Friday, May 30, 2008

Top Ten Small-Church Pastor Challenges (part one)

Lifeway has done some research lately on the particular issues faced by small-church pastors. This article at Ed Stetzer’s blog reproduces the information that recently appeared in my State’s Baptist newspaper. It lists the Top 10 Challenges that were reported by pastors of smaller SBC congregations.

I’m going to list the ten below and intersperse my comments, as a bivocational pastor of a small, rural SBC church.

1. Time.

There’s never enough of it. I’m sure this is true of all pastors, but it is particularly true for small-church pastors. There aren’t enough hours in the day. (You should hear a little whiny tone as you read the following sentence…) It is even more true for bivocational pastors.

It’s become fashionable and accepted as an axiom among exegetically-minded preachers that you should do one hour of sermon preparation for every minute you intend to preach. I generally shoot for about 30 minutes on a Sunday morning. (I know, that makes me a light-weight to all you hardcore Reformed giants out there.) But then on Sunday evenings, it’s generally closer to 40 minutes or so.

If I’m to follow the axiom here, that adds up to 70 hours worth of sermon prep time during the week, on top of 40 at my “day job,” on top of hoping to be a decent husband and father before all of that.

It’s the first time I’ve actually sat down and put numbers on it, but I’ve got to tell you, now I understand why I’m so sleepy all the time.

To be honest, I’m just an average middle-aged guy, fighting Dunlop’s Disease and watching my hair go away, and I simply can’t do all of that, not all the time. So what gets trimmed back? What suffers, time-wise? Well, sadly, all of it, except my day job, which can demand time and threaten consequences for not meeting the demand.

I don’t spend the time with my family that I’d like to spend. I don’t get enough hours of sleep every night. I don’t get enough “alone” time where it’s just me and the Lord. I don’t get enough book-time in sermon prep. I hardly do any visitation at all. I don’t get enough exercise. Yikes. What I do get is exhausted. Got plenty o’ that, thanks.

That’s the first of the ten challenges, and even as I write about it, I anticipate two responses:

1. If it’s so tough, then quit.

Answer: I’m not doing this because I want to. I’m doing this because I have to. I’m doing this because I’m commanded to. My Lord requires it. All my time is His.

2. If you know you’ve been called to it, then stop whining about it and get to work.

Answer: This hasn’t been intended as a complaint piece. I’ve tried to be humorous as I’ve discussed very real challenges. By doing so, I’m hoping to accomplish two things. One, that my fellow pastors would know they aren’t alone or strange in what they’re experiencing. And two, that we would all be reminded to pray earnestly for those who are our shepherds. They/we/I need it.

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