The Size of Your Church

Rework is written for businesses, but I found this section to be very useful in thinking about churches as well.

People ask, "How big is your company?" It's small talk, but they're not looking for a small answer. The bigger the number, the more impressive, professional, and powerful you sound. "Wow, nice!" they'll say if you have a hundred-plus employees. If you're small, you'll get an "Oh...that's nice." The former is meant as a compliment; the latter is said just to be polite.

Why is that? What is it about growth and business? Why is expansion always the goal? What's the attraction of big besides ego?

...Small is not just a stepping stone. Small is a great destination in itself.

Nothing against big churches, but I think we need to fight the idea that big is always better. The size of your church tells you only part of the story.

Monday Pastoral Discouragement

There are a lot of pastors who are going to be discouraged today. For whatever reason, yesterday didn't go well. Even if Sunday did go well, pastors often suffer from a post-adrenaline letdown or crash. As Archibald Hart writes:

Most of us experience post-adrenaline depression after a period of extended demand or stress. Many pastors wake up Monday mornings to this cloud hanging over their heads. We commonly refer to it as the Monday morning blues, but it is, in reality, the adrenal system switching off and insisting that enough is enough. It demands time for its recovery. It literally tries to detach us from our environment to facilitate its recovery.

The symptoms include irritability, grumpiness, low frustration tolerance, and big-time negativity. They are typical of the withdrawal symptoms we see in several substance addictions. Everything looks bleak! (Unmasking Male Depression)

I've been gradually improving in recognizing this and responding to it. I still have a ways to go. Here are some suggestions for how to deal with Monday morning pastoral discouragement.

  • Expect it. The cycle of the week means that Monday is going to be a low-energy day for most of us. Build in time for recovery. (By the way, I work on low-demand tasks on Monday so my sabbath, later in the week, is more life-giving.)
  • Flee from idols. If we measure our worth by how well we did on Sunday, or how many people were out, then on Mondays we'll be dealing with the way our idol let us down. Idols always crush us, so work on getting rid of the idolatry of pastoral success in your life. As Jack Miller says, "You don't have anything to prove to us or the world. The work is finished at Calvary, and that work has unlimited meaning and value. Keep your focus there."
  • Be careful in measuring success. A friend of mine prayed last week that God would hide the results of our ministry from us when seeing results would lead to our pride, and that he would show us some results when we need to be encouraged. Wise prayer. We don't always see what God is doing through us even on the weeks when it feels like nothing happened.
  • Remember where the power comes from. When God's Word is preached, God honors that. We want to do our best, but even when we offer God our best it's not very much. God is honored to use broken vessels to bring glory to himself. Our confidence is ultimately not in ourselves but in him.

I love this passage by Spurgeon:

The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in man: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers: as they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure. Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Set small store by present rewards; be grateful for earnests by the way, but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.

If you have any suggestions for how to deal with Monday pastoral discouragement, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

The Dumpy Restaurant with the Great Food

You sometimes hear people argue that people make their mind up about a church in the first two or three minutes. People decide whether to return to a church, they say, long before the service ever starts. That's why it's important to focus on things like parking, greeters, washrooms, and a warm atmosphere.

I've heard this argument used to almost push the sermon and some of the core elements of church to the side. Why focus on preaching when people have made up their minds long before the sermon even starts?

There's some truth to the argument that first impressions are important. When I go to a church for the first time I can usually tell a lot in the first few minutes. Yes it's an attractional mindset, but it's partly true.

But the irony of this way of thinking hit me yesterday. Last night I ate in a hole of a restaurant. I went out of my way to go there. The chairs were uncomfortable. The washrooms were atrocious. The place looks like a dump. There were tons of chain restaurants nearby that look nicer. Why did I go there? The first impressions suck, but the food is amazing. I'll be going back.

I'm not the only one. A bunch of us got talking yesterday about an Indian restaurant just up the road. It doesn't look like much, but two of our staff rave about it. It's right around the corner from my favorite Thai restaurant. It's another restaurant that doesn't impress at first, but the food is incredible.

People may be impressed by good parking and washrooms. But it's ultimately the food that matters. The chain restaurants with professionally decorated decor and mediocre food will always be around. But they rarely (ever?) have the best food. I want good food, and I'll go out of my way to get it, and if I have to go to the dumpy restaurant to get it, I will.

Sometimes it's not the first impressions that count the most, at least not in the long run. In a church, things like preaching and discipleship do matter, even in an attractional approach. The chains may look good, but don't be fooled. People need substance. Redecorate the women's bathroom and work on parking, yes. That's actually important. But don't skimp on the things that really matter most, the things you'll remember long after the first impressions are forgotten.