My First Stand-up Set

This was so much fun! I learned a lot from this experience, especially going through this recording a few times. I’ve definitely going to hit up some open mic night’s and try to get in on some showcases.

If you want to stay up to date and join me at some open mics, follow me on social media (links in the upper left of this page). Also, check the website. I’ll be posting appearances there. Thanks for all your support and encouragement!

Corby and Jess 3.0 – Pursuing Old Dreams

“I never thought it would happen to me,” so the saying goes. The proverbial mid-life crisis. A little over two years ago life took an unexpected, though not surprising turn. Having spent 20+ years pursuing a life in full-time paid ministry as a pastor, teacher, and discipler, I was no longer those things (no ones fault) and I didn’t feel compelled to go after them again; at least not in the same capacity. So I asked myself the “stronger” question; what can I do to most effectively build God’s kingdom?


Corby 2.0 – An Experimental Release

I went back to the beginning of ministry for me and revisited being a content creator. I wanted to encourage and equip Christians to follow Jesus in ways that didn’t turn them into Jerks for Jesus. I wanted to fill-in for pastors when they needed a Sunday off, and do workshops at churches on how to study the Bible and various other topics (which I still want and am available to do!). The one more-or-less successful part of all of this was The Rhythm Journal.

I paid precious money learning how to market myself (which I loath in a ministry context), write better blog posts, and market those as well. Email lists (thank you!), Facebook followers, Twitter, Instagram, even Pinterest, became my focus, along with trying to make good content. “Look at me! I have something valuable to contribute but I don’t want to sell my soul to get your attention on me so I can show you Jesus!” It was exhausting.

For whatever reason(s), it didn’t take. A saturation of similar content online, my style of writing/delivery, who knows. All I know is that I was spending a lot of effort and it felt like very little Kingdom building was being accomplished. Let’s just say that my most-read blog post by far was a short commentary about the split in the Calvary Chapel movement. While all traffic is good traffic, that’s not what I wanted to build.

Enter Crisis Mode

“Crisis” sounds like a severe word. Turns out it is an accurate one. And it wasn’t just me. Jess was going through the same thing. The kids were moved out (more or less). The jobs we had to support them now only served to pay bills. This isn’t true for everyone, but for us, we need more than that. We pursued a life in ministry because we wanted to invest in people, because that’s what we are each wired to do; to build them up, to make a difference. That was and is our calling.

When you have zero sense of purpose, or worse not fulfilling a purpose, it feels like a crisis.

Jess 3.0 – Body, Mind, and Spirit

When Jess was in high school she wanted to be an athletic trainer and a nurse. Well, a couple of years ago, Jess became a certified Holy Yoga Instructor and Yoga Therapy coach. For her it was physical activity, an emphasis on scripture, and discipleship all in one.

She was also very sick for a number of years and we didn’t even know it. With the help of a couple of naturalpaths we got to the bottom of most of it. For her, the primary path of healing wasn’t medication, but nutrition. So what does she do? In typical Jess fashion, she is now on track to be a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (graduating in November 2018).

You can follow what she’s up to on this Facebook page. A website will be up sometime in the next few months.

This sounds cool, remember for later!

In fact, Jess and I have a little dream of running a school/course/program that is really a holistic approach to following Jesus. Meaning, teaching that following Jesus involves the whole person. What you eat and how active you are effects your physical health. Your physical health effects your emotional and spiritual health. Having a right understanding of all of this comes from scripture as does what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s all one and when they are out of whack, so are we, which means so are our families and churches. Stay tuned.

Corby 3.0 – Laughter, Voices, and Words (and IT)

Stand-up and Voiceover

Since I was a little kid I have loved stand-up comedy. More than that, I love making people laugh. I remember listening to my dad’s Steve Martin, George Carlin, Jonathan Winters, and Cheech & Chong records. (It was late 70’s.) I loved Saturday Night Live and sketch comedy. I loved cartoons; both funny Warner Brothers stuff and action-adventure after-school cartoons. I particularly loved the voices. I was the kid who wanted to know who did them and how.

So, in May of this year I took a leap and started taking stand-up comedy classes and voiceover/acting lessons. I’m not counting on these becoming primary income sources, but I have always loved both of them and had to at least try them and see where they go. Plus, I’m not a total stranger to either one these with some experience in improv theater and four years as a children’s performer.

Writing and Podcasting

On my “someday” list are a couple of fiction and non-fiction book ideas. Well, someday is today.

