This week, I'm developing a chapter about the pastoral observations I have made when visiting world-class churches who are small group-driven.
What I've discovered is most interesting. If you were to interview any of the pastors of churches over 100,000 members around the world (and there's a good half dozen of them) they would tell you they are confident in their ability to hang on for dear life when it comes to pastoring their churches. You see, their church members, who are formed into relational teams called cells or small groups, are on fire for God and moving in all sorts of ministry directions. The pastor's role is to encourage, equip, and steer the small groups in the right direction so they don't find themselves in the wrong place. He does this through his sermons and interaction with leaders at small group leader gatherings and new leader training and one-on-ones with people throughout the calendar year.
He is the helmsman with his hand on the rudder and his church is the ship. God is moving the ship and providing the wind for the sails. In other words, theses senior pastors are not shouting to the people below deck, "Row harder or we'll never get there!" They're investing their time to make small course corrections and look at the current weather to see climate changes that might slow the boat down or cause it to hit high seas.
Therein lies the difference between many pastors I've encountered through ministry. They see small group ministry as a tool at their disposal, and a tool specifically designed to do something lacking in the big church services each week. Contrast this mentality with the senior pastor whose small group ministry is the focus of mission and ministry, and the weekend service draws the small groups together for corporate worship, instruction, and vision and mission reinforcement.
This is not a simple issue of focusing on what's most important because both the small group and the big group are indeed important. However, I firmly believe that if one must serve the other—if it has to be that way—the corporate weekend service should support the mission and ministry going on in small groups where the relational, "Christ in the midst" stuff is happening.
Here's something to chew on until next week: Is your small group ministry headed in a direction with trimmed sails that requires some course correction, or are you constantly finding yourself saying, "Row harder! There's no wind for the direction I'm trying to steer this ship!"?