Helping Smaller Churches

The Church sometimes uses a hub and spoke model of ministry. In it a central congregation serves as the hub of a wheel with spokes radiating outwards in all directions.

Zion Lutheran Church, Wausau

Zion Lutheran Church in Wausau began helping smaller congregations a few years back. Wausau is a big city for North-Central Wisconsin. Zion is also located a manageable driving distance to a handful of smaller congregations. A couple of years ago one congregation reached out to us for pastoral support and services. At the time Zion had three pastors and the smaller church was struggling to find pulpit supply. After much prayer, the meeting of the councils, congregational meetings, and a mutually agreed upon contract we started to share our pastoral services, support, and love with more brothers and sisters in Christ.

Zion serves as the larger (hub) church. The other church is a smaller (spoke) church located about 15 miles east. Each church retains its own autonomy (councils, calendars, actives, etc.). And each church shares in the pastoral leadership and support of 2 full-time pastors and 1 part-time, retired pastor. Between the two churches, every single worship service is led by an ordained pastor. Shut-ins are visited. Sunday schools run unabated. Word and Sacrament are freely shared.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained in order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.

Titus 1:5

Larger, hub-like churches and rural, spoke-like churches may want to consider doing something like this too. If so, Zion has some practical advice for you.

For the hub church and pastoral staff:

  1. Pastors are to be the harvesters out among the wheat fields! As a pastor of a hub church, yes, you are primarily called to (and paid by) this congregation. However, don’t let that limit the scope of how you can serve Christ’s Church more broadly. There are “other sheep” out there.
  2. Church councils care for the well being of their own church, and also the well-being of their pastor. Thanks be to God! But remember, Christ’s Church is bigger than your own slice of the kingdom. We must care for the “least of these, my brothers” who are without adequate pastoral support. What will the Lord say to us if we neglect them at such a time as this?
  3. You are a congregation with resources – thanks be to God! Those resources can be used in supporting smaller, rural congregations with leadership – pastoral, musical, educational, or otherwise.
  4. This will make pastors a bit busier, but it is good to be busy for the sake of the Kingdom of God! Of course, one must weigh the demands of two (or more) congregations appropriately. Pastors can’t be everywhere and do everything. This means the hub church will be willing to receive a little less attention from their pastor(s) because they are sharing it with another church.
  5. It will be important for the membership of the hub church to know what their pastor(s) are doing at the spoke church. They are invested too and need to be kept in the loop.

For the spoke church:

  1. Help is not on the way. Pastoral shortages, baby-boomer retirements, and a myriad of other issues have brought us to where we are today. Grieve it and move on. This is one model (hub and spoke) which might be able to make things work given the current circumstances.
  2. God loves your church, no matter what size. You exist to glorify God where you are at. God also loves bigger churches too. They can help you. Never be ashamed to ask for help from your brothers and sisters in Christ.
  3. Having pastoral support is essential for keeping vitality in a church. Churches can flounder without a shepherd or waiting for one. If you are a rural church, you know how long it takes to get a pastor and chances are, depending on your denominational affiliation, you are low on the priority list. Be proactive – find a larger congregation in your vicinity that might be willing to share their pastor. You never know unless you ask!
  4. If you do connect with a bigger church, know that the primary loyalty of the pastor will be to the congregation they are called to. Don’t expect this pastor to now devote 40 hours a week to your congregation. An agreed upon contract will make clear what you can and cannot expect from a pastor or a pastoral team.
  5. Be willing to be flexible to make things work. If you want a pastor to preach and preside at the Supper, changing the time you worship, even if you’ve worshiped at that time for the past 50 years, might be necessary.
  6. You have resources too! Partnering with a larger church does not now mean their pastor is cheap labor. Be as heavily invested in this partnership as possible. Be generous in how you compensate the larger church in their pastoral support of your congregation. You may not be able to compensate a full-time, benefits included pastor, but you just might enable the larger church to do that very thing. Everyone wins!
  7. Remember what is central for the Church: Receiving Jesus Christ and the gifts He gives in Word and Sacrament. Your worship life will have a renewed sense of importance because of this partnership. Worship will be the main area of concentration for the pastor who is helping you out.

Remember, we are not entering uncharted territory. Nor are we entering into unprecedented times. The Church has weathered far worse challenges than what we face today. This doesn’t make light of the current struggles but puts it into perspective. It is God’s will that His Church grow and flourish. May this good and gracious will of God be done among us as we look at newer (or older!) models of making ministry happen.

Devotion for Monday, December 4, 2017

“They return at evening, they howl like a dog, and go around the city.  They wander about for food and growl if they are not satisfied.”  (Psalm 59:14-15)

Many live for the physical pleasures this life can give: wandering in the night and satisfying the lusts of the body like unthinking animals.  But you have been awakened to the truth of the Lord who lives forever.  Will you continue wandering like an animal or come into the presence of the One who created you?  This is the offer of salvation, that you would know the Lord who knows you.

Lord, I do spend my days wandering trying to figure things out while simply seeking to satisfy the longings of the physical realm.  Take my mind and awaken it to the reality of eternity that I would pursue what is good and right.  Lead me in the way I should go and then help me move in that direction.  Lift me up out of the pit and set my feet upon the path of righteousness.

Lord Jesus You have come to save as many as would be saved through Your grace.  Bring my mind, body and soul into the salvation You offer and help me walk in the ways You have established.  Keep me close to You now and always that I may walk in the salvation of the righteous.  Keep me from living like a mere animal and seeking the better portion.  Amen.

