If you are working as a pastor/leader in the small church, you should not feel alone. The majority of churches in America, especially in rural areas are small churches. In fact in the state of Florida, at least 82 percent of the church served in communities around the state, fall somewhere into the group of being small. As perplexing as it is to those who graduate from seminaries, Bible colleges, and theological training; the reality of small rural church ministry does not always congeal with the educational concepts received. It is because ministers are trained to preach and teach with little emphasis given to human relations skills and the cultural implications of church ministry.
The disparity is deeply felt when theological expectations comes into conflict with an existing culture that does not fit within a firmly held idealism about how people should behave in a given church context. The unfortunate conflict is a clash of ideals and many times a clash of personality, which is labeled as spiritual by one group or the next to justify behaviors. To some degree the conflict is somewhat a matter of semantics about what ministry means in a given context or group of people. Because many religious leaders fall into the category of absolutists, as well as, black and white thinkers; meaning applied to ministry is not defined in a context of community, but in the context of theory, exegesis, and systematic theology. Thus, idealism clashes with culture and the result is conflict that turns into a battle for right. Therefore, the result is often ongoing conflict and misunderstanding that defeats the purpose of providing contextual ministry to the community of believers. As a result, the real problem may be a conflict between the idealism of the minister or expectations of the people about what the Bible says and how meaning is applied in the context of church or community culture.
An often-neglected area of understanding is that culture has a dramatic influence upon how people value the importance of traditions, specific actions, and even individual, or classes of people. I heard a friend say once that in many churches “we like to clean our fish before we get them in the boat”. The point that resonates from the statement is that in churches of all sizes conformity is a major issue to insiders. Therefore, in the process of understanding ministry in a Family Chapel Church a major force in shaping expectations about how ministry happens is contained within the culture and nature of the congregation. As a result,it is very hard for pastors to articulate ministry leadership into practice that is functional. Unfortunately, one of the things often misunderstood about reaching people outside the church is when others from the outside do not the fit cookie cutter; outsiders are often kept at a distance and feel rejected. The disparity felt deeply occurs when two sets of values and expectations meet in the context of dissimilar cultural beliefs about what should happen in church and who is allowed inside the family. Unfortunately, as bad as most people hate to admit that this occurs, people who make up the family chapel church have lofty or lowly ideals that are imposed upon others. Something that is important to understand about fishing expeditions is that even when people are different from us in significant ways, the gospel still directs us to minister to them in Jesus’ name. Many people find this very easy to offer ministry to insiders, but when it comes to those outside the loop; an internal focus creates a disability in ministry. Consequently, the central motive of servant-hood and ministry is sidestepped from sharing the love of Christ in practical ways to those who fit the cultural expectations of the group.
The motive in all churches should be ministry that demonstrates the loving Christ who gave His life for the church. However, an important question is how a pastor can minister in a church that is inverted theologically, while culturally isolated from everything he has been taught and experienced. How can a pastor in a Family Chapel Church remain faithful to his conviction and calling and be effective in ministry to the place of service? The answer is simple, but challenging at the same time. A pastor who will be effective must be adaptable in the style of leadership and ministry that will occur in a process that keeps him focused upon the main thing, “pastoral ministry”.
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