Challenges listed by small-church pastors

LEWISVILLE, N.C. (BP)--A LifeWay Research study reveals that the top challenge facing small-church pastors is finding enough hours in the day to do the Lord's work.

Brad Waggoner, vice president of B&H Publishing Group and former LifeWay Christian Resources vice president over the research and ministry development division, shared the findings at "Impact 2008," a three-day conference geared to small-church pastors. Some of the best information from the study of nearly 400 small-church pastors -– defined as those who pastor churches with attendance of 100 or fewer on Sunday –- didn't come from the areas of the survey which were the "check the box" answers but from the comments section, Waggoner said.

Candid comments gleaned from the study framed Waggoner's remarks to about 110 small-church pastors gathered at Lewisville (N.C.) Baptist Church in late March.

"The 'comment section' asked them, 'What are the greatest challenges you face as a small-church pastor?' This showed the heart of the pastors and they told us what their needs are," Waggoner said, outlining the top 10 challenges reflectfound in the remarks left by pastors on the survey.

1. Time. According to Waggoner, 32 percent of the respondents said they were bivocational pastors and didn't have enough hours in the day to do what they were called to do.

"I read comment after comment which said pastors were under pressure to juggle responsibilities," Waggoner said. "The fact is they have 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They worked at their job somewhere and also dealt with the church. They were tired, drained of energy. They try to fulfill their calling and get the job done. There's no easy way to get it all done.

"All pastors fight that battle. Every leader is tired. But, at the end of the day, they trust the Lord to do the best they can with [the] energy they have and just trust Him."

2. Resistance. Small-church pastors said their congregation doesn't want to change, which leads to stagnation. Pastors have to deal with individuals who want to usurp authority from the pastor, forgetting that it's God who controls His church.

"We have to patiently hold the standard high and teach the Word of God," Waggoner said. "It takes a while for the church to grow biblically ... and takes expositional teaching for the church to get healthy. We can't lower the standards of church. Preaching precedes change. We have to raise the bar of expectations."

3. Lack of commitment from members. Many pastors said they deal with apathy and indifference. Waggoner said it doesn't matter what the size of the church is, but small churches feel it more.

"There are no quick fixes," Waggoner said. "It can't be about the man in the pulpit. We hear so much fluff and stuff. We try to sneak up on people with discipleship. You have to start out with discipleship. We've underestimated the power of a godly man or godly woman."

4. Too few workers. If the church's philosophy is that the pastor is a hired gun, the professional, it will wear the pastor out, Waggoner said. He also said most churches do not have a strategy to equip the laity for ministry.

"You have to teach what the Bible says about the pastor's role," Waggoner said. "I think every church should have a class on teaching spiritual gifts so people ... can take the next step on finding a place in the church ministry. You have to look people in the eye. There needs to be a strategy for involvement which fits the size of your church."

5. Age of the congregation. As the church gets older, young people do not feel attracted to the church. Waggoner said there's no easy answer, but pastors have to serve whomever God brings into their midst.

"Talk to the young people," Waggoner said. "There may be things that can be done to reverse it."

6. Lack of money. Waggoner said he had no easy answers for pastors who say they don't have resources. He did say pastors have to do a better job of teaching about the importance of tithing.

"Too often we preach [on money only] when we go into a building campaign or there's a budget shortfall," Waggoner said. "I think we should teach God's standards on biblical discipleship along the way. It should be part of disciple-making. You honor the Lord with your wealth."

7. Worldliness of the church. Waggoner said he saw in the survey something he called "cultural seepage."

"We allow the world's standards to come into the church," he said. "Sometimes we have propagated that through our arrogance. We're dictatorial, self absorbed. Often preaching becomes a performance. Preaching is not an end but a means. Have we allowed the world to permeate how we think?

"I'm grateful for the Conservative Resurgence," he said of the SBC's theological direction since 1979. "But we have been deceived to think that being conservative is being godly. We have to make sure we are walking in a way that honors God."

8. Age of the pastor. Several said they were getting too old in the survey.

9. Too few people. In the survey, pastors said they couldn't get things done because not enough help was available.

10. Demographics. The community around the church is changing but the church isn't growing.


Jerry Higgins is a writer based in Raleigh, N.C.

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