Devotion for Friday, November 24, 2017

“The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth.  They have venom like the venom of a serpent; like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers, or a skillful caster of spells.”  (Psalm 58:3-5)

The Lord knows those who are His.  From the womb I knew you, says the Lord.  In the mystery of why some and yet not others, there is the truth that there are those who are estranged and will remain so their whole life.  Yes, we may ponder, but heed the warning.  Look only to the Lord and walk with Him all the days of Your life.  He alone is fully trustworthy.

Lord, grant that I may recognize those who would lead me astray.  Guide me in the way of truth that You have established from the beginning.  Help me at all times to be aware that I need Your grace and mercy and the ever-present support of Your Spirit.  Lead me, O Lord, and grant that I willingly follow where You lead.  Help me now and always to turn to You first in all things.

Lord Jesus, You have fought the good fight for us and although the war is over, the rebellion rages on.  Guide me in Your goodness to walk in Your ways all the days of my life.  Lead me, O Lord, that I may be led where You would have me go.  Help me now and always to look to You as the source of truth and salvation.  Keep me from being deceived by those who lie and use deceit. Amen.

Devotion for Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“Awake, my glory!  Awake, harp and lyre!  I will awaken the dawn.  I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations.”  (Psalm 57:8-9)

Look around and what do you see?  Does not the sun come up each morning?  Is not the Lord giving all that is needed for life to continue?  Has not the Lord provided for You?  Yes and more.  Awaken, and regardless what is happening around you, see that the Lord is always doing His part in the midst of every time and place.  Give thanks to the Lord for He is good and provides always.

Teach me,O Lord, to sing to You with the work of my hands.  Guide me in those gifts You have given to use them for You always.  Lead me in the way I should go that I may go there.  Open my eyes to see the beauty of the earth and all that is in it.  Let my voice raise in song and my heart swell with praise of Your goodness to all.  May others know that it is You that I praise, O Lord.

Lord and Savior, Jesus, You are leading the way for as many as come through You to the Father.  Guide my thoughts and actions this day that I may see the goodness that is all around in spite of the battle of sin that still rages.  Keep my heart in joy and away from lament, and lead me to sing a sing of praise this day through all that I do.  Help me, O Lord, to walk as You would have me walk.  Amen.

Weekly Devotion for November 15, 2017

“Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18)

St. Paul didn’t act as though he had more than he really had.  He had words, and they were good words.  Words can open minds, console hearts, and change futures.  Words from God, founded on the acts of God, can do even greater things: they can raise the dead.

Here in central Wisconsin, we can know how words work just by looking at the great hunting season that unfolds this month.  Consider how much talk accompanies hunting; think of the photos that people post of their kill to illustrate the stories that they tell.  That conversation encourages hunters in their hope and accompanies them into the woods.

It’s a reflection of the greater glory of Jesus Christ.  His life has authored a deathless word, the Holy Gospel that not only speaks of forgiveness now but also of the world to come.  This holy Word we must steadily proclaim, more and more, to encourage one another and reveal to this present world that there is a happy future to be had.  In the end, that sacred conversation of the Church is the hope that will accompany souls into the woods, however dark the woods may be.

LET US PRAY: Speak, O Lord, we will hear You, for Your Word alone is life.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau

Devotion for Monday, November 13, 2017

“In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.  What can mere man do to me?  All day long they distort my words; all their thoughts are against me for evil.”  (Psalm 56:4-5)

Word twisting is nothing new.  It has been done from the beginning.  Pay attention to what the Lord has said, straight up, and praise Him as you have been created to praise.  Do not mind the ones who distort the truth, but live in the truth of the Word which has been revealed and know that God is good and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Think on God’s goodness.

Lord, all around me are those who seek my acceptance of them and their ways.  Lead me, O Lord, in the way I should go that I would hold fast to Your Word of truth knowing that in You alone is there hope and a future.  Let my lips praise You all the day long and I will forever look only to You as the source of life.  Shield my ears from the false ways of the wicked ones of this world that I may hold fast to Your Word.

Lord Jesus, You have come that I may have life and have it abundantly.  My mind is affected by the twisted words of this world.  Clear my mind to hear the straight truth of Your Word which is from everlasting.  Help me keep things simple and listen to what You have to say.  You are the author and finisher of my faith.  Lead me in the way I should go and I will follow You.  Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2017 Devotion

“Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.  Have the workers of wickedness no knowledge, who eat up My people as though they ate bread and have not called upon God?”  (Psalm 53:3-4)


The corruption in this world has affected everyone.  There are none who are exempt.  The wicked of the world follow after their hearts which are corrupt to pursue what is right in their minds.  Be guided not by the ways of this world, but by the truth of the God who created the world.  Seek not for yourself, but the greater things from the One who made all things.  Do not be consumed, but resume the path to which you have been called by the One who knows all things.


Lord, this world is crazy.  In the guise of something new, the same things happen over and over.  Each generation desires what it wants, not knowing what it really wants.  Let alone what it needs.  Help me, I pray to see through the cloud of confusion the truth that You alone are God and that there is no other.  Help me through Your Holy Spirit to come into the eternal truth of Your presence and purpose.


Lord Jesus, You are the One who has come that as many as turn to You would not be consumed, but through You restored to liberty and life.  Lead me now and always to walk in the ways I should go and not depart from them.  Help me see more clearly each day that I might walk on the narrow path You have set before me.  Through Your grace, enable me to be one who overcomes the adversity of this age.  Amen.