When I told my pastor friends that I was leaving my mid-sized church in Urbantown to take a call to a two-point parish near Ruralville, they would nod and start to say something and then stop. The bolder ones would ask, “Is the Bishop mad at you?”. “No!” I would protest, “I want to work in a rural parish.” Again the nodding. I am sure most of them did not believe me. So eventually I started saying, “Yes, he is very mad at me, I will tell you about it sometime.” At least the nodding stopped.
After more than ten years in Urbantown serving a church of over 750 members, I was tired of having to give so much of my attention to the building, budget and staff. That is what pastors have to focus on when they serve mid-size to large congregations. I spent a lot of time dealing with staff issues: replacing staff, staff conflict, office equipment, evaluations, etc. I also had to focus on budget issues: stewardship, setting the budget, meeting the budget, hiring and firing staff. And then there was the building. There was always something that had to be dealt with immediately, like broken air conditioning, or doors that were stuck. Then there were the perennial issues of the courtyard and the roof. I had a great staff, the members of the congregation were active and helpful, the church board was engaged, giving was above average. Nonetheless, an inordinate amount of my time and energy was taken up with those three issues: building, budget, staff.
That is not why I went to seminary. This unholy trinity took my attention away from what really gave me energy and made me feel like I was making a contribution to the Kingdom. What I wanted to be doing was preaching, teaching and visiting. That is what I loved to do and that is exactly what small churches want their pastor doing. Small churches don’t want their pastor starting programs, or focusing so much on money issues, and there is usually very little staff. Small churches want to get to know their pastor and to be known by him or her. They want a personal connection. Then, the pastor’s life becomes a sermon that they hear louder than anything preached on Sunday morning and your presence is a symbol of God’s presence. And if you stay long enough in a small church, you get it all back. The lives of your parishioners and their presence becomes a gospel message to you and the incarnation itself.
The Reverend Bob Albing served as the pastor of Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Welch, MN. He and his wife Mary Morrow were Summer Collegium participants in 2008.