The non-fiction is a book about how to use improvisation theater skills in everyday life. Honestly, I didn’t really know how to interact with other humans well until I learned improv in high school.

The fiction book is a story about a haunted theater and forgiveness. In my mind it’s a Pixar movie, but one step at a time.

I also have an idea for a new podcast about life in my hometown of Vancouver, WA. Letting that one slow-cook for now.

No, I haven’t given up

I am still very interested in equipping and encouraging fellow followers of Jesus. It’s just going to have to take a different form than I previously envisioned. In fact, it already has to a degree.

We currently have an informal home group meeting at our place. It’s kind of a half-way house for people who have been burned by church or are burned-out from traditional “American” attractions church. It’s been really, really good. Some have even “graduated” through and have become a part of new-to-them church families.

It’s small-batch, home-brew discipleship. It’s Kingdom building.

I still have some equipping projects/products on the drawing board, and I intend to keep blogging with a refined sense of content and purpose.

Last but not least, doing IT still pays the bills. While I work full-time at King’s Way Christian Schools, I do still take side projects. If your small/home office, and up to medium-sized business or church need a network upgrade/redesign, or other similar project-based service, I’m happy to help. (What I can’t do is ongoing regular maintenance for a number of clients. I can’t be your IT guy.)

So, there it is

  • I’ll be posting open mics I plan to try and get in on and any showcases I’m a part of as they come up. It’s crazy, but after this week, I can call myself a stand-up comedian because I will have done it in a professional club!
  • If you need any kind of voice over, outgoing phone message on your work phone system (if you call King’s Way and get the automated system, that’s me), video project, whatever, I’m just looking for experience. A professional demo will be made eventually. If I book even one paid gig, I will consider it a success as a voice actor.
  • I hope to begin writing the improv book soon and the story as time allows.
  • Need IT? I got IT.
  • And, if your pastor needs a break, or your church is interested in learning how to study the Bible, or using The Rhythm Journal for personal discipleship, I’m happy to help.

Just use the Contact page on the website to reach me and we’ll chat. Thanks for keeping up on our adventures!

Whole Armor Martial Arts

Did you know that there are Christian Martial Arts schools? To some, that might sound like a contradiction in terms and it’s no wonder why. With things like UFC and MMA tournaments on TV, fighting has become a sexy and glamorous industry. How are things like that compatible with being a follower of Jesus? Those things aren’t. Christian Martial Arts schools worth their salt don’t teach or promote those kinds of practices. Quite the opposite. They teach self-discipline and self-control. They teach respect for others. They teach you how to protect yourself and others. They also teach you God’s word. In this case, the whole armor of God.

Check out the video below followed some notes from a class observation, and then my interview with Mr. Ron Hagelganz, founder of Whole Armor Martial Arts.

Video – Whole Armor Martial Arts

Class Observation

Class opens with prayer. After some warm-up and instructions, the class breaks up into groups.

What I noticed right away was that there was a relaxed yet respectful atmosphere. The respect went both ways; not only did the students respect the teachers, but the teachers and leaders showed noticeable respect to the students. This is no Cobra Kai!

Something else I noticed is that there were students teaching other students. Karate, like most martial art schools, uses a belt color ranking system. As I watched higher ranking students teaching lower ranking ones, it occurred to me that this was a perfect picture of what Biblical discipleship looks like. Those who know teach those who don’t. They want to see them succeed. They offer praise and correction as needed. Very cool.

Later in the evening is a very practical Bible teaching time by one of the instructors. It’s like a devotional time but it also ties in martial arts concepts and principles.

Interview with Mr. Ron Hagelganz

Corby Stephens (CS): Why did you get into martial arts in the first place?
Mr. Ron Hagelganz (MRH): Watching the Kung Fu TV show in the 70’s got me interested, I found an instructor and the rest is history!

CS: Why did you start this school?
MRH: That is a very long story. Short version, I had been teaching a few students at my home for a few years, but after a missions trip to Indonesia, I knew that I needed to give my martial arts training over to God’s leading. Whole Armor officially started in 1985 as a PE elective at a Christian school in Vancouver.

CS: You are teaching Karate (as opposed to Tai Kwon Do or Kung Fu) correct? Is it a specific “family” of Karate?
MRH: Correct. There are many styles of Karate, many are very old, some are newer and more eclectic. We study Nippon Shiho Karano Ryu Karate-do which is also explained on our website here.

