Working With Small Churches
"Brethren, as I have told you before, I cannot do justice to a class, when I am away half the time preaching. However, because you continue to insist on having me to teach a class, I will accept a class and refuse all invitations to preach elsewhere, except those received from churches which express an interest in the possibility of having me work with them on a 'full-time' basis."
On the first Sunday of the next January I began my duties, as the teacher of that class. Three months later, I had reached an agreement with a small church to work with them. I began my association with that church filled with enthusiasm, but it soon became evident that I had associated myself with a church fraught with troubles.
If you have the idea that only large churches experience troubles, forget it. Over the last 20 years I have worked only one year with a church averaging 100 or more in attendance on Sunday morning. It seems to me that small churches have all the troubles which large churches encounter, plus a few others. My experience leads me to conclude that a preacher working successfully with a small church marks him as a special kind of man. He must be a preacher who is in a peculiar way adapted or can adapt himself to the work required in a small church.
When I left my Sunday morning class and began working with that first small church, the regular preacher where I had been identified as a member, recommended me for that work. He told me: "It will be a hard work, but someone has to do it." I took that, as encouragement. However, I came to believe that he meant it as a warning. Later I learned that he had told another: "That work will either make or break him, as a preacher."
At this time I am in my seventh work, as a "full-time" evangelist with a local church. It was necessary for me to engage in secular employment in order to be able to work with one of those churches. The demands of those two jobs were such that I began to find it necessary to be in my library very late on Saturday nights. Then, one Sunday morning, as I turned from my books and my desk, with the intention of going to bed, I was greeted by the light of dawn coming through my window. Some how it became clear to me that the time to move had once again arrived.
It was necessary to depend upon other churches for part of my support in order to work with three of the seven churches. When one depends on other churches for part of his support, he must have great faith in the Lord's promise to provide. Such a preacher may, as I once did, receive a telephone call when one of his checks is due, and hear an elder tell him that the church helping him has run into financial difficulties and must discontinue helping with his support, immediately. In my case, the elder who called was persuaded to have the check then due sent to me. After hanging up, I called an elder of another church and was able to arrange temporary support until I could find permanent replacement of the support that had been terminated.
A few churches which make a commitment to support a preacher working with a small church will stick to their commitment, as long as that preacher remains with that church, needs support and faithfully does the work of an evangelist. However, it seems that most churches are composed of members who have little, if any, understanding of why small churches cannot be set up on a time table and become fully self-supporting by a prescribed time. Such churches place an arbitrary limit on the time they will support a preacher to work with a small church. If the church has not been able to become self-supporting by the set time, the preacher faces the choice of trying to raise replacement support or trying to relocate.
Termination of support often comes at the end of December. When that happens, the preacher's decision, regarding whether to seek replacement support or move, may be very difficult. It may be that the church which terminated support gave no consideration to whether or not the preacher had two, three, four or five children in school, but the preacher must give that some consideration when making his decision. May the members of churches which have treated preachers in that way add to their faith brotherly kindness and love. May they also learn: not only must support be sent directly to the preacher, it also is for the support of that preacher, not for the support of the church where he preaches.
After I was with them for some time, two of the three churches, where it was necessary for me to obtain outside support, began providing all the support I received. I stayed with one of those churches only a short time longer. I remained with the other two more years.
A preacher should know, better than any member of a church with which he is considering associating himself, what wages he must have in order to form the association. It has been my practice to tell brethren what I must have and make that non-negotiable. Once I set aside that rule and made a mistake.
Three of the seven churches were self-supporting, when we began our association. However, the members of one experienced financial reverses, during the time I was there. When I moved away, they continued sending me "wages" I had earned, but they had been unable to pay the last few months I was with them.
It may be that you thought creative financing is something new, but preachers who have worked with small churches have been acquainted with it a long time. One place a brother provided the house in which I lived. He had an agreement with the church to provide the house for a stipulated amount each month. However, instead of collecting the rent from the church, he donated what he had coming.
I have worked with churches that met in rented rooms, an 80 year old building (well maintained and modernized), buildings only a few years old and a new building. At one place, we entered into a building construction program. Such a program may produce problems which will try one's faith and test the love which the children of God have for each other. One should always remember that a problem is no more than a thing in need of a solution. If a church will enter a building program with that attitude toward problems, it can enter its new building a better and stronger church than when it began the program, because it has experienced facing problems and solving them.
It is not uncommon for a preacher to learn of some brother or sister who thinks he is being paid too much. Even though I believe my pay has always been below the average for preachers, I have failed to escape having that opinion expressed regarding my wages. I have raised what today is considered a large family. Never have I put forth a moment's effort to find out what other preachers.earn. Yet, certain information has a way of reaching a preacher's cars. At one time I was aware of how much two preachers, having neither children nor even a wife, were paid. Each had his housing and utilities furnished and received $10.00 per week more than I was receiving and I had to pay my own housing and utilities.
Some time ago it occurred to me that I was receiving about average wages for a preacher. Then some brother destroyed my illustion by writing that the average preacher receives the amount I receive plus his housing, utilities, auto allowance and social security. What is a low paid preacher to do? If he is paid less than the average, he must be an above average manager and if he is married, he must have a wonderful understanding wife, who is willing to economize. Comfort one another with these words, do not eat them as though they were sour grapes which leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth. They are not sour grapes.
This series of articles is being written anonymously: first, to protect the identities of individuals and churches to whom references are made. Second, to leave the author free to express certain things without someone charging him with unworthy motives. It is hoped that this series will help preachers of the future to be better prepared to solve some problems than was the author. May we all contend earnestly for the faith.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 14, pp. 437-438