“Plow around that stump, brother.”
I’ll never forget that advice. And, strangely enough, it didn’t come from a farmer. It came from another pastor.
I was just starting out in ministry and I wanted to make a few changes at the church where I was serving. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to bring about those changes. So I did what any wise young pastor would do.
I Googled it.
Actually, I called up someone older and more experienced than me. He gave me some good wisdom. When I asked him about changing one of the sacred cows in the church, that’s when he told me to plow around that stump. And make no mistake, most churches have sacred cows. Ask key leaders what those sacred cows are and they’ll say, “We don’t have any.” But try to make the Silver Senior Sunday School Class trade rooms with the Kidz Xtreme class and you’ll find out real quick about those sacred cows.
Any pastor seeking to address any form of change in pretty much any church will have a few sacred cows to deal with. These sacred cows are even more plentiful in rural Bible Belt churches. Leading change in a small, rural church can be a difficult process.
Here are three challenges you are likely to face.
Plowing Around the Stump
There are some battles that do not need to be fought. There will be things about the church that you lead that you do not like. As you pursue change, it’s important to prayerfully examine your heart to ensure that your motives are rooted in the glory of God and the good of his church rather than your personal taste.
If a member of your church believes that whites and blacks should not worship together and that blacks are cursed and cannot enter heaven, you need to get your stump grinder and fight against that Satanic theology. But if the decorating committee really, really likes purple carpet, just plow around that stump.
Ignoring the Stump
There will be people in your church who take great pride in being stumps. I know of one man who would always vote no in church business meetings just because he felt like unanimous votes were dangerous. If you are loving, patient and wise, it’s likely that you will see some change in your church. And when that change comes, no matter how successful it is or how excited people are about it, there will be people who hate your idea, and maybe even you.
It will be easy to ignore or resent these people. Love them instead. It’s likely that you’ll never love them enough for their liking. That’s okay. Love them anyway. Be like Jesus who loved you in spite of your rebellion.
Becoming the Stump
The graveyard is the best friend of some leaders. Rather than making necessary changes and dealing with the consequences, they just wait for stumps to die off. “We need to build a new sanctuary but there’s going to have to be a few deaths first,” they might say.
Avoid this mentality at all costs.
If not, you just might find that you will become the very stump that you spent all of those years dealing with.
It’s easy for a pastor to turn a church into his own little empire, especially if he’s hung around for a decade or two. Staying at one place for many years is a great thing but not if all you’re doing is creating new stumps for someone else to plow around. Be very careful that the transition you lead is being done in order to build the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of you and your particular stump.
Leading a small rural church through change requires a lot of prayer and wisdom from God. There may be times when it seems like the field you were sent to plow is full of nothing but stumps. Be encouraged. You are not alone. Jesus is with you and there are countless other pastors in your same situation. It would do you good to find a few of them and encourage one another.
In over two decades of ministry, I have seen my share of stumps. Some, I’ve plowed around, some I’ve tried to bring back to life and some jumped up out of the ground and chased me around for a few years. I have known success and failure. Neither of them defines me.
The field is the Lord’s. We are just managers. But when our time in the field is done and our plows are put away, may we do so in the full assurance that we were working for the good of the church and the glory of God.