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Training leaders in the smaller church

First Assembly in Tucumcari, New Mexico, was a typical small church----50 years old, average morning worship attendance of 40-45, mostly elderly congregation, Sunday School 75 percent staffed, small Missionettes group, no Royal Rangers, no youth ministry, average stay of pastor about 4 years.

Fourteen months later the church is averaging 100 in morning worship, and several new ministries have begun. What happened in this church that it experienced this kind of growth?

Pastor H. T. Stanaland went to the church with a vision, a strategy, a commitment, and the conviction that God calls pastors to equip and release people for ministry in the local church.

The vision of the church is clear and concise. Its slogan is "Tucumcari First Assembly----Ministering To Your Entire Family." Pastor Stanaland says, "I see us in this community continuing to be a growing, ministering church, a place where anyone can come."

He says, "If a pastor is going to develop leaders, he has to know where he is headed. It is difficult to recruit people when they don't know where they are going. If you can get people to see the vision, it is no harder to raise a dead church than it is to give birth to a new one. Many churches are looking for someone to say, 'Follow me.' When they find a pastor like that, they say, 'Let's go.' Problems arise and stagnation sets in when a pastor doesn't know his destination. Proverbs 29:18 is clear. 'Where there is no revelation [vision] the people cast off restraint' (NIV).

"The small church can suffer from an inferiority complex. It can feel insignificant. People need to know that God has a plan for their church and that His plan includes them."

It can be difficult to train leaders and mobilize people for ministry. Pastor Stanaland says, "In the small church, you don't have a large pool to draw from. You don't have leadership to train, equip, and mobilize. One can believe that there is nothing one can do, rather than believing that one person can make a difference. Scripture says, 'Despise not the day of your small beginnings.'"

You can't lose sleep over a limited resource base and a lack of workers. Start to disciple and equip the people you have, and be faithful with what you have got.

"God will give you more."

Other factors make it difficult to develop leaders and mobilize people for ministry. What are they, and how can they be overcome?

Pastor Stanaland responds, "If a pastor believes his responsibility is to be the ministry for the church instead of training and mobilizing people, the church cannot grow beyond a certain level. I have to prioritize my time differently if I am going to train leaders. I have to spend more time developing leaders for ministry than I would if I handled all the ministry myself.

"If people think that the pastor should do all the ministry, visitation, preaching, counseling, etc., they don't understand pastoring in the 1990s. Christ said, 'I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Matthew 16:18). In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, it was Mom, Dad, Junior, and Susie. Everything was fine. The building block was whole, and it could be added to the church with little effort. Today when they come, the blocks are broken. The church has to say, 'How are we going to put the pieces back together?' God has called the church to do that. Now we must put as much effort into discipleship as we used to in evangelism.

"I heard a pastor say that God is telling our pastors the same thing he told Pharaoh, 'Let my people go.' No pastor can build a great church on his own shoulders. It has to be built by the laity. In small churches, it's even more so. We have large churches because the laity have been equipped and are leaders. We have small churches because they have not been equipped .

Another problem is that pastors often see a small church as a stepping stone to a bigger, better position or as a place to relax. Either way, the church suffers. The pastor isn't making a complete commitment to the church, and the church detects it. If a pastor is to develop leaders and mobilize people for ministry, the congregation must feel his commitment.

"This congregation told me when I came here, 'We have had many pastors tell us what we were going to do. You are the first one that ever sat down and explained how.'

"Explaining vision and strategy is an ongoing process. At a business meeting recently, I displayed a chart which showed the growth. I discussed new ministries and the people involved. I praised the good job they are doing. I publicize the victories for all to hear.

"If a pastor is threatened by releasing ministry to others, it may reveal his insecurity. Freedom occurs and benefits accrue when a pastor releases people for ministry. A pastor isn't a one-man show. The church can function well when people assume ministry responsibility. As the church grows spiritually and numerically, needs are met.

"We live in a service-oriented society. If people are not 'spiritually serviced' in a church, they will go somewhere else."

What strategy has been effective for training leaders and mobilizing leaders at First Assembly?

"I try to keep the vision before the people. I share it with congregation, then look for people who believe in the vision. I recruit leaders who share the vision, and explain how they can be part of it.

Then I spend time preparing to train them. I teach general leadership and ministry training on Sundays and Wednesdays to the entire congregation. Specialized training is given to those who choose a specific ministry. My responsibility as a pastor is to be a developer of the ministries and gifts God has placed within His people. We use Sunday School training books, as well as other types of ministry training resources. People come into the church through our ministries. They are subsequently discipled, nurtured, trained, and involved in other ministry. The cycle is ongoing.

"If you are the pastor of a small church, start where you are. Don't accept that it will always be the way it is now. Don't lose faith, hope, or vision. Remain committed."

Six keys to training leaders and mobilizing people for ministry are apparent:

  1. A clear challenging vision.
  2. A workable strategy.
  3. Consistent communication of vision and strategy.
  4. Commitment to mobilizing people for ministry.
  5. Effective use of existing resources.
  6. Long-term pastoral commitment.

The small church is one of our greatest untapped resources. The people who attend our churches are the people God will use to accomplish His purpose in the church. More important than building large churches is building big people. The church will always grow to the size of the people.


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