- Gary Thomas
I'm not jealous of you or your church. Yes, I am one of the many little churches in your shadow, but that doesn't bother me. There are many good reasons that your church has grown to the size that it is. I'm glad that you are reaching people. I'm glad that so many people are worshiping there and that people are coming to know Jesus because of your ministry. There are many things you do right and that you do well, and I know there's a lot I could learn from you.
But there's one thing you may not know. You may not even be aware. Your people are coming to me for pastoral care. No, they are not leaving your church. They still attend your church; they are still members at your church; they still give their time, talents, money and loyalty to your church. (Some have even left my church for yours previously because of your superior ministries and programs.)
But they come to me when they need a pastor. When they need a wedding, they call me, or more often they just drop by and ask in person.
When they need a funeral, they call me.
When they need a special service like a baby dedication, or a baptism, or even a quinceañera, they call me.
When their marriage is in crisis, when their children rebel, when they are depressed or just don't know where else to turn, they come see me.
There are two major reasons for this. (I know because I ask, "Why not go to your own pastor and your own church?")
1- Because I am available. They can just drop in and see me. And if I happen to not be available that particular day, they'll be able to see me within a day or two. I know that you may be available too, but at the very least, you are perceived as being unavailable. In most cases, they assume you are too busy and come see me first. Other times, they don't know you, so seeing me is no different than seeing you, since neither one of us knows them personally. Again, the difference, is that I'm available. I also know that you have many pastors on staff that could be available to them. But for whatever reason, your people don't go to them. (I think because the average layperson doesn't see them as "real pastors", though you and I know this is a misconception.) They come to me.
2- Your sanctuary is too big or too modern. They love your church. They attend your church every week and love the services and they love your preaching and they love the music and they love all the programs your church has to offer. But when they need a place for a funeral or a wedding, or a quinceañera, the 100 or less people they are going to have attend would be dwarfed in your sanctuary. They need a small church atmosphere for their service. And yes, rightly or wrongly, they want it to feel like a "church" for those services that are important milestones in their lives.
Pastor, will you please let me offer some suggestions:
1- Be available. I know you are busy. I also know that if you spent all your time doing counseling, weddings and funerals, you wouldn't be able to do all that God has called you to do. Therefore, you need to publish the times you are available. Let people know when they can see you. Say it from the pulpit. Make them feel like you care about them as individuals and then follow through, as much as you are able. (And if you aren't available for such things at all, it's not because your church is too big, it's because you're too big for your church. Grandpa would have said, "You're too big for your britches.")
2- Have a good pastoral staff. Make sure there is a pastor, an actual ordained minister, assigned to every member of the church. (One per every 100 members ought to do it.) That pastor should know who his people are, and they should know who he is. He should contact them regularly, so that when the crisis time comes and they need him, there is already a relationship. This pastor should be available for weddings, funerals, hospital visits and pastoral counseling. In short, he should actually do for them what an actual pastor does.
3- Build a chapel. You have a large building. Probably you have multiple buildings on a campus. On your next building project, include a small chapel that seats 150-200 people. Make it look like a chapel. Let people book it like crazy. Make its use available to your people.
Now, here's where I have to make sure I'm not being too fleshly in my letter to you: I'm tired of pastoring your people for you. Don't get me wrong. I love your people. I love pastoring them. And the pastor in me loves the opportunity. But you are not doing your job and I think its hurting your people. They need to be able to count on you and your church, or what are you doing? If you really have a pastor's heart, and I believe you do, I thought that you would want to know that a lot of your sheep are having to go elsewhere to have their needs met. One of my mentors in ministry, a very wise pastor who did nothing but pastor small, hurting churches that needed him for 40 years, said this, "If you are not there when they need you, they don't need you."
I want you to know that I try the best that I can. I try to redirect them back to you. Sometimes I'll even downright refuse to help them, because I'm not their pastor. But most of the time, I do that wedding or that funeral. Most of the time I do the crisis counseling when someone's spouse cheats, or when someone is in the hospital. I do it because even if they aren't my sheep, they are Jesus' sheep and they asked. I do it because I hope that you would do the same for my sheep if I were somehow unable.
But it's a widespread problem. I have someone come to me for help from your church at least once a month, and I have someone come to me from one of the other megachurches other than yours once a week. I know you are busy, but so am I. You would help me be more effective as a pastor to the sheep God has called me to, if you would be more effective as a pastor to the sheep God has called you to.
I'd send you this note personally via snailmail or email, but I'm pretty sure it would never make it past one of your staff members to your desk. I'll try anyway...
Here's my final request, from one pastor to another. Please pastor the people God has given you. And if you can't or won't, please send some of your sheep to my church. I'd love to have them.