Any time I coach a pastor or consult with a church, I start with this question. Typically, the first answer is very pious and rooted in scripture and/or Jonathan Edwards. Guys think I am testing them to see whether or not they answer correctly. Sometimes they give me the answer that they think their church wants to hear them say.
People in churches usually don't care about growth. They want a church where they like the preaching, the music is tolerable and the parking is easy. Maybe they have a pet program or ministry that they are committed to, but normal people rarely think about their church in the macro sense. They don't care if their church is 50 or 50,000 so long as it does the things they care about.
So sometimes a pastor will answer my questions with people-pleasing answers like, "we just want a place where people can be known" or “we are committed to loving people and keeping things small". Sometimes they are even telling the truth.
I meet guys all the time who just want to pastor 50 people for 50 years and then call it a day. But sometimes, if you probe just a little, you realize that they secretly want more. And it’s not just small church pastors who harbor megachurch dreams. I’ve met just as many guys who had big churches who secretly wished they could just disciple a handful of people as I have small church guys with bigger dreams than realities.
I'm a pretty competitive and ambitious guy. It typically serves me well in environments where size and complexity are valued and is a real Achilles when care and patience are needed. In other words, other pastors like to talk ministry with me, but the people in my church wished I was more of a shepherd.
I had a mentor once tell me that eventually, people get tired of having a strategist as their pastor. I've felt this. More than once I have let a church member down because I was more of a non-profit CEO than a local church pastor. There is nothing that has made me question my call more than those moments.
Whether you want to build a growing, dynamic church or are content shepherding a small flock, the question is an important one to answer honestly for yourself. What do you want?
Now, you may say, well Justin, it doesn't really matter what I want, shouldn't we ask what God wants? Indeed, that is another good question, but they aren't the same, and they both need to be asked. What God wants for you and your church is really important and you should seek him to know that answer. But it is also important for you to know what you want.
If the answers are different (and they are always somewhat different), then you need to reconcile those differences. That's between you and God to figure out and you need to figure it out because it's usually the gap between what you want and what God wants that will get you into trouble. Simply saying that it doesn't matter what you want and it only matters what God wants will create frustration and angst in you that, if left unreconciled, will burn you out.
So be honest with yourself, and with a mentor or coach. Do you dream of pastoring a large church that has a city-wide influence? Or do you really want to just hunker down with folks and disciple them personally through the ups and downs of life? Neither is wrong and one isn’t better than the other. But if you want one and are stuck with the other, you will wreck yourself from the inside out.
After 20 years of full-time ministry, I know myself pretty well. I'm a big church guy. I love big rooms, complicated problems, and layers of leadership. I love that job and I want it. But in 20 years, I have spent all of about 5 years in that scenario. I have planted three churches from scratch and am now replanting one from 15 people. God has asked me to put aside my desires for the most part, and it has been hard. But that doesn't stop me from being honest about what I would want.
It also doesn't mean I get what I want. God had consistently put me in startup situations and thus far hasn't allowed me to see them through to completion. That frustrates me but I'm not going to pretend that I like it just so I can sound like God and I are on the same page.
So I'll ask it again, what do you want? What do you really wish you could be doing? What do you wish that your church looked like?
Answer that question for yourself, then take it to God and ask him if that lines up with his plans for you. If it does, then you can really start to build something. If it doesn't? Then you get a chance to lay down your life for God and the gospel, which is a high calling and worthy aspiration.