Over 80% of the churches in the world have less than 100 people in them. 90% of them have fewer than 200. This means that if you are reading this post you are probably a small church pastor. I am too.
It is good to know that we are not alone in the challenges we face. I remember thinking..."Is anyone else going through these same struggles?
This week I interviewed Dave Jacobs. Dave pastored small churches for nearly 30 years, and for the past 10 years, has coached pastors from many denominations. I asked Dave several questions inquiring about the most common challenges small church pastors face today.
Here are my questions and Dave's insightful responses:
1. You have coached pastors full-time for a number of years. What are the most common challenges you see pastors facing today?
Yes, this is my 10th year of coaching pastors. It’s been fascinating to work with such a broad base of denominations and theological persuasions. You name it and I’ve either worked with them or are working with them. Regardless of their affiliation, most pastors are overworked, underpaid, and they are not taking care of their souls. You might be surprised to hear me say that most pastors do not have a consistent and meaningful devotional life. Along with this, some of the common challenges are:
2. You pastored small churches for nearly 30 years. What was it that helped you stay fresh and avoid the pitfalls of burnout?
I’m not sure I did avoid the pitfalls of burnout. Around 2004 I wanted out but there was nothing else that I could do. I had been in the full time ministry since I was 19. My fatigue forced me to think and to dream about life after pastoring. But I was stuck. It was then that a pastoral coach came into my life who helped me dream and develop a plan to retire from the ministry and transition into what would eventually become Small Church Pastor.
But if there were two things that helped me not go completely crazy they were, an incredible wife, and years previously I had made a commitment to take seriously the care of my soul. My first book was titled, ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: soul care for busy pastors.’
3. What misconceptions do a lot of pastors struggle with in ministry?
Again...just a few.
4. I have struggled with insecurity in ministry, and many of my pastor friends have as well. Is insecurity a common problem, and why?
It is, and the reason for this has much to do with our Americanized way we do church. Pastors feel pressured by their culture, and oftentimes their denominations, to grow their church. The vast majority of churches in American are small churches, some, very small. This fascination with size, numbers, budgets, and buildings put an almost impossible pressure on pastors. They never quite measure up. Eventually they come to the conclusion that they must be the reason their church isn’t growing. The ministry is ideally designed to make you feel insecure.
5. There seems to be a lot of pastoral turn-over these days. Can you comment on what some of the main reasons might me? I know this is a big question!
Pastoral turn over can be higher or lower based on which group or denomination you are looking at. In my practice some of the common reasons for a pastor to leave a church are:
6. Is coaching something every pastor should consider? What are the benefits?
Well obviously I’m going to say yes. ;-) But, yes...I coach a lot of pastors. Many of them have healthy and happy churches. These pastors partner with me to stay sharp and focused. I’m good at helping pastors think, think deeply about the important things going on in their church and their personal life. I’m an objective outside pair of eyes. This could be one of the greatest benefits to having a pastoral coach.
7. Do you have a word of encouragement for small church pastors?
If your church isn’t growing, you are probably not the one to blame. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a small church. Always remember your priorities: 1) your relationship with Jesus, 2) your relationship with your spouse (if you have one), 3) your relationship with your children (if you have any), 4) your church.
Church comes fourth, not first, not second or third...fourth. Do a few things well and hang in there. Leading a church, especially if it is small, is hard.
After pastoring for almost 30 years Dave Jacobs retired and started Small Church Pastor. For the past 10 years he has coached pastors from many denominations and networks. He is the runs the very popular Small Church Pastor Facebook group and is the author of Mile High, Inch Deep, and Belligerent Believers. Dave is married to his wife, Ellen. They have five children and eight grandchildren. If you are interested in coaching you can connect with Dave here.
I want to express my thanks to Dave for sharing from his experience. As pastors we face unique challenges. It's good to know we are not alone.
My take away - I'm struck with Dave's encouragement to take care of our spiritual life. Everything we do flows from our relationship with God. I must be diligent and careful not to let the busyness of ministry crowd out my time with God.
Question: What do you take away from Dave's comments? Is there a particular pastoral challenge that resonates with you?
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Hi! I'm Loren Hicks. I am follower of Jesus, a husband, a father, a friend, and for the past