and there was a great story about a church experiencing unbelievable growth and a profile of the pastor leading this growth. There are stories like this in every publication. I understand the reasons. I understand they show us the amazing work of the grace of God in every corner of our state. I understand you want to highlight where God is working and those He is working through. I rejoice with the revival many are seeing. I rejoice God is doing amazing things. I rejoice lives are being changed and I long for this work in my church and in my community. But, the hard truth is I haven’t seen this kind of revival. This summer marked my seven-year anniversary at a small country church. It is the greatest church to pastor. The people are kind and generous and serious about their faith. They love their community and are seeking to be faithful to the Gospel in every sphere of their lives. We are small and to the world probably insignificant, but we are precious in the sight of God. I hope this does not come off as sour grapes, but I want to be honest.
As I was reading of this church in this small town exploding in growth discouragement overtook me. Why hasn’t that happened here? What am I doing wrong? Does the church need someone else to be a church like this one? Am I not good enough? Now, I realize this has much more to do with my own views of myself, the struggles I have with my own gifting, but I don’t think I am alone. Many of us struggle with feeling like we don’t matter, like our work doesn’t matter. We feel unappreciated by a church culture that values worldly success as much as the surrounding culture. The truth is most of the churches in both of your conventions are small, are struggling, and are praying and working to be faithful.
You are not trying to make small church pastors feel inferior, I know this without a doubt, but it is happening for this small church pastor. My suggestion is not for you to quit running such stories. Please keep them coming to remind us God can work anywhere and at any time. My suggestion for you is to do many more stories of places where it is hard week in and week out, year in and year out. Highlight not only the pastors who are seeing amazing growth, but also those who are faithful even when numerical growth is not present. Show us pastors who are faithfully preaching the word and have done so for years without recognition and without fanfare. Point us to pastors who love their people even when it has been the same people in the same pews for many years.
Small churches in small places need pastors too. Struggling churches need pastors too. There is an epidemic of pastors seeing and using churches as stepping-stones to a more successful place. We shouldn’t be surprised. When all we see are stories of amazing numerical growth we think either something is wrong with us or with our church and most of the time we choose the church. We then feel like our only option is to leave to a place we believe can give us the growth and recognition we deserve. This is selfish, but it is ingrained in us from books, conferences, publications, and a celebrity culture to rival pop culture.
Pastors, including this one, need to be taught contentment, faithfulness, and stability. We need to see the value in staying for a long time in the same place. We are praying for God to save the lost, to mend the broken, and to restore the fallen as much as every other pastor. We are not jealous or resentful when God works in other places and through other people. The truth is we rejoice at the work of God in the church down the street or the next town over. The kingdom of God is so much bigger than our one church. But, there are times when it is discouraging and lonely to not see your numbers grow, to not baptize someone in a given year. When the value of a ministry and a church is simply measured by numbers something is wrong. We want to be faithful and I know you want to help us be faithful. One of the ways you can help is to let us know we are not alone. There are many of us struggling faithfully in the work of the ministry. Remind us of this truth.
Thank you for all you do. Continue the good work of pointing us to the work of God in our great state.
A small church pastor.