To BGCT and SBTC Leaders

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.

 

Sincerely,

A small church pastor.

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14 thoughts on “To BGCT and SBTC Leaders

  1. Ira Antoine

    Pastor, I would like to thank you for sharing your heart and shedding light on an issue that is long overlooked. I am a BGCT staffer. Specifically, I am the Director of the Bivocational Pastors Ministry. In my work there are thousands of churches that are small membership churches with many being served by a bivocational pastor. The issue of not promoting or affirming small membership churches in small places is not seen as an issue at times because many are not looking for those things. Expect I am. I would like to visit with you to discuss we together can get this out to people.

    Not only do I serve as a BGCT staffer but I am a bivocational pastor serving a small membership church in a small town. Our church has not seen the numerical growth some have seen but the spiritual growth is unmatched as well as the community impact. We measure effectiveness not just by bodies gained but by burdens lifted, hearts transformed, lives changes, and community influence.

    My email address is ira.antoine@texasbaptists.org. I look forward to visiting with you. Blessings,

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  2. mborofsky

    Small Church Pastor.

    Very kind, thoughtful and heartfelt letter. As a matter of sincere encouragement let me say these words to you. Quality not quantity.

    I have seen mega churches that would never attend to for the simple reason they are a mega church and shallow in many ways. Not all but many. What kind of spiritual depth do you see in a church like Joel Osteen’s? Not much.

    My son once said he would rather have 30 youth to work with who were totally fixed on discipleship than 200 youth there for entertainment and coddling.

    Stay the course and thank G-d for what he has blessed you with.

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  3. Laura Owen

    I feel this is also true in missions. Some locations there will not be “big” numbers of conversions in one revival setting, it takes years to build a relationship, trust, friendship before even discussing the gospel. When you report to the church, they feel you aren’t doing enough. It is hard on the missionary. God calls us each to a specific place and time, a specific group, because He has a heart for ALL people.

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  4. Joe Loughlin

    Amen! We never intend to overlook the heroes of ministry–the faithful who serve where God has planted them regardless of location, size of congregation or potential for growth. Success in ministry is about the significance of changed lives, one life at a time. Every one!
    Let’s keep walking (Ephesians 2:10)! I’m convinced that when we get to heaven, we’ll be shocked at how God has used us to change lives in ways we didn’t even realize while on earth. I’m more than convinced of this. I’m counting on it!

    Note: Without diminishing the blogger’s point, which is spot on, I would be remiss if I didn’t make one technical clarification. The Baptist Standard is technically not the BGCT’s publication (as referenced in the blogger’s post). We hold zero editorial control over its content. Instead, the BGCT’s publication is Texas Baptists Magazine, published quarterly. Here is a link to a recent issue, solely dedicated to Bivocational Pastors:
    https://s3.amazonaws.com/texasbaptists/home/21505-01_BGCT_2016_TexasBaptistsMagazine_4_1_WEB_150DPI.pdf

    Joe Loughlin, Director
    Connections Team,
    BGCT

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    1. zacharrel Post author

      Thank you Joe. I will definitely check out the magazine and am thankful for your response. I will change the post to reflect your correction about the Baptist Standard. I hope the post didn’t come off as whiny, I really, really appreciate the BGCT and all you guys do for my church and so many like it. We benefited greatly from a small church grant we received through the BGCT in order to help us do some much needed work on our building. I appreciate the emphasis you have placed on bi vocational ministry and small churches. Thank you for taking the time to read and to respond. Know I am appreciative and thankful for the BGCT.

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      1. Joe Loughlin

        Thanks Zac. It didn’t come across whiny at all. This caught most, if not all, of us right in the feels, because we’ve all been there. We appreciate you! Blessings! JL

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  5. Jeffrey Keady

    This is a great letter, representing the hearts of so many pastors! That’s why we started the 200churches Podcast, to provide ministry encouragement to pastors of small churches!

    If you are a small church pastor, and need encouragement, there are 189 episodes currently residing at http://www.200churches.com/podcast. There is a TON of encouragement and inspiration there for you, and it is all FREE.

    We love small church pastors!

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  6. Kerry Collins

    This touched, I will be praying for you.

    Small church pastor , 19 1/2 yrs, COG Cleveland TN.

    We are together in this work, Bishop Kerry Collins in Ms.

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  7. Rev'd. Jean Harris

    Often churches are filled because pastors are gearing their sermons to make people feel good, and not so much feel the fear of hell as well as the love of God.
    I believe pastors who have small, faithful steady congregations are preaching what needs to be said. Keep doing what is working for your congregation. If they didn’t like your sermons, they would get another pastor. They keep coming back.
    A small group of daily-life true worshippers of God is much better than a church full of “Sunday” Christians who want to be seen in church.
    Keep up the good work.

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  8. Joel Engle

    I am the pastor of preaching at ChangePoint Church in Anchorage, Alaska. Our church runs about 3000 ppl a week. You and I are in very different and yet very similar situations.

    Let me tell you bro, I feel the EXACTLY the way that you do on many, many occasions.

