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The unsung heroes of the SBC: Single staff pastors

William Thornton

t’s a Southern Baptist cliche: “We are a convention of small churches.”

We are indeed. The median SBC church will have 70 souls in average weekly worship attendance  this coming Sunday which means that around 25,000 SBC churches have a pastor who looks out when he preaches at a few dozen hearers. The pastor almost certainly is the only clergy staff member in the church although he may have a part time paid or volunteer music leader, student or children leader.

This would be the place where there is a church of people who all know each other.

This would be the place where there is a single pastor and no one else who has the title “pastor.”

The Single Staff Pastor…and he is the stalwart hero of Southern Baptist churches and, therefore, of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Not that multi-staff, multi-site, multi-millions in budget, megachurch, megapastor, megastaff are not important. Not that the vast army of lay volunteers who actually run the church and the church ministries are unimportant. We are not sacerdotalists, after all.  But the single staff pastor is the most common pastor in the SBC…and sometimes, the most underappreciated.

Most of our trained clergy will spend most if not all of their ministry as a single staff pastor.

Almost all of our clergy will have at one time or another served a single staff church.

Almost all of our denominational leaders will have served in a single staff church, even if only for a short time.

The single staff pastor will likely be paid below the average salary for full time SBC pastors and that for his entire ministry. Some will do better. Some will do worse. It’s modest pay.

The single staff pastor will never store up for himself a great accumulation of retirement benefits unless his wife is able to find a good job with benefits.

The single staff pastor has little chance of being elected to any position of prominence in the state conventions or SBC and this mainly, and wrongly, because being seen as single-staff guy or small church guy is code for not much of an achiever.

The single staff pastor likely knows better than the larger, multi-staff church pastors the stress of church finances, since large and megachurches do well in picking up the better giving families who transfer membership from smaller to larger churches. This is a clear trend I’m told.

The single staff pastor likely has to endure more of the petty issues in the church, stuff like the temperature of the sanctuary, length of the grass, and who gets which room.

The single staff pastor isn’t likely to be asked to preach at conferences, since it’s not much of a draw to have single staff guys at these events.

The single staff pastor is more likely to be forced to resign a church or to be forcibly terminated and this at least once during his ministry, probably for no fault of his own.

The single staff pastor with sufficient tenure is the one who is the key person in the attitude and personality of the congregation.

The single staff pastor with sufficient tenure will be the one who keeps a church on track with Cooperative Program giving and the mission offerings.

The single staff pastor likely has to address more issues with his spouse and kids and the church than larger church pastors. He learns how to handle this with time.

The single staff pastor doesn’t have a hat rack large enough for all the hats he has to wear as pastor.

The single staff pastor is more likely to declare, “They didn’t tell me in seminary I would be doing this kind of stuff” along with “I wasn’t prepared for this.”

The single staff pastor has to be a generalist, or, as church folks might think, a specialist in every possible church-related job and ministry.

The single staff pastor gets to see generations of people impacted by his ministry.

The single staff pastor looks at his few dozen congregants on Sunday and knows exactly what issues they are facing.

The single staff pastor knows his folks well enough to judge by their casual comment when shaking his hand after Sunday worship if there is something afoot in their lives that he might need to ask about or help with.

Anybody can be a single staff pastor…right?