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Since you're reading this, I'm assuming that you're serious about being the best leader that you can possibly be. If so, the best place to start is by gaining an accurate picture of where you are already. So think about this: If you're leading a small church, both you and your people need to understand that you are still in the pioneering stage.
It doesn't matter if your church has been around for many decades. It doesn't matter if you're the twentieth pastor they've had. You and your church are pioneering. Maybe this is a new concept to you. If it is, it should impact the perspectives of both you and your congregation.
Let me give an example of pioneering.
Toowoomba is a well-presented, small city a couple of hours drive from Brisbane, Australia. The drive itself is pleasant. There's beautiful scenery - mountains, farms, bushland. The roads are good, and there are plenty of stops you can make on the way if you get hungry.
But that's not what it was like for the pioneers who first explored the site where the city is now built.
They tramped through rugged bushland, carrying supplies, and often up steep mountainsides. They hacked their way through thick vegetation. They forded creeks and rivers. They were food for swarms of mosquitoes, and risked being bitten by the most poisonous snakes in the world.
Not a lot of fun, huh! But that's the way pioneering is. It's a lot of work, and not always very enjoyable.
Actually, it takes a special type of person to do pioneering work. It takes people who are willing to take risks. People who are willing to sacrifice and who may not get a lot in return. These are people who are preparing a way for the generations to come.
As the leader, this is the kind of spirit you need to develop in your people. How can you do that? Preach about it. There were plenty of pioneers in the Bible. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, the apostles, just to name a few. These were people who tried new things, broke new ground, dared to do something different.
Preach about the qualities of pioneers: Faith, sacrifice, heroism, risk-taking, coping with challenge and change. If you can mould a small group of people into taking on these great qualities, your church will do great things and make an impact in your community.
First of all, thinking of yourself as a pioneer should inspire you to try new things too. Have you let yourself get into a rut? Are you doing the same old same-old? Maybe it's time for you to break out of your self-imposed box and break some new ground yourself.
Pray for new ideas, get some training, read more. If the leader grows, the church grows with him, and I'm not just talking about numbers. You owe it to the people you lead to be the best leader you can be. Just remember that Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much." (Luke 16:10) Don't let yourself slump into the attitude, "Well, it's only a small group. It doesn't really matter that much. But if I had a bigger group to work with, boy would I work my socks off then!"
Chances are nothing would change. Be everything you can be now. God is still watching even though your group is small.
Thinking of yourself as a pioneer has a great advantage too because it will give you a different perspective. You'll soon realise that not everyone wants to be a pioneer. There are lots of Christians out there looking for a new church. Some have valid reasons, and some don't. Some of them might even visit your church.
So let's just say that you've got your church humming along, and it's the best it can be. But it's still small, so there's still plenty for everyone to do. But not everyone wants plenty to do. Not everyone has that pioneering spirit.
Have you ever heard the story of the two shoe salesmen? They both worked for different companies, and they both got sent to the same isolated Pacific island to sell shoes. The first guy got there, saw that nobody on the island wore shoes and said, "What's the point of being here? Nobody here even wears shoes!" So he left.
The second guy arrived, noticed that none of the natives wore shoes and said, "Wow! An island full of people who don't own any shoes. And the market's all mine!"
Same set of circumstances, but two totally different perspectives.
And this kind of thing happens in churches all the time. You'll be visited by some who will look around and say, "Hey, there's no Sunday School in this church for my kids. What a great opportunity for ministry." These are the pioneers. They see with a faith perspective.
Then there will be others, probably the majority, who will visit your church and say, "What! No Sunday School? I think I'll go to another church."
You'll find that this will happen over and over again. Not everyone has a pioneering spirit. They want to go to a church where all the hard work has already been done - by another. These are the people who want to turn up at a church and step into a position that is already well-established by someone else.
It helps if you're aware of this. The great things that get done in and through your church will be done by those with the pioneering spirit. But they will almost certainly be in the minority. The majority will most likely be looking for a church where they can receive ministry.
What's most important to them, isn't the souls you are reaching with the gospel, or how you are impacting the community. In their minds, the most significant things you do all involve ministering to them and making them feel good. They are more interested in how the preaching speaks into their situation, whether the worship takes them into the throne room, how many people fall down under the power of the Spirit.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking any of those things. But as the leader, you've got to understand that people with that kind of focus are experience-oriented and me-centred. But pioneers are outward looking. They have needs too. But somehow they realise that's not all about them.
So when you've done your absolute best to follow God and be the best leader you can be, and you still find people in your church who don't seem to be that interested in making a difference, don't beat yourself up. Don't allow yourself to get discouraged or frustrated. Just get over it. Maybe one day they'll get it. In the meantime, determine that you will follow the Lord wholeheartedly regardless, and be thankful for any others who are willing to walk the pioneering path with you.
As the leader, you will also need to be prepared to take risks. Just by leading a small church, you are already taking a risk. In a large business or church, if things start to go bad, a lot of people lose their jobs before the head honcho loses his. But in a small church, you're most likely the only person on the payroll. This means that your livelihood is dependent on the success and survival of the church. In a small church, that survival is constantly under threat.
But this isn't the only way you need to be prepared to take risks. You also need to take risks in your ministry. Try things you've never done before. Be willing to step out in a different direction. Develop your gifts. Extend your skills. Learn new ones. Explore new ways of packaging the gospel and reaching people.
People who settle for where they are, aren't called pioneers. They are called settlers. Settlers live nice, safe lives, but they never discover new lands or break new ground. That's what pioneers do. So if you want your church to develop a pioneering spirit, I've only got one thing to say to you: "You first!"