From 1990-1999, I served in what Methodists call a “two-point charge”: Mt. Carmel & Midway United Methodist Churches in Union County.
At 9:45, I would preach at Midway, an open country church that averaged about 30 people per Sunday when I arrived. By the time I left nine years later, I had grown that 30 to 20.
Then I’d drive 13 miles to Mt. Carmel Church, arriving just in time to preach at the 11:00 a.m. service. Mt. Carmel was much the larger congregation, averaging about 70 people per Sunday when we got there. It was blessed with excellent growth over the next nine years. Our house — the church parsonage — was adjacent to Mt. Carmel. So each Sunday was a 26 mile round trip.
Obviously, those churches are much different than the situation at Good Shepherd. I still have to pinch myself sometimes as I marvel at the level of favor God has poured into us here.
Yet I have to admit, there are some things about that season of life and that style of ministry that I miss . . .
1) In a small church there is time to hear people’s stories. Through those nine years, I had hundreds of pastoral visits that were unrelated to crises — there was plenty of time to sit, listen, and pray. One of the trade-offs of a larger church is that I get to know people primarily through crises.
2) In a small church, I felt more dependent on God’s power. If anything good would happen at those two churches, God would have to do it. Some of my strongest prayer times ever happened in the little prayer room we established at Mt. Carmel.
3) My schedule was blissfully simple: work on sermons in the morning and visit in the afternoon.
4) Whenever we accomplished something significant — for example, Mt. Carmel built a Habitat house all by itself in 1994, a remarkable achievement for a church that averaged 115 people in worship at that time — there was time to rest and reflect. When good things happen at Good Shepherd these days, I’m immediately filled with anticipation: “Ok, how are we going to top this?”
I’m quite convinced that the small church experience has made me a better large church pastor. And I don’t want to return to that kind of setting or ministry.
But I do want to keep learning its lessons . . .