Leading in a small town requires a great deal of wisdom because there are certain cultural challenges that could negatively impact a leader’s effectiveness. Is the leader “new” to the community? In small towns it can sometimes take decades for the “locals” to view a person as part of the town. Does the leader understand the communities values, such as the importance of the school’s sports programs? Has the leader identified key issues, concerns, and opportunities in the city or is most of the energy and efforts being geared toward areas that are confusing to the community around them?
And that’s just the challenges of the missional life! This says nothing about the challenges found within the church community, such as the underlying values, which can become idols, that are found in established churches.
All this is to say that leading in a small town can be challenging! Actually, leading in any context can be very challenging! Edwin Friedman, in A Failure of Nerve, writes that “there exists throughout America today a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amid the raging anxiety-storms of our time.” His observation is that often the “sabotaging of leaders” comes from within just as much as from the outside (and often more so!). I recently suggested on Facebook that leading a church community was the most challenging thing I’ve done because it entails dealing with a bunch of volunteers who have different gifts, abilities, passions, and commitment levels. Many of my friends and peers seem to agree.
Gallons of ink has been spilt outlining the general challenges in leadership, so I won’t rehash that topic. What I would like to do in this and two other posts is outline three ways that small town leaders can get more “bang for their buck” in the sense of gaining and maintaining momentum in their mission. I believe that small town church leaders who desire to be effective in their mission of making disciples who make disciples who function as the community of God’s kingdom (the Church) will take heed of these suggestions. In this post, I want to talk about the value of “teams.”
Effective Small Town Leaders Value Teams
Having interviewed dozens of pastors and church leaders from small town communities, one thing stands out as being almost without question: lone rangers are not effective in small towns.
This, of course, begs a question. Just how are we measuring “success”? Thank you for asking! I believe that one way in which we need to measure the success of our leadership is related to how engaged the community we are serving is in God’s mission, aka “doing the stuff.” This suggests, I think, an approach to leading that multiplies and replicates itself.
So I readily acknowledge that there are some churches in small towns that are “successful” in terms of “numbers” or “budgets” or even “building size,” and I’m not at all arguing that those issues aren’t important or possibly related to a church’s health. What I am stating is that a healthier question to start with is, “Does the church function as a team of people (women and women, young and old) who are doing the works and sharing the words of Jesus?” Effective small town leaders develop, work in, maintain, and work toward this commitment to gospel community. For, as Tim Chester writes in Total Church, “The Christian community is central to Christian identity” and “The Christian community is central to Christian mission.”
As many of you may already know, Valley Vineyard of Chippewa Falls recently had a challenge: their building caught on fire and is considered a major loss ($900,000 of damages!). In trying to be a non-wack area leader, I made my way to Chippewa to spend the day Mike and Trish Houle and their church community… and I couldn’t believe what I watched unfold throughout the day.
You see, the fire started early Tuesday, Oct. 22, around 3am. By the time I was there, the amazing firefighters had put the fire out and members of Valley Vineyard were standing in the parking lot praying and trying to figure out what was next. Where would they be meeting for worship? Did the music equipment get totally destroyed? Was there any chance anything else was spared? And requiring immediate attention… what were they going to do with that evening’s food pantry? On that Tuesday they knew that about twenty-five families were planning to show up at their building in order to receive some groceries to help feed their families.
Most people would understand postponing their food pantry. Heck, most people would understand if they postponed their church meetings for awhile, right? But Valley Vineyard didn’t burn down because the church isn’t a building… the church is the people! So rather than throw in the towel, the Valley Vineyard team rallied together and organized that evening’s ministry. No fire was going to keep them from serving their neighbors!
And what was really cool was seeing people from a number of other Vineyard churches show up to help serve alongside the Valley Vineyard team, not to mention the outpouring of support from other local churches as well as people from all over the United States.
You see, Mike and Trish understand the importance of doing ministry in a way that encourages teams. And the rest of the Valley Vineyard community embodies that commitment and has rallied together as a team of Jesus followers who won’t let a “little” $900,000 fire set them back!
How Do I Develop Teams?
The ability to develop teams does not come natural to many people. If you are one of those people who tends to lean in the direction of being a lone ranger, I want to suggest a couple ways to help you develop teams. (If you aren’t sure whether you are doing a good job of developing teams, ask your spouse if you are married or someone else who is able to give you honest feedback… and hold on tight!).
First, I’d pick up a copy of Launching Leaders, written by Michael Gatlin. This is one of the most practical ways to develop a plan for multiplying leaders. It’s also a great resource for those interested in developing teams because it includes a process of inviting people into and including people in the work of ministry. After all, when we train, deploy, monitor, and nurture people into serving in leadership within the Vineyard, we do assuming that people will be joining us in “doing the stuff.” This is part of John Wimber’s “discipleship loop”:
- The leader does it.
- The leader does it while a disciple watches.
- The disciple does it while the leader watches.
- The leader leaves the disciple doing it.
All that is found in Launching Leaders could apply toward “launching teams.” We identify people, recruit them, train them, deploy and monitor them, and nurture them within out ministry teams.
Second, and this should probably be first but I’m apparently not very spiritual right now (ha ha), I’d begin praying that God would help in the development of teams. When I first started pastoring in a small church in a small town, there were around thirty five people who made up our community. These people were wonderful people and I cherish them to this day… yet we needed some help! We needed volunteers for the children’s ministry, the music team, our outreaches, etc. We needed laborers!
Did you know that Jesus actually gave us some advice on this very issue? Acknowledging that the harvest is great, Jesus said “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2 ESV). Start praying that the Lord would help you identify who to to invite into your missional work, your ministry teams, and/or your leadership. Pray that the Lord would bring people into your community who will join you in joining God’s mission! Pray, pray, pray! Pray without ceasing!
Finally, I’d encourage you to read some good books on leadership and teams as well as talk to some other leaders who you’ve seen do a great job in this area. Winning on Purpose is a great book about leadership within an organization, Floyd McClung’s Leading Like Jesus is a gold mine (esp. chapter 5), and Ruth Haley Barton’s Pursuing God’s Will Together will provide some excellent help in your ability to develop teams and share ministry.
In addition to talking to people who have done this before you and picking their brains and asking for help, I’d encourage you to ask them to pray for you too (I’m feeling a bit more spiritual apparently!).
Why This Matters in a Small Town
In Rural Revival, W. Scott Moore identifies that “a major distinguishing characteristic of a rural community is its power structure” and notes that these power structures are often exhibited by one influential family or a small “cliques or coalitions.” Small towns are more often than not characterized by narrow centralized “power” and “influence.” And while this may character most small towns, people living in small towns do not like this! I hear complaints all of the time about how certain families or individuals seem to “run” the city I live in, population 1,600.
Along comes a community of Jesus’ kingdom that values everyone, welcomes everyone, and includes everyone in its mission! This makes a huge splash in Small Town USA.
Oh, and it’s how Jesus did it.
- What has or hasn’t worked for you in relation to developing teams?
- How can small town pastors better develop teams?
- What challenges arise when pastors do ministry with teams?
- What do you think about the idea that small towns have narrow power structures and how does the kingdom of God challenge this?
About the author
Luke Geraty is a young budding pastor/theologian who serves at Trinity Christian Fellowship. Husband of one, father of five, and deeply committed to proclaiming Jesus and the kingdom, Luke contributes regularly to ThinkTheology.org and Multiply Vineyard. Follow Luke on Twitter, Facebook, or send him an email.