CS: When the students line up side by side in class, they seem crammed together shoulder to shoulder, yet there is lots of room in the gym. Is that on purpose?
MRH: Yes. It’s simply the etiquette used at that beginning point of the class. Everyone lines up together according to rank, and we bow in, and then pray before dividing into rows for warms ups etc. There are many fine points of etiquette throughout the class, and each one is very important. For me, etiquette is the “glue” that makes Martial Arts what it is. To me, cage fighting and all that are not “martial arts”, just “martial”. It is the etiquette and protocol that make the physical disciplines an art, and help develop a person’s character.

CS: Are students encouraged/discouraged to go to competitions?
MRH: Tournaments can be a lot of fun for a student, but sometimes very discouraging too (after all, no one likes to lose!) They are also often very expensive. Tournament competition is also a completely different mindset and requires a different training focus too, so it is difficult to take time away from our primary curriculum to work on tournament skills. We have not recently, but at most attend just one tournament each year.

CS: Have you ever had to use martial arts in real life?
MRH: Interesting question. On one hand, the answer could be “no – I have never had to use it”, on the other hand the more correct answer would be, “yes, I use it every single day!” Truth is, if you ever actually get into a fight, odds are you’ve missed all the steps along the way that could have avoided it. The disciplines and thought processes of training in Christian martial arts help us see those steps, and live our lives in a way that hopefully avoids the problems in the first place.

CS: Have any of your students had to use it?
MRH: Many of our students are Police Officers, and Security Officers and the physical aspects of training have been very helpful to them.

CS: Are students expected to practice at home?
MRH: Encouraged to, but not expected. It is always their choice. Students who do will come to class better prepared to move forward than those who don’t. But we don’t force students to practice.

CS: Can/do people transfer in from other schools?
MRH: Sure – folks do that all the time. This is talked about on our FAQ page here. Sometimes it requires an evaluation period, but most often students just start again. We have even had Black Belts from other styles choose to start over as white belts, so they can learn the new skills correctly from the ground up.

CS: The school meets in a pretty isolated or “invisible” location. If there were an opportunity to meet where you had more exposure, would you take it? Is that something you are actively looking for? (The school meets in Brush Prarie, WA)
MRH: We have never looked for a more visible location. We have been where we are now for over 23 years, and it is a great blessing to be there! And for us, location is not as important as curriculum. Our curriculum provides an opportunity to train and enjoy traditional martial arts, while growing in the Truth from God’s Word. With that In mind, location doesn’t really matter, because in my opinion, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

CS: Do you have any other locations:
MRH: Our main school is here in Vancouver, WA, and one of my students started a Whole Armor school in the Seattle area.

Wrap up

I’ve known Ron for nearly 30 years, which is crazy as I type it. He is a great teacher and his knowledge of God’s word runs deep. If you are at all interested learning Martial Arts, particularly with a Christian application, I highly recommend his classes.

I interviewed Ron for my Notes From The Road podcast in 2016. We talk more extensively about his school and his story. Be sure to give it a listen.

5 Things Justice League Reveals About Gifts Of The Spirit

Justice League from DC Films, released in November of 2017, is about the gathering of a core set of superheroes to fight a common foe and eventually form an alliance called The Justice League. If like me, you were a child of the 1980’s, you know them as the Superfriends but with Aquaman getting a major upgrade of “cool.” As I watched this movie it occurred to me that this story is an apt parable that depicts how gifts of the Spirit can and should work together in selfless and complementary ways. Here are five things Justice League reveals about gifts of the Spirit.

The Difference Between Superpowers and Spiritual Gifts

Before we get to the actual list, I think it’s important to point something out. The gifts of the Spirit are not superpowers. That might sound obvious, but the way people talk about them on social media and in online videos you might think that they are the same thing. Scripture tells us that this isn’t the case.

Superpowers are innate to a superhero. They can express their powers at will. The Gifts of the Spirit are not like this. No one person is given a gift that they can express at will. Rather, they are more like tools that the Spirit gives to a person in a moment to accomplish a particular task. Anyone could be given any gift at any time if that person makes themselves available to the Spirit.

That being said, there are times when individuals tend to be equipped with a particular gift of the Spirit over other gifts on a consistent basis. But that doesn’t make it their gift, their superpower. It is the Spirit’s power, not the individual’s. This is an essential distinction for the rest of this article. For more on this see the post Star Wars Parables: The Power Does Not Belong To You.

