Thursday, August 19, 2010

Small Churches

I am the pastor of a small church. I have always pastored small churches. I have not intentionally chosen small churches. It's just that there are so many more of them than large churches. Small churches are like families. You can pretty much know everyone. You don't know everyone well but they are not strangers. In a small church the people of the church do most of the work that needs to be done. There are few staff. Maybe a secretary, a youth leader, a custodian, perhaps, but they are all part time. There are always maintenance projects, music ministries, ongoing Christian education and various caring and helping needs. These are filled by the people of the church who are all volunteers. Volunteers may not be a good word because a small church is like a family. You don't volunteer to do the dishes, or take out the trash or paint the bathroom - at your home. You are part of the family so when something needs to be done you chip in and do it. Ideally. Of course, we know there are no ideal families. Nor are there ideal churches. So, things go undone, sometimes important things and people are blamed for leaving things undone. Sometimes families don't communicate with each other very well and neither do churches. Sometimes families have high expectations of one another and so do churches. Sometimes families play all kinds of relational games - power games - with each other and so do churches. One power game that is played is to withhold yourself emotionally or physically from the family. One family member may refuse to talk to another or may refuse to chip in on the housework or even leave the household for awhile. It happens like that in churches, too. People get hurt, frustrated or think they are not being taken seriously and so exert their relational power. They may stay away for a few weeks, or conveniently forget they were assigned to do something, or stop giving financially, or in some cases, they just leave altogether. When that happens in a family, or a church it creates disequilibrium. The family dynamics are out of whack. We try to figure out what happened, what caused the rupture. It helps to explain it and it helps even more if we can find someone to blame. Then we can move on more easily. But, it is never easy. It is a relational breakdown. They happen in all families and in all churches. We should not be surprised when they happen but neither should we be unprepared. They are not fun to deal with but they are part of community. Because there is no perfect community. In large churches relational breakdowns are masked by the size of the community. People can be strangers. But not in a small church. Small churches experience life at its best and worst. We believe God is in the mix though. He brings healing and wisdom. Closure takes awhile. Sometimes it never comes. It helps to be honest and name the acts and feelings for what they are. It helps to pray even when the feelings feel raw. It helps to know God knows and he doesn't demand a perfection from us that we are incapable of. Family and church dysfunction is a necessary reminder of who we are. Sinners saved by grace. Lord, have mercy.