Living as a small church Pastor: What Is My Purpose

The age old question that anyone in any position in life has to ask at some point is most likely: “What is my purpose?” In ministry this is a crucial question that has to be addressed. The role that you play in ministry needs to be defined for many reasons, and in the case of most churches in America you will need to help define this role yourself.

One of the reasons that you have to define your role is so that there is understanding between you and the congregation you serve. We in ministry often hold tightly to the belief that we must do it all. Like Paul we hold to the standard that, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Co. 9:22 NIV) What does Paul really mean by this though? Does he mean that we are to become a “Jack of all trades” minister? Is it that we are the “chief cook and bottle washer” to the congregations we serve? This is why we must answer the question of our purpose and our role for ourselves, and for the congregations we serve.

The pressure of modern ministry weighs upon on us all, as Pierce Harris describes the expected role of today’s minister.
“The modern preacher has to make as many visits as the (old) country doctor, shake as many hands as a politician, prepare as many briefs as a lawyer, and see as many people as a specialist. He has to be as good an executive as the president of a university, as good a financier as a bank president; and in the midst of it all, he has to be so good a diplomat that he could umpire a baseball game between the Knights of Columbus and the Ku Klux Klan.” [1]

We do, especially in small churches really carry a load. In many ways we must be a “Jack of all Trades”, or as I say “Jack of All Trades, Master of None.” We are often the first one to church, and latter the last one out the door. We will often be called on to help or take on the work of janitor, repairman, postman, electrical engineer, sound technician, dishwasher, lawn and landscape expert, contractor, construction worker, teacher, preacher, counselor, and much more. It makes me tired just thinking about it. The fact is that everyone in small church life does double or triple duties at times and we as the pastor are no different. We may not even have a clue what we are doing in many of these areas, but we know that they must be done. We jump in to meet the need and finish the job. While the jobs may all get done, they may not be perfect, and thankfully most people are okay with imperfection in small church life. The reason they are more accepting may be that they understand that no one can do it all, or more likely they know that if they complain they may be called upon to pick up the slack next time.
I did not enter ministry years ago to become a sound technician, in fact I left a working in radio before becoming a minister. My basic understanding of sound, computers, and video has come in very handy at every church I have been called to pastor. I inevitably have had to help from time to time with the sound, setting up video projectors, and teaching others how to use the equipment. I had to learn how to use Power Point, so that we could add a video projector, and then pass on what I knew to others. In each ministry I have been blessed to work with I have mowed the lawn, weeded the flower beds, helped with minor repairs, and helped to clean for Sunday morning.
My brother told me one time of a friend, who grew up in a different background than we had. One day when my brother’s friend was young he and his father were driving past their country church and parsonage, and the pastor was outside mowing the lawn. The father stopped his pickup and told his son, ‘Get out there and finish mowing the lawn. I had better not ever see the pastor have to do this again. It the minister’s job to feed the flock not mow lawns.’ Wow, sign me up for that church. At least that is what went through my mind briefly. There are some churches where the pastor is to focus more on the ministry and administration, but most of us know we will not be as blessed to do this. Many churches feel that the pastor should just help in all the extra areas of church life; after all it is part of the unwritten job description of the church.
This brings us back to defining your job description. Many small churches operate more like families, and they have a hard time defining things in writing. This works well for a time, but when someone feels that the pastor or someone else isn’t doing their job it causes deep conflict. Writing things down will alleviate much of this. I have learned this, in not recommending a staff position to remain in our church. The church never wrote down expectations, and they really didn’t have any. I had struggled for a long time to make needed changes, but we never seriously nailed them down. In the end when I felt strongly that the position was not needed it brought division and separation.
I have learned that we need more written contracts in the church. In fact I only have a very basic written contract where I am at. I am working through this process with my church.
When I arrived the expectations were that I preach, teach, visit the sick and elderly, help direct the church for growth, care for the records well. The church had been let down severely by the former pastor in both moral and administrative ways. They actually had no strong expectations when I came. I have come to see that they are going through rebuilding and refocusing, which may take a couple of more years to complete. We have healed and made necessary changes, but we are only now getting to the point of deeper examination for a healthier future.
In the past year I have had to define my purpose in ministry, and in the work of the church I pastor. There were great ideas shared in my first year and a half here people had big dreams, and some wanted to put existing right now on hold for those dreams. Some desired a new building, new location, and more. However, I came to see that many are not ready for such a change. They have seen hurt and pain, and our recent division hasn’t helped. I have come to understand that my role is not necessarily to lead the church to a new location, or huge building project. We may take on smaller projects, which will continue to improve our facility. My role is not to be the physical changer of the building or facility. The purpose I have been called to is to bring people closer to Christ, and let Him direct them through the Holy Spirit.
I know some of you are saying, ‘that’s just part of what we all do as ministers.’ I would disagree. Before you can really minister in what you are called to you must understand your own calling and purpose in the Lord. The many little things, from mowing the lawn to painting the church, are things that may need done; however, they are not the most important things. There are ministers who are called to plant churches, ministers who are called to take churches through a building program, and ministers who are called to rebuild the people for their future corporate ministry in the community.