The point of this article is about how spiritual gifts should interact with one another in the life and growth of a church. Be open, be ready, be available.

The Justice League Setup

I could take some time and try to summarize the plot of the movie, the characters, and their abilities, but it’s too much. What you need to know for the purposes of this post is this;

  • None of the heroes individually can beat the bad guys, not even Superman.
  • Not even five of the six of the heroes together could get the job done and save the day.
  • It takes all six heroes, many of them having overlapping gifts with the others, working together selflessly to beat the bad guys and save the planet.

Disclaimer – I encourage you to watch the movie after reading this article, even if you’ve already seen it. Look for these patterns. For those who have not seen it yet, be aware that there is a handful of bad language words. It’s rated PG-13.

1) The Church Is Vulnerable To Attack When Gifts Are Missing

In the movie prior to Justice League, “Superman vs. Batman; Dawn of Justice” Superman dies at the end. (Spoilers.) An alien army is now preparing to invade earth because of the fact that Superman is dead. He posed the single biggest obstacle to their success. With him out of the way, it will be much easier. Early in the movie, a man poses the question, ”Where does that leave us?”

5 Things Justice League Reveals About Gifts Of The Spirit || https://corbys.link/justiceleague

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, the apostle Paul uses the illustration of a human body to communicate the need for and the reality of differing gifts of the Spirit. Just as different parts of a body provide different functions and benefits, so too do gifts of the Spirit.

Just as a body with missing parts is more vulnerable, so is a church. I think if a study were done on churches that closed for one reason or another, looking for which spiritual gifts were present and which were missing, I think there would be some fascinating connections made to different scenarios.

2) Recognizing The Need For Others Gifts And Making Room

The heroes are honest with themselves and recognize their own limitations and how this affects the team.

“Superman can bring this team together better than I ever could.” “The world needs Superman. The team needs Clark.” Batman. (Clark is a reference to Superman’s secret identity, Clark Kent.)

“It’s my job and I haven’t been doing it. I’ve been reacting, not leading.” Wonder Woman.

“I’ve never done battle. I’ve just pushed some people and run away.” The Flash.

5 Things Justice League Reveals About Gifts Of The Spirit || https://corbys.link/justiceleague

In current American church culture there exists a mindset, sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally, that certain gifts and even personality traits are preferred over others in order to do effective ministry. The way I heard it explained once is that some of these things are “sexier” than others.

If you don’t fit into this sexy mold you aren’t given the opportunity to serve. More than that, the Holy Spirit is quenched (see the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Holy Spirit is limited as to how to fill in the gaps of the so-called spiritually sexy people who are in charge. The result is a lopsided and unhealthy church producing unhealthy followers of Jesus.

This is like Wonder Woman telling The Flash that he can’t be a part of the League because all he can do is move really fast and is socially awkward. Had that been the case there would have been many more dead people in the movie.

When people in a church recognize their own limitations (that they don’t have all of the gifts), the need for others to operate in their gifts, and have the willingness to make room for them, that church will be tremendously more effective in building the Kingdom of God.

3) Not Being Envious Of Others Gifts

Surprisingly, no one in this movie is envious of the gifts that the others have. If anything they are in awe of the others. Each one respect the others (eventually). I think this is because there was a purpose for them coming together. They saw no need to compete with one another because they realized that they were all needed for the greater good.

“Superman was a beacon to the world. Why aren’t you? You’re an inspiration, Diana [Wonder Woman], you don’t just save people, you make them see their better selves.” Bruce Wayne.

5 Things Justice League Reveals About Gifts Of The Spirit || https://corbys.link/justiceleague

The church in Corinth was dealing with a lot of spiritual-gifts envy. Using the illustration of a body Paul points out the foolishness in this thinking. If everyone were an eye, where would the hearing be? If everyone were an ear, where would the smelling be?

Connecting it to gifts of the Spirit and varying roles in the church, Paul asks a series of questions. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers, workers of miracles, have gifts of healings, speak or interpret other languages? The answer to the rhetorical questions is no.

When everyone is functioning in their own gifts and not wasting time envying the gifts of others, everyone wins and the church can be about its mission.

4) Operating In Our Own Gifts With The Encouragement Of Others

All of the heroes have things from their past that are hanging them up and holding them back. They encourage one another to fully be what they are.

