Dr. Don K. Clements, a teaching elder (ordained minister) in the PCA, has over 40 years of ministry experience and for the last 25 has worked with small churches toward revitalization. Under the supervision of Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, he is an Affiliate Evangelist who heads up Metokos Ministries, which provides encouragement for smaller churches.
Christian Renewal: Dr. Clements, where does the word Metokos come from, what does it mean, and how does it apply to your ministry with small churches?
Dr. Don Clements: Metokos is the Greek word in Luke 5:7, referring to the relationship of Jesus’ disciples who owned fishing boats, and is usually translated ‘partner.’ It is not the normal word for partner; however, so its meaning should be drawn from the biblical event. The two fishing boats were two separate family businesses (ministries, if you will) doing similar work. The work was overwhelming in this event, so the ‘partners’ from one boat helped those in the other boat. In today’s vernacular, Metokos is simply those involved in ministry coming alongside others in the same type of ministry. Not a cookie-cutter format for success, not even a consultant. Just sharing ministry ideas that have both failed and worked—and always in different ways.
CR: How small is small? Some online information indicates that any church of less than 200 members would be considered small, but the established churches (not church plants) featured in a current Christian Renewal series consist of less than 20 families. Many frequently have fewer than 50 people in the sanctuary. How does Metokos Ministries define a “smaller” church, and what characteristics might be part of that definition in addition to numerical factors?
DC: The mainline churches, even the relatively new EPC, use the 200 measure. Yes, there are some 200-member churches that need revitalization, but that is rarer than churches with a smaller number. I began this ministry with the word ‘small’ and defined it as less than 100 in attendance. As time went on, I discovered a number of churches in the 150 area that had the same needs, and changed the nomenclature to ‘smaller.’ But at the end of the day, I work with any size church that asks for help—especially in the pastoral search side of the work.
CR: Discussions about smaller churches often revolve around the concept of the church’s health, with many writers promoting the idea that it’s okay for a church to be small as long as it’s healthy. How does the concept of church health factor into the work of Metokos Ministries?
DC: Just as there are some 200-member churches that require revitalization, there can be healthy churches under 100. It is not the norm, but they exist. Revitalization means there is some lack of vitality in the church and the leadership wants to do something about it.
CR: Would it be correct to say that you promote church revitalization by coming alongside churches and helping them get out of maintenance mode to plan and work toward a viable future? And how do you do that?
DC: Absolutely. I am merely a coach and chief cheerleader. My primary work is to do a detailed, professional survey research project for them to determine their core values and major gaps in their ministry and encourage them to form a grass roots team (not a committee) to propose the best ways to deal with the issues in their situation. I do not help them write plans or give them a template.
CR: Some language you use, like vision plan, and practices you advocate, like survey research, sometimes make people nervous or defensive because they hear or see these things as evidences of a business model, which they believe has no place in the church. How does Metokos Ministries differ from a corporate model and how is it biblically-based?
DC: Great question. I am in the process of getting away from the ‘Vision Plan’ language. When I rewrite the Metokos Ministries informational booklet, I will completely make the change because this wording can be a stumbling block. I am a firm believer that this ministry model must be unique. The website has a whole section on Survey Research that your readers may want to check out. As to the corporate model, especially in pastoral searches, I encourage search committees to ditch that old fashioned, non-biblical model and work up an extensive profile of their need and seek only men who fit that profile. I also recommend presenting only one candidate at a time to avoid the ‘beauty contest.’ There are more details on my website on how this works.
CR: What advice would you give to pastors and members of small, struggling churches?
DC: Invariably I get calls from either the pastor or from an elder saying their church needs something done and they don’t know what. Somehow they have heard of me (I do NO direct marketing to churches except at our annual General Assembly where I have a table and distribute one page brochures.) When I get the phone call, I say I’ll send you information and set up a meeting ONLY when both the session and pastor agree that they want to do something like this. I absolutely will not work with one or the other alone.
Now for the advice. There is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting the church lacks vitality in some ways. It’s kind of like a marriage—sometimes it’s healthy to go to a seminar or get a little mentoring. Because to take no action is in fact to take negative action. Things—even churches—don’t get better on their own.
CR: In what specific ways can larger churches with more resources help the small, struggling congregation?
DC: Tough question. If I knew the real answer to that, I could develop a huge ministry. Raising money for this ministry is very, very hard. A few alumni churches support the ministry, at least for a year or so. But most of the support for Metokos Ministries comes from individual donors who ‘get it.’
The above interview by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the October 15, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.