Look at the Old Testament and see the leaders God sent to lead or direct in the history of the Hebrews. Every prophet and leader had a purpose in God’s hand, but their purposes were not always the same. We are called to be who we are, and to minister with the gifts and abilities we have been given. It is when we are close to God, and hears His direction that we will understand best what our role and purpose for the Kingdom is. This purpose may change over time, as our own life and ministry grows. We may be called to minister in situations that take us through fire, but help churches reignite with passion for God. Then we may be called to repeat the same ministry with another congregation in need of refining. We can only know What God desires of us, if we get serious in our own lives to listen to him.

Take a moment and think about Moses. What was the purpose of Moses’ life? His mother sensed that there was something unique about him, and strived to save him. However, it isn’t until he is eighty that he receives the real call of his life. What was he called to do? We may say he was called to lead Israel to freedom and a promised land. Yet, is that really what Moses did?

Moses was called to the purpose of leading the Israelites out of oppression, and laying the foundation for a future in the Promised Land. It is true that God said they were to go to the Promised Land, but as we watch the story unfold it is easy to see Moses had a far deeper role than just showing them the Promised Land. Moses had to be God’s witness and the person to share the Law. He was not the conquering leader of the Promised Land, but he laid a foundation on which the nation would live and rule when it reached the Promised Land.

Joshua was the military leader who would lead the nation to victory and establish the nation in the Promised Land. His mission was far different than his predecessor, and he was able live on the promise, and just in hope of it coming one day. He had to challenge the people to hold to their faith, now that they were living in the land they had hoped for. Joshua building on what Moses had laid, and he was leading the people further in their hope and trust in the Lord.

When we look at our ministry we may have to determine whether we are a Moses, who is leading the people out of a past and possibly establishing the plan for the future. It may be that we are like Joshua, and we are building on a past that needs to be taken through the promise now before us. Again, it understanding our purpose that will help us to truly succeed in this call God has given.

Whether we are at the beginning, or building on the strength of others it will take courage. Both Moses and Joshua had to lead in courage that was far beyond their own capability. God likes to put us in a place where we must depend on Him to give us the courage to face the trial ahead. Remember though that He is with us, and in Him we are able to face the trial or decision at hand with real boldness. We need the courage and boldness to lead the way Christ wants us to lead.

What is our purpose then? With all of that needs done, what is it that we really should concentrate on?

To figure this out we must evaluate our ministry needs verses everything that needs done. We must realize that we will always have the less important tasks that need done, but what we have to do is focus in on the two or three things that we really have to do. Once we figure this out we should study, work, and focus toward doing these things well. The fact is we never can do everything well, but we can do a few things very well.

I must admit that some of what works for me comes from sorting through what I have learned by studying books and other leadership material, by many authors from John Maxwell, Gary McIntosh, Stan Toller, and more.

What I have learned is to List all of the things you now do in your church. Seriously ask yourself the tough question, ‘what jobs on this list can someone more qualified do?’ This is not as easy as it sounds for most ministers, as we don’t like to let jobs go. Some us struggle to delegate or let jobs go, because we know that the person who takes the job on will do it differently. We must realize that we do it differently than others do, but most jobs can be done in a variety of ways. We have to learn to trust people to do what we ask and expect. A second problem for many ministers has to do with pride, and we can’t let the job go because it really is an issue of having to do it ourselves. Pride is a dangerous animal that every minister has to watch out for.

The likely fact is that of the many, many jobs you now do; most can likely be done as well or better by someone else. Many times there is someone else who can and really wants to do the job, but no one has asked. To find this out you will need to get to know the people in your congregation well enough, so that you can pass on the work to others.

Another part of the process of determining your purpose for your ministry has do with a serious evaluation of your own ministry. The fact is that not all of us are called to lead like John Maxwell or Bill Hybles, nor are all of us high power evangelist like Billy Graham. We may not be tops in all areas of ministry, so we have to ask ourselves ‘what is it that I really have the gifts to do?’ We also have to ask, ‘what do I really have to do?’

I began to ask myself these tough questions about my purpose a little over a year ago. I have come to find that there are many things that I do that I need to pass on to others. I still help in many ways with the necessary things of the church, and mowing the lawn. However, I am learning more and more to let things go. This isn’t always easy, since there are many jobs that I know others can do, but I need to work with people to take those jobs.

I may still do many things that one day I hope to pass on to others, but my focus is more on what I need to do. After asking myself what my job as pastor and minister really entails I have found that I need more time in study. You see my role is to teach and build others so that they can come to know Christ and become a part of His ministry here on earth. To do this means that I must dig deeper to take them deeper, and it means I must set the direction and teach the roles of ministry to others. This may seem like work to many, but that is what a leader and pastor must do. I also have to visit and encourage the people of my church. While everyone should be helping to encourage and visit, a pastor must be an encourager of others. We have to set the tone and direction and we have to pass that on to others. If we focus on the most important things as often as possible, soon we may have more people with us on the journey of ministering to our church and community.

Keep on your journey wit
[1] A Conversation with Jesus, by Stephen Seamands, ©1994 Victor Books, page63

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