“We are not enough. Each of us in our own way has held back.” Batman

“You were pushing me to lead the team. But leaders get people killed. I fought, always, when I was needed. But to lead, to step into the light and say to people, ‘This is worth your life,’ when it’s your fault, they’re all Steve Trevor.” Wonder Woman. In the movie titled Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor sacrificed himself to save the day while Diana saved the world. That has haunted her for a long time.

5 Things Justice League Reveals About Gifts Of The Spirit || https://corbys.link/justiceleague

When five of the heroes are gathered early on to fight the bad guys who have civilians captive, The Flash confesses to Batman that he has never done battle. He’s afraid. Batman tells him to “Just save one person.” In other words, run in with your super-speed, grab a captive, and run out. Don’t fight. Do what you’re good at. “Then what?” The Flash asks. Batman says, “Then you’ll know what to do.” The Flash does save one, he realizes that that is his role in this particular fight, and he saves the rest.

We can go through seasons in our own walks with The Lord where we are less open to what He wants to do in us and through us to build His kingdom.

  • We get burned in ministry by other believers.
  • We get seriously ill for a long time.
  • The death of a loved one can throw us off.
  • Or, we never had someone encourage us to step up and step out in the first place. In fact, many churches teach that the gifts of the Spirit aren’t in operation anymore.

Sometimes we need that encouragement from others to get back into the fight. Sometimes we need to be the one to provide that encouragement to others. In either case, it’s not something that can be done when we are isolated, alone. We need people around us and we need to be around other people. Discouragement isolates. Encouragement integrates.

Be an encourager and allow yourself to be encouraged by others.

5) Complimentary Gifts Working Together

All six heroes are finally together for the climactic battle at the end of the movie. As is his usual way of working, Batman tries to take care of part of the job on his own. Fortunately, the team shows up to save him from certain doom and they all work together from then on.

Even in this final battle, we don’t see the individual heroes doing their own thing alone. We see them working together, in tandem with one another, supporting one another. Where their gifts overlap, they are even stronger. Where their gifts are unique, they let the other take the lead.

One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Superman finally arrives and asks, “So, how do I help?” Seriously? You’re Superman! You got this single-handedly! In reality, he didn’t.

5 Things Justice League Reveals About Gifts Of The Spirit || https://corbys.link/justiceleague

Not even Superman could deal with the Mother Box on his own. (The alien superweapon that was about the reshape the planet and destroy all life on earth.) He didn’t even lead that effort; he helped! Cyborg had the lead on that part.

  • Cyborg split the boxes apart but couldn’t do more than that.
  • Once separated, Superman pushed them apart so that they exploded.
  • The Flash helped save civilians in the surrounding area while the rest had to work collaboratively to beat the main bad guy.

Not one of them could have done this alone. Not one of them could have done any of it alone.

So it is with gifts of the Spirit in the church.

The pastor/teacher can’t do it all by himself and he shouldn’t try. The evangelist can’t do it by themselves. The church planters and prophets can’t do it all by themselves.

Like Superman, everyone needs to show up and ask, “So, how do I help?”

Like a human body, the gifts of the Spirit are designed to work together. You can see good examples of this in the book of Acts. You can see what happens when people don’t use the gifts properly in 1 Corinthians. The gifts are intended to build on one another, to support one another, so that the church strengthened and the Kingdom of God is expanded.

What Do You Think?

What else does Justice League reveal about spiritual gifts? Join the conversation by commenting below. Take some time and process through the following questions. Share your answers in the comments and let’s process them together. Read Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12-14 for some background.

Actionable Questions

  • When was the last time you know you were expressing a spiritual gift?
  • Has anyone ever told you that you were expressing a spiritual gift but you weren’t aware of it?
  • Are you afraid of or perhaps not-at-ease with the gifts of the Spirit? If yes, why?
  • Which spiritual gift is the scariest, or least appealing to you? Why?
  • Which is the most interesting, or the one you would like the Spirit to express through you the most? Why?
  • Have you ever been in a church environment when complimentary gifts were working together? Please share about that.

Take some time and invest in discovering more about the Holy Spirit and how He wants to work through you. The following resources are highly recommended.

Related Resources






Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters – Book Review

Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters did something for me that I thought wouldn’t happen again, at least not so soon after leaving full-time ministry two years ago; it provided me with hope. Hope in the fact that there were others out there who focused on doing the Jesus stuff well. Hope in the fact small church does not equal failure. Hope in the reality that if churches focus on being healthy, Jesus will do the rest, and that does not equate to making a church huge.