    There are times when I think, “Man, I would love to be in a smaller church were I could know everybody.” There are other times when I think “Is God even using my sermons?”

    Sometimes I read a publication that highlights some revival-type phenomenon happening in another church and I get discouraged. “Why aren’t we experiencing this type of exponential conversion growth? Are we really making disciples or just satisfying consumers?” I am in a big church but I feel the same level of discouragement and frustration.

    The truth is this: we get our commissioning from the Lord and we follow Him. We are called to be faithful and our faithfulness to the Lord is the real litmus test of success.

    I resonate DEEPLY with your article because most of the time pastoring people is a hard, slow and time-consuming experience. It is also a great privilege from the Lord.

    You know what? I bet God has used your article to encourage thousands of pastors all over the country!! There is one in Alaska that is very grateful for your ministry and heart.

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  9. Betty B.mArrell

    My father, Milton Baty, was the pastor of First Baptist Church, Gustine many years ago. I was in high school, and I am now 80+, so you can see it was awhile back.

    I hear your heart. My dad lovingly called the Standard the “look what I gave done magazine”, because it seemed to him that there was much more reporting about churches such as First Dallas than very small churches.

    Today I am in a church in Austin, in a growing part of town and we have a growing church, but there are many in my town that aren’t. Nothing sells like success, and young families want to go where they have programs for their children that smaller churches can’t provide.

    I am on the executive board of the BGCT, and I plan to mention this at our next meeting..

    I don’t have an answer, but we must do better. You are not alone.

    Betty Baty Arrell
    Member, Austin Baptist Church
    Austin, Texas.

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  10. Beth

    My husband was recently terminated by a small town SBC church. The town is in decline and the church was experiencing many challenges it did not want to face. The church was divided right down the middle when we came on the field. He was charged with failing “to grow our church.” The members see inspiring success stories published by state papers and Christian media outlets that leave the impression a church just has to work “this new plan” and growth will follow almost overnight. I wish state papers would tell what it’s really like. The new pastor doesn’t walk in and overcome years of problems immediately. If there WAS an instant formula for rapid growth in small towns, you’d think every smart pastor would be using it — if for no other reason than personal survival!! If the state papers and the conventions really want to help, I wish they’d tell these small churches they would do a lot for themselves if they’d try LOVING THEIR PASTORS like the brothers in Christ they are and working WITH them instead of undermining them and expecting them to be clones of some megachurch pastor. It would help, too, if they told their readers that in some areas a church might be doing well just to hold it’s own. In a small community, ups and downs are a normal part of life – just like the ups and downs in their school enrollment from year to year. But tearing up your church to run off the pastor (especially when the non-member neighbors LIKE him!) is a pretty stupid church growth plan.

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  11. J. David Tate

    Thank you so much for your heartfelt and accurate post.

    A large part of my job with the Certificate Program at Truett Seminary is training and helping small church bi-vocational leaders with theological education. I also was a small church pastor before I took this job, and I know the disconnect there often is between the big flashy stories and books and the realities of the other 90%. Most churches will simply not experience powerful growth that will warrant an article or book, but as you rightly understand this is an inadequate measure of church “success”.

    There can be a powerful growth and depth of faith in community that cannot exist outside of small church, and it is a strength that relationships may be fostered in these areas. There is also substantial power in long-term pastoral tenure that sees people through youth, parenthood, and old age. These opportunities for life-transforming relationship does not come through flashy church programming, big screen sermons, or big name preachers (though there is nothing wrong with those things).

    Eugene Peterson writes in great inspiring detail about the calling to longevity and genuine relationship. His books Under the Unpredictable Plant and The Contemplative Pastor can be encouraging companions to any small church pastor who seeks to answer a calling to a specific people in a specific place.

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  12. Curtis Shelburne

    So well said! I LOVE this! As salve to my soul and a reminder of what the pastoral calling truly is, I try to re-read Eugene Peterson’s “The Pastor” once a year! Also as an antidote to the poison of the “religious” and secular “success” culture which says that only what is BIG matters. I’ve been a pastor in a small church in Muleshoe, Texas, for 31 years. That little church has been hugely used by God as a force for Christian unity in our community. We will never be “mega” in any way except in love and sweet relationships. But what a blessing the time there has been! Great churches come in all sizes. Not all great pastors are religious rock stars; in fact, . . . well. My temptation is not the “knee-jerk” equating of BIG with success and just adopting hook, line, and sinker the American “success” model and thus falling to the kernel of every temptation of Satan that Jesus eschewed in the wilderness. No, my temptation is to be utterly suspicious and disrespectful of so much that passes for “mega” in our culture and in our religious culture. I do know some megachurch “pastors” who love the faces of real sheep and don’t just crave adoring hordes looking for the best religious show, are more surprised than anyone else that the church they serve is large, who want to help and not just “assimilate” small churches, who respect small church pastors, and who know Whose Kingdom they serve. I pray that all of us who love the Lord will have our eyes open to the truly beautiful things He does in churches of all sizes where He is truly honored as Lord. Small can be incredibly beautiful and filled with large blessing.

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