Going from Small Church to Mega-church Ministry: Preparations
(This article was featured at Pastors.com.)
Over the past 25 years I’ve served on staff in several different churches. In the majority of those churches I was bi-vocational. And not one of those churches had a membership of more than 500. So, how did I suddenly go from a church of 500 to serving as lead worship pastor at a church of 5000? Good question!
Of course, the short (and truest) answer is “God and His grace.” But that’s not the answer you’re probably looking for, is it? Most likely you’re taking precious time to read this article because you want to know exactly how such a thing could happen. Anyone who knows me may wonder how a guy from Owens Cross Roads, Alabama (population 315, if you count the chickens and cows) could “land” such a big church job. Well, keep reading. I believe I may be able to shed some light on that for you…
To help get to the answer of how, there’s another question that needs answering first. It’s one I’ve had to ask myself over and over again throughout my years in ministry. I want to ask you this question too: Are you content with where you’re serving now in ministry and with what you’re doing? Or to put it another way, if God chose to leave you right where you are, would you make the most of your situation, despite your circumstances?
I can honestly say I was quite satisfied serving in a smaller church. I had no aspirations of being at some “mega-church” somewhere. God has taught me over the years the importance of being content–whatever the situation. Funny thing is, I don’t think this latest ministry opportunity would ever have come to me had I not been satisfied to remain where I was.
Please understand that when I talk of being “satisfied,” I mean being satisfied in God and in my relationship with Him. Paul said that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV). No church job–no matter how big its size or vision–can ever bring us real contentment. Only Jesus can satisfy. Only walking closely with Him can motivate us to want to get up every day and serve His church with joy.
It’s important to note, however, that being satisfied in God doesn’t necessarily mean being satisfied with ourselves or our effectiveness. When it comes to our own spiritual and intellectual growth, what we need is “holy discontentment.” Thus, there are some specific attitudes and actions we should all have and do to help us prepare for whatever ministries God may have for us in the future–small or large. Below are some that have proven especially needed in my life…
1. Don’t try to better yourself with bigger church and ministry positions. Jesus humbled Himself and took the form of a servant. He wasn’t looking for human promotion–and neither should we. Besides, what could be better than being in God’s will? Learn to be content with and thankful for whatever ministry God has placed you in now.
2. Don’t see your church as a “stepping stone.” It may, in fact, be your last place to serve before you die or Jesus returns. In your small and seemingly insignificant situation God may use you to reach and disciple someone who will in turn impact thousands. So, make the most of your opportunity! Or, as my friend Juan DeVevo of Casting Crowns likes to say, “Bloom where you’re planted”!
3. Never stop growing and improving in your ministry. Live your life as though class is still in session for you. No one is ever to old to learn. One of my fellow staff members is finishing up his bachelors degree–at 50 years of age! And he is already making plans toward a masters degree. Every day we can determine to discover something useful to help us. Stay up on the latest technology, for example. Go to conferences to expose yourself to new ideas and tools. Read lots of books and articles to help keep you fresh and sharp.
4. Find a need and seek to fill it. Perhaps God has uniquely gifted you to help a certain group of people. Ask God to show you who those people are and what you can do to help them. Is there a resource they need that you can develop or improve for them? Think creatively. Often, inspiration for new ideas comes from within your area of expertise or within your scope of experience. Your creativity and unique accomplishments may be the very thing God uses to promote you to larger and more influential leadership roles down the road.
5. Use any extra time you have to invest in your future. Have a desire to write songs? Then write as many as you can–write at least one song a week! Feel led to write a book? Then get busy writing! If you’re full-time at a church, chances are, you have more free time now than you would have in a larger church situation. I wrote my first book, Pure Praise, while serving full-time in a small church. Most weeks I would get all my work done for the church and still have several hours left to focus on my writing. You can too! If you’re a bi-vocational minister, then you may have less time for future-building projects. However, if you manage your time wisely, you may discover bits of time here and there that you’ve been wasting rather than investing.
6. Invest time alone with God in His Word every day. There is nothing more important to your present or more beneficial to your future than nurturing your fellowship with the Lord. As the Christian artist Carman once said, “Grow vertically deep in your relationship with God, and He will expand your ministry horizontally.” Or as my dear friend, Scott Dawson, puts it, “Build the man, and God will build the ministry.”
7. “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord” (Psalms 27:14 NLT).