How Many People Can a Pastor Pastor?

One of the most important things I do as the pastor of Kessler Park UMC is give pastoral care to members of the congregation. This involves a range of activities, including praying for people in the hospital, visiting shut-ins, and talking to people who are in various stages of distress.

But pastoral care requires physical presence. The problem is that as a congregation grows in size, it becomes more and more difficult for one person to be present for every member. I can’t get everywhere I need to be in order to do all the pastoral care that needs to be done.

I discovered recently that this a simple scientific fact. In the 1990s, a British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar discovered that “human societies contain buried within them a natural grouping of around 150 people.” This became known as “Dunbar’s number,” and led to his theory that this is the maximum number of stable social relationships which one person can maintain. Or put another way, “it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them at a bar.”

In other words, the average pastor can only really have a strong pastoral relationship with about 150 people!

This finding sounds remarkably similar to the common church leadership maxim that congregations typically plateau at 200 members if there is only one pastor. “It’s simply impossible for a church to grow beyond 200 under one person’s direct care and leadership,” says one prominent church consultant.

Kessler Park UMC currently finds itself in that situation. We average far less than 200 in worship attendance on Sunday mornings, but the current number of people who attend somewhat regularly is close to 200, if not more. (We currently have 500 people on the membership roll, but are desperately in need of purging these rolls.)

Since I have been here, I have dreamed of having additional staff to assist with pastoral care, and thanks to a successful pledge campaign last fall, my dream is finally coming true!

Ken Kelley.jpg

It gives me great pleasure to announce that our new Pastor of Congregational Care starts this Sunday, Feb. 19. Ken Kelley will be commissioned in the worship service to fill this position, and I can’t wait!

The truth is that Ken is already providing pastoral care for members of the church. I happen to know that he regularly visits a number of our shut-ins, and even provides transportation for some of them. He and Colleen started worship services at a local nursing home, The Meridian, shortly after I arrived. And the two of them are responsible for Good Shepherds, a twice-monthly senior group which meets at the church.

I have observed the way he works with older adults, and I can tell that he is the perfect match for this job. He has a compassionate heart, and a willingness to learn and grow. Besides, he won’t have to learn anybody’s name, because he already knows them all!

Please join me in giving Ken a warm welcome to the church staff, and add him to your own personal prayer list. And go ahead and add him to your own list of 150 friends!

Finding the Disciple's Path

If you have been a United Methodist very long, you surely are familiar with the “mission statement” of the denomination — “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Every once in a while, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of these words.

I happen to think this is a solid mission statement. It’s Biblical (see Matthew 28:19), concise, and practical. It is a good orientation for every local church.

Ken Kelley, Missi Mulligan, Cindy McSpadden, and I have been part of a year-long stewardship training sponsored by Texas Methodist Foundation for the past nine months. One of the things that we have been encouraged to do by our trainers is to craft an intentional “discipleship pathway” for our church, and to consider ways to implement it. We have learned that financial stewardship is but one part of what it means to be a Christian disciple.

In other words, we have been challenged to remember that our main reason for existence is to form disciples. Kessler Park UMC exists to move each of us toward a more faithful following of Jesus.

I have begun to think deeply about what it means to create a “discipleship pathway,” and I realize that we can’t start that work until we determine precisely what it means to be a disciple. What does a disciple of Jesus look like? How does s/he act? What kinds of things do disciples do?

Once we have a clearer sense of what a disciple of Jesus looks like, we can begin to shape our worship, programs, and missions so that they move people in this direction, so that they become transformative and life-changing.

I don’t know about you, but I want to follow Jesus more closely. I know that I struggle to stay on the path, that I sometimes lose sight of him up ahead, that I easily get distracted by the shiny things on the side of the road.

And sometimes I just don’t feel like following Jesus. I’d rather follow my own interests.

That’s because this discipleship thing is hard. Nobody said it was easy. In fact, Jesus himself said, “If you want to follow me, you have to pick up your cross and follow.”

Thank God for this community of disciples, this church full of saints and stragglers like me. Because in our fellowship, I find new inspiration to keep on going. When I see you following Christ, I am encouraged to get back on the road.

So over the next year, I plan to keep working on this “discipleship pathway.” I don’t know yet what it will look like as a formal church program. I don’t know what it will be called, or how we will put it into practice.

But I do promise to work on it, so that you and I, all of us together, may become better and more faithful disciples. Watch out, world, here we come!


Hope Never Ends

Hope Never Ends

The following is a condensed version of the State of the Church address I gave at the Church Council meeting on Sunday.

The first three weeks of the new year have been … well, strange. Many of us feel stressed and anxious about the new presidential administration, but also perhaps oddly hopeful after a weekend of marches.

The good news is that Kessler Park United Methodist Church is poised to be a beacon of hope for years to come. We wrapped up a very successful pledge campaign last fall entitled, “Give Hope.” The focus was on all the ways in which our congregation gives hope to people.

Read More