10 ways a pastor can know he’s lazy

My friend and mentor Dr. James Richardson used to tell of a neighboring pastor who constantly griped about how busy he was.  “That was the laziest preacher on the planet,” said James.

In reflecting on over sixty years of service in the Kingdom, I suspect that what sometimes comes across as laziness is more a lack of focus.  When a minister goes through his days without a clear purpose other than reacting to everything that comes up, he will accomplish so little that he and others may see him as lazy.

Here are a few ways a minister can tell he is lazy.  (Synonyms would include apathetic, lethargic, sluggish, slothfulness.  But “lazy” communicates, doesn’t it?)

1. Procrastination. You cannot bring yourself to do the unpleasant tasks, but keep putting off the difficult tasks.

I’ve read that successful people in the business world determine to tackle the hardest, most unpleasant jobs first. They get them out of the way so they can enjoy the rest of their day.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

That would take a self-discipline many of us lack.

2. Impatience. You will not do any ministry that is not easy or does not have an immediate payoff.

If that family down the street says they want to join my church, okay, I’ll go see them. However, if they do not go to church and show no signs of ever wanting to, and a friend suggests we call on them, the lazy pastor will beg off. He just cannot bring himself to do it.

When my daughter lived in a small New Hampshire town, one day I walked with my granddaughters to the Baptist church two blocks down the street.  I informed a staff member that the daddy had no interest in church and the mother, my daughter, was working and going to school all the time, but these children would love church. And they needed a loving congregation.  When I returned home to New Orleans, I wrote that pastor two letters.  Not only did I never get a response, no one ever reached out to my family.  I confess I find it hard to imagine how these people thought they were serving God.  In my mind, they were working for a paycheck and little else. Am I being too harsh?  Maybe so.

3. Drudge. You see most of your ministry as a job.

At this point, someone will ask, “Well, why would a man go into the ministry if he doesn’t like the work expected of a pastor?” Good question. I’ve wondered that myself.

My observation is that the slothful shepherd gets no joy out of hospital visitation, crisis ministry, office administration, staff meetings, or sermon preparation. If he does them at all, his heart isn’t in it and that is apparent to all. He will rush into the hospital room, barely make eye contact, utter a few cliches, offer a prayer, and be on his way, mopping his brow, no doubt, and relieved to have done it.

The fact is that many parts of the pastor’s job are difficult to most pastors, and they have to train and discipline themselves to do them. I never enjoyed counseling, and yet after enduring a year of marital counsel with my wife, and after coming through a difficult job-ending time with one church, I finally felt qualified to counsel people with problems. It’s still draining–physically and emotionally–but it’s what a shepherd does. More than once in a counseling situation I have felt to myself, “I love this.  But it is exhausting!”

4. Immaturity. You are glad to find any excuse to get out of doing your ministry.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I will not be able to do that funeral. I have something else on my calendar.”

Some funerals a pastor can get out of. The deceased was not a member of his congregation, or the beloved former pastor is able to drive back to town for the services. But in most cases, the pastor should try to do the funeral of church members who die. Even if the former pastor assists, or another pastor participates, a man of God will want to be there ministering to his people. This is simply your place.

I am not suggesting the minister should skip his child’s ball games for every church committee meeting. But he will make sure to cover the essential aspects of his ministry. If he has additional ministers on his staff, he should not try to do everything himself, but involve them.

Years ago, I was attending my first session of our International Mission Board trustees when a member of my church died.  Flying home to Mississippi from North Carolina for the funeral would have been difficult and would have made me miss the meeting.  So, my assistant did the funeral.  The family assures me to this day that that was the right call, but I still have trouble forgiving myself.  Perfectionism dies hard; ask any minister.

5. Shallowness. You do not want to study for your sermons. You’d rather find a good sermon in print or on-line and preach it.

Preaching someone else’s sermon is not ever a good idea. Granted, the Lord may speak to us through someone else’s sermon and that could even furnish a great idea or even the bulk of our own message. But our sermon absolutely must come from the Lord through our own prayer and study, not from a book or website.  See Jeremiah 23:30ff. This is non-negotiable.

6. Addictions. You cannot pull yourself away from the television, the computer, the golf course, or your hobby to do the work expected of a pastor.

No one minds the pastor playing golf so long as he is faithfully doing the work God called him to and for which they are employing him. Everyone needs recreation.

Okay, someone will always “mind” you spending an afternoon on the links or your morning at the gym. But if you know you are on top of your work, and if your leadership team is supportive, ignore the criticism and do what you need to do to take care of your health and your sanity.

But, beware of excessive personal indulgence.

7. Guilt. You feel guilty a lot. That’s a good sign, incidentally, if you are not doing your job for any reason. 

One evidence we are children of God, according to Hebrews 12:6, is that the Lord chastens whom He loves. So, if we are rebellious or neglectful and saved, the Holy Spirit is going to make us know it. That oppressive weight we feel in our hearts and spirits? That’s the Lord calling us to the fields.

8. Majoring on minors. You omit doing the more important ministries in order to stay with some tiny aspect of the work which you find more interesting.

I once knew a pastor who told the church he would never be present on Wednesday night for prayer meetings because he coached a Little League team that played on those nights. He did not last long at that church.  When he told me about it–before the church released him–he was almost boastful that he was ministering in the community and letting his self-centered members fend for themselves. Even if he was right–and that’s open for debate–his people did not buy it.

9. Advisors. Ask your wife or a great friend in the congregation (or on your staff) whether or not you are lazy. If they hesitate and search for the right words to respond to you, you have your answer.

Don’t argue with them.  Thank them, then get to work.  If necessary, find a good pastoral counselor or your mentor and talk this out.

10. Barrenness. The lazy pastor will not be sowing seed, cultivating the growth of his people, or reaping a harvest in the lives of the congregation. He wonders where the fruit is which the Lord promised.

I went by the field of a slacker and by the vineyard of a man lacking sense. Thistles had come up everywhere, weeds covered the ground, and the stone wall was ruined.

I saw, and took it to heart; I looked and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest, and your poverty will come like a robber, your need, like a bandit. (Proverbs 24:30-34).

Laziness is a spiritual problem.

Laziness may have its roots in a hundred other things, but underneath it all, there is rebellion against God.

As with all rebellion, the answer is repentance and commitment.

I suggest pastors–and all believers–start the day with a time with the Lord.  Start early, get past the routine stuff quickly, and then, talk to the Father about the day ahead.  Ask, commit, and listen.  God bless you, pastor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.