In my last post, we considered how you could partner well with a small church like ours. You can read that post here. We looked at how small churches like ours need members to settle, workers to come and regular giving, prayer and fellowship. I noted how we rarely get any of those except the promise of prayer. As a small church we generate c. 50-66% of our running costs each month and we currently have no outside partners giving us any funds externally. We draw upon a set of reserves that, once gone, mean our work can no longer continue. We also saw the deep gospel need in places such as ours, a borough of some 230,000 people with a high proportion of Muslims (predominantly Pakistani and Bangladeshi) and one of the highest Asylum Seeker intakes in the country. Reformed Evangelical churches have no more than about 150 members (to be liberal in our estimate). We then considered four ways you might partner with a church such as ours.
At the end of that post, I was keen to point out that partnership ought not to be a one-way street. The temptation in our situation is to expect others to do much for us, ultimately to become takers in the partnership, while giving little to nothing in return. After all, we’re the ones in the need! But that is not how partnership should function. Not least, such a setup likely leads to the junior partner (for want of a better term) feeling beholden to the other. Also, it can lead to situations where, when help is offered, it is not by consensual agreement but purely on the terms set by the giving/sending/larger church. In other words, you will have the help we are prepared to give, in the way we want to give it and you will alter the direction of your existing work to accommodate our giving. This sort of thinking belies the arrogance of one having built a “successful” ministry presuming that it is they who built it. Likewise, it suggests their model (such as they have one) is replicable and ought to be the standard model for all. It further suggests a sense that the larger church knows the situation, mission and people of the smaller church better than its own leaders based purely on the congregation size they have attained. None of these things are great.
The question is: how do smaller churches partner well? What can we do to serve the larger churches? Is it true that we can only take and have little to nothing to offer them? Here are four ways smaller churches can be helpful gospel partners.
Without wishing to state the obvious, every church needs prayer. No matter its size, prayer is important. What is more, it is possible for all churches to pray and to do so meaningfully. You may be a church short on members, funds or any number of things but you will always have the capacity to pray no matter what size your membership or how insignificant your regular giving.When I say pray, I don’t just mean ‘Lord, please bless such and such Free Church and thanks for all the stuff they’ve given us’. I mean contact the leaders of that church regularly, ask them what you can pray specifically for them and give substantial time to praying about it in church meetings. The first thing small churches can do to partner well is to petition God on behalf of our partners. And if there are prayers God especially loves to answer, it is prayers for the increase of his kingdom, for in it is his glory.
- Provide opportunities for in-pulpit training.
If there is one thing small churches have in abundance it is opportunities for service. The average small church is looking for partners to help fund the work and, in due time, to send workers to help. The only reason we have a need for workers is if there is more work than we are capable of handling with our current number. Whilst many might view this solely as a problem, it provide a genuine opportunity for reciprocal partnership.Larger churches typically have a number of people they are looking to train in ministry. It is also true that Sunday provides a limited number of preaching opportunities. If you have two services on a Sunday, and the pastor feels obliged to do at least one of them, with 10 other able men to train in preaching and teaching you have at most one opportunity to preach roughly every 5 weeks. It’s less than once per month. When you consider that’s rarely how rotas work, and particular guys might have more regular opportunities, there are a good number of people unable to train in the preaching of God’s Word. If you only have one service, largely preached by the minister, opportunities are fewer and farther between still.
Being a small church without sizeable numbers to train allows you to offer preaching opportunities for those taking their first steps in ministry. If you have one minister doing the majority of preaching, it will give him an opportunity for a break whilst also offering people who would otherwise not get an opportunity the chance to test their teaching gifts. It is a very easy way to partner reciprocally. Both partners receive something especially valuable for their own church.
- Provide ministry opportunities
If there aren’t enough people to serve in preaching and teaching ministries, it is also possible that aren’t enough people to serve in other ministry areas as well. Offering larger churches the opportunity to send short-term workers, or to periodically second workers, may give helpful training which can be taken back to the sending church. Giving individuals the opportunity to serve in a different ministry context can generate ideas and provide skills that can be applied back in the home church.This, again, is a way of partnering reciprocally. It grants the smaller church a set of workers for a time to help support the mission in their area. At the same time, it offers the possibility of new skills being learnt and new ideas being generated that can be taken back to the sending church. There is an increase in skills for the larger church and an increase in supporting workers for the smaller.
- Be available for counsel
Without wishing to ruffle any ‘received wisdom’ feathers, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but presiding over a large congregation does not necessarily mean you are more gifted than the guy in the smaller church nor the other way round. Likewise, every minister and full-time gospel worker will, at some point, be in need of counsel. It could be practical counsel on which the reality of your ministry gives you particular insight. It could simply be offering more general pastoral counsel. Often the best counsel is between friends with parity. It is not borne out of a relationship that is any more than two guys who happen to be friends.Again, this is a two-way street. There will be things on which the larger church minister can help the smaller and vice versa. One way to partner well is to be available for one another. Be willing to take phone calls and discuss whatever issues may need airing. Be prepared to put in time with one another and develop friendship. The small church may not have many funds or workers, but if it has a minister at all, he is regularly listening to pastoral concerns. Apply those skills to your church partnership.