The job of small church pastors is endless and wide. You teach, answer the phone, make hospital visits eighty miles away, type the bulletins, organize food pantries, and occasionally shovel snow, check plumbing, and set out buckets under the leak in the roof.
Your role includes equal parts spiritual guide, secretary, sociologist, preacher, planner, approachable neighbor, visionary, custodian, scholar, accountant, prophet, music director and youth leader.
And small congregations can be a needy places. Something always needs more. The building needs more maintenance. The food pantry needs more canned goods. The outreach ministry needs more staffing. The budget needs more money. The homebound and hospitalized need more visits. The congregation needs more members. The pastor needs more time. Oh, yes, and another Sunday morning is coming up soon. How do you prioritize?
It’s actually pretty simple. Start with worship. Because worship isn’t just one more thing that Christians do. It’s the thing. It’s primary. Essential. We are, first of all, the people who worship the living, triune God. Worship is formative—it practices each of us into our identity as a child of God. Worship is constitutive—it creates the community of God’s people. Worship is normative—it hangs the plumb line that orders the rest of reality. Worship is transforming—it effects God’s reign as we rehearse its patterns among us. Worship is sacramental—it manifests God’s very presence with us. All other dimensions of the Christian life express or respond to the truths of our worship.
Prioritizing worship is also practical in small congregation ministry. Really. The Louisville Institute, after studying small congregations across the US, names it this way:
For most participants in US congregations, worship is the main event. While some participate in small groups within the congregation or serve the community through the congregation, the majority experience the congregation only by attending worship services. Thus what they get from their religious community must happen during worship. The results here . . . suggest that tremendous care, attention and planning should be directed at the worship service.*
So when it comes to your list, start with worship. Prioritize worship. Bring your Monday morning curiosity, not your Saturday night desperation. Feed people more in worship. And the rest of the mores will take care of themselves. God just loves doing great things in unlikely places with faith-full folks.
For help in identifying a worship planning practice that works in your small congregation, contact Teresa Stewart for an upcoming workshop or consultation. You may also visit our Facebook page for ideas from other small congregation pastors.
*See Cynthis Woolever and Deborah Bruce, A Field Guide to US Congregations (Louisville, KY: Westminter/John Knox Press, 2010), 32.