“I feel like I’m being eaten alive by a school of minnows.”
“I felt like I was being stoned to death by popcorn.”
Ask any pastor.
The size of his congregation is immaterial, but my observation is it’s the minister of the medium-sized flock who has it hardest.
The pastor of the tiny church has one well-defined set of jobs and the leader of the mega-congregation another entirely. The first has a few well-defined roles while the latter may have a vast team of helpers so he can put his focus where his gifts are.
It’s the poor pastor in the middle who has little say-so about what he will do today.
The pastor-in-the-middle, that is the shepherd of the church running a 150 up to four or five hundred or more, depending on a thousand things including resources and available helpers, will always have more on his plate than he can get to.
This pastor is the administrator of the church. He is the boss of the employees. He gives direction to everyone who works there. He deals with problems and headaches. He is the counselor for the congregation. He is the hospital visitor and does all the funerals and weddings. He is a member of every committee in the church and as a rule, if he doesn’t call the meeting and attend, nothing gets done. He is the go-to person for every question. He dictates all the letters, or more likely types them himself. He follows up with the visitors and prospects, phoning or visiting them. Meanwhile, he preaches all the sermons and even some of the Sunday School lessons. Add to this one overwhelming fact…
He’s married. He has a wife and children, and they need him. He loves them dearly and is constantly torn because he is not giving them what they need.
Everyone owns a piece of him. Every church member feels he belongs to them and each has a right to call on him. He has no personal time, not days blocked off when he is not available. (And even if he tries to, try that on a congregation where the pastor has ever tried to seclude himself for a day or two a week. Good luck with that.)
The denomination needs him to attend their meetings and sometimes to serve on committees. As a member of the community, he meets with other pastors and leaders from time to time.
His mama needs him. His extended family is calling. Grandpa is in the hospital, Grandma is laid up and unable to look after herself, and the siblings are of little help. So, he’s torn by the younger and the older generation of his family.
He has trouble sleeping because of all the nagging needs which will not leave him alone. When his head hits the pillow, he can think of calls needing returning, sermons needing attention, and problems needing addressing. Meanwhile, his wife has been waiting for this time to communicate to the man she loves.
Sound familiar to anyone?
The tyranny of the urgent
This needs doing and now. Mrs. Jones is on the phone and needs her pastor. The secretary informs the pastor that she has made four appointments for him today, a day he had hoped to hide in the study and prepare Sunday’s sermon. That article needs writing this morning, the mail goes out at 10 and his letters need to be in it, and that ministers’ meeting starts at 11:30.
Now. Here. You. Urgent!
Mark chapter 1 has something for us on this subject.
In the early morning while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. And Simon and his companions hunted for Him, and they found Him, and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’ And He said to them, ‘Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.’ (Mark 1:35-38).
Do not rush past this. It’s the precise lesson we need today. The Lord has spent a tiring evening healing people (1:32-34). Finally, exhausted, He went to bed, then got up early to walk in the hills and talk to the Father. When the disciples managed to run Him down, you can hear the rebuke in their words: “Lord, we have a crowd back at the house. More people for You to heal. You don’t have time for this. Come on!”
But Jesus walked away from needs–real needs, urgent needs–in order to stay with the Father’s agenda for Him. “That is what I came out for,” He said.
Do you know what you “came out for”? Your purpose, your calling.
Start with your calling, your purpose.
What if you clarified in your mind the calling of God on your life and the direction of the ministry to which He summoned you? What if you began to try to refine your ministry and lay aside the lesser things?
That would require a lot of things: time to think and reflect, prayer and prayer and more prayer, discussion with the wife and with a few significant church leaders.
–What can you turn over to other people?
–Are there others in the congregation who can take some of the jobs from you? And can you turn loose of them?
–Can you do this a little at a time so the change is not so abrupt and unnoticed by most of the congregation?
–Can you then put your focus on your strengths, on your true calling, and do them better?
–Then, once you begin to divest yourself of some of the distractions of ministry and free up some time, you will have to decide what will fill the void: time with your family; time to sit in a room quietly and think and pray and study; time to take a daily walk for your exercise.
Creativity is the first casualty.
When you are constantly tired and meeting yourself coming and going, you will not have the time or energy to work on fresh sermons and new directions for your church.
Creativity, it is said, requires a circumference of silence in order to do its best work.
Gordon MacDonald pointed out that the three great banes of our existence these days is hurry, crowds, and noise. Ask any mother, any schoolteacher, any pastor.
The opposite of those three would be stillness, solitude, and silence. They can be such great blessings in the life of a minister, but they do not come easily nor automatically.
You have to choose.
You will have to be pro-active. No one is going to do this for you.
Even if some sensitive soul approaches you with, “Pastor, you’re working too hard and need to make some changes if you’re going to survive,” they cannot take it beyond that. The martyr complex in many a pastor thrives on being needed, feeds on ego affirmation from church members, and depends on the carnal satisfaction of feeling worthy because “I’m so busy.” All of that is unworthy of a child of God. You will walk by faith and live in the Spirit or work in the flesh and be constantly trying to earn God’s love and everyone’s approval. You have to decide.
It’s up to you. No one will make you rest.