See, I had mostly given up on the current concept of church (as it exists in the US) and really wanted no part of the come-and-watch “concert culture” many churches have become. Karl has restored my hope that a church in America today can be what Jesus intends the church to be. More than that, we need small churches to be great churches, not seeking to become great-big churches, unless that’s what Jesus wants for them.

[bctt tweet=”We need small churches to be great churches, not seeking to become great-big churches, unless that’s what Jesus wants for them.” username=”corbystephens”]

Small Church Essentials is now the most highlighted book on my shelf, and I’m not even in ministry! For now…

Did you see the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray? Remember when he meets Ned Reierson on the street, and whenever Ned helped Bill remember something he would shout, “Bing!”? I found myself repeatedly saying out loud, “BIng!” while reading this book. It was kind of funny.

Who Small Church Essentials Is Written For

While Karl is himself a pastor writing to other pastors, I think the audience net needs to be widened. Not just to other pastors on staff, not just to the assistants, custodians, and volunteer leaders. I think every Christian needs to read this book, regardless of the size of your church.

If that statement intrigues or confuses you, then that right there tells me that you need to read this book. The reason is that everyone in a church participates in the health of a church. Everyone. If your concept of church is that the staff puts on the Sunday service and people come and watch, then you are thinking about small church in an unhealthy way.

Karl does an amazing job of explaining the thinking and the doing behind what small church can and should be. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

“Great churches don’t happen by mistake. No matter what size they are. They take prayer, planning, hard work, cooperation, and the calling of God. But no church can be a great church if they don’t know they can be a great church. Too many small churches and their pastors are laboring under a false impression – a lie, really – that their church can’t be great until it becomes bigger. We need to put that lie to rest, starting in the heart and ministry of every pastor of every small church.” p. 24 Bing!

Book highlights and my story

This might sound like an overstatement, but Small Church Essentials was a kind of therapy for me. It healed some stuff. It encouraged some stuff. It revealed some stuff.

Bible College

“Still today, ministry students are taught how to get through 200 but not how to pastor well under 200.” p. 18 Bing!

My wife and I graduated from Calvary Chapel Bible College in 1995. It was a kind of romantic period in Calvary Chapel’s history. We were taught

  • If you teach the Bible, people will come (you will have a big church).
  • If you go to somewhere in the country and bring this style of ministry to them, you could be the next Chuck Smith or Greg Laurie (you will have a big church).
  • Just teach the Bible and trust Jesus and you will be able to deal with anything that comes up.

For some people that worked. For most, it didn’t.

Looking back, we were equipped with faith in God, faith in the power of the word and the Holy Spirit working together. I still strongly believe that those are essentials. But we were wrongly equipped with the idea that a church that God has blessed, and church that is being done right, will grow into a large church. That is simply false.

NOTE: That was over 20 years ago. Hopefully, things at CCBC have changed. I think Small Church Essentials needs to be a textbook and a class at every Bible school and seminary.

Two Churches, Two “Failures”

10 years after Bible college I started my first senior pastor position. It lasted 7 months. One of the main contributing factors here was that the church was one-year-old, and really hadn’t settled into what it wanted to be. It had no identity internally. There were different groups assuming it was going to settle into what they had in their minds, but these varied between the groups.

If I had had this book then, it would have helped a great deal. I don’t know that it would have helped me successfully navigate all that was happening, but it would have helped big time.

A few years later I found myself stepping in at a small church where there was a leadership vacuum. It was a Calvary Chapel so I took my Calvary Chapel training and soon realized it was inadequate for the task. The Lord wasn’t inadequate, but the only people I knew were large church pastors and the only resources were on making your church bigger. This church needed healing, not size. (In retrospect it needed a lot more, but that’s for another time.)

Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters - Book Review || https://corbys.link/smallchurch

“Being small doesn’t mean that something is broken. If something is broken you can’t fix it by making it bigger.”

“Then we wonder why so many pastors leave ministry burned out and disillusions, with damaged churches in their wake.” p. 18

“The size of a church is a huge factor in knowing how it operates, how it ministers, the kinds of people it’s likely to reach, the way its members will be discipled, and the kinds of pastoral gifts and skills needed to lead it.” p. 22 Bing!

We tried for over 7 years. Two name changes, old people left, new people came, moved locations, my wife got burned up and burned out, and in the end, we closed the doors.

“What if God’s plans for our ministry are different than out plans? … And if a lifetime of small church ministry is possible, even likely, shouldn’t we spend time preparing for it?” p. 19

“When you recognize, embrace, and passionately fulfill God’s call on your life to pastor a small church, you will find it to be a profound privilege and blessing – to you, to the people you pastor, and to the community your church ministers in.” p. 19

People Are A Part Of It, Not The Product

Over and over again, I found myself writing in the margin that people in the church need to be aware of and on board with this kind of thinking. I think that too often pastors think of the people in their church as a kind of customer, and the pastor thinks of himself as some kind of marketer. “If I can do things this way, I will get this result from people, and they won’t even know they are doing it.” Not in some sinister manipulative way, though I have seen that also, but because this is what they have been taught to do by books and conferences. As if the idea is to get people from A to B without them even noticing. What is that? It’s not discipleship, that’s for sure.

People in the church need to be included in the process. If there are people that subscribe to the “bigger is better and blessed” model, their thinking will need to change or they will find themselves out of the loop and out the door. When new people come in, very often they come from the “bigger is better and blessed” model and do not stick.

“The idea that everyone is enamored with a bigger room, more people, and high-end production values has never been true. Just as there are people who prefer a local diner to a chain restaurant, there are people who are looking for smaller environments to discover and live out their faith.” p. 32 Bing again!

While I agree that not “everyone” is enamored with this, my experience teaches me that many are. Here in the Pacific Northwest, there is a significant “concert culture.” People like to go and watch concerts. They like to go see something. Because this is what people want, this is what many small and large churches provide, for better or for worse. It works. Many Christians go to multiple churches throughout the week for different “experiences.” I know because they post about it on social media. All the while they don’t participate in the life of any of the churches. They don’t know what they are missing out on.

When this is what people want, and you want to provide something other than this, something that will edify them and not just entertain, it can be very frustrating.

“We can help struggling small churches become healthy small churches. I don’t mean helping churches become healthy as a stepping-stone to becoming bigger, although it’s good if that happens too; I mean becoming healthy as an end in itself. If many of the churches in the world are small, maybe we don’t have a size problem as much as we have a health problem.” p. 34

The Point Of The Book Isn’t Church Size, It’s Church Health

“Your church doesn’t need to be big to do the Jesus stuff well… and the Jesus stuff is all that matters.” p. 43 Bing amen!

I want to make it clear that I’m not anti-big-church and despite its title, Small Church Essentials isn’t either. The point is that regardless of size, a church needs to be healthy. Pastors need to be OK with that. People in the church need to be ok with that. If you don’t know how to be OK with that, Karl is the man to help you understand it. Small churches get healthy in different ways from large churches. Small churches function in a healthy way differently from large churches.

Like the above quote, the goal is to do the Jesus stuff well. I think the Jesus stuff has become muddled up in a lot of other things in our churches. Another great thing about this book is Karl helps to bring these things back into focus which is extremely important in becoming a healthy church.

Get and Give Way This Book

  • If you are a pastor, even of a large church, read this book. It points out some important differences in the way different sized churches operate. Small churches try to function like large ones, and sometimes large ones function like small ones. Neither is healthy. Small Church Essentials will help fix that.
  • If you are a pastor, get some copies for your staff, read it together, and then recommend it to your church. If you have a resource room, library, or bookstore, get some in stock and sell it for cost. If people read it they will get a glimpse of the stuff you deal with. Let’s face it; being a pastor sometimes feels like being “the man behind the curtain.” It will help ease the burden trying to explain why you do what you do. Not all, but some.
  • If you are a member of a church, buy this book for yourself. Do not buy a copy and shove it in your pastor’s face. Read it and start functioning in your church in such a way as to contribute to its health. Your pastor will appreciate it. At some point recommend it to him, if you have that kind of relationship.

I only quoted from the first three chapters of the book. The first half is about changing the way we think about small church. The second half is extremely practical ways to correct problems and become proactively healthy.

Maybe It’s Time

BTW, I am seriously considering some kind of pastoral ministry again. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but Small Church Essentials had made it much more clear than it has ever been in my life. It’s been a kind of catalyst and my wife blames Karl. 😉

After you buy the book, follow me on social media and here on the blog to keep up to date as to how the grand experiment goes if it ever gets off the ground.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”