I had a side job recently that should have been a dream job. I was paid very well. The man I answered to was the nicest guy in the world. It was within my abilities and yet was stretching me a bit. But honestly, I couldn’t wait to get out of that job.
As nice as my boss was, he answered to someone and he felt constant pressure to produce. Despite his best efforts, that pressure translated to me. It felt like we had jumped out an airplane and were expected to make a parachute on the way down.
The lesson I want you to draw from this little anecdote is this: pressured people pressure people.
Some of the most pressured people I know are pastors. Too often, they feel like it is their responsibility to build a kingdom or to do some “great” work. Like the responsibility to win the world for Christ is on their shoulders, personally.
I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are doing this for the right reasons. No doubt there are many pressured pastors who sincerely are burdened for the world around them and maybe let that get to an unhealthy level. I know from personal experience, however, that much of that pressure comes from the ego and ambition.
I don’t think that’s a healthy place and I don’t think it’s what God wants from us pastors. A lot of this comes from the Bible college experience. In many schools the graduating would be pastors assume they’ll be preaching at a church of two hundred plus before they hit thirty. That’s the low bar. The real challenge (so they think) will be hitting a thousand or more. The actual truth is that of the 300,000 or so evangelical churches in the united states, only about 30,000 run two hundred or more. Actually, only about 60,000 will even run more than 100. 80% of pastors will pastor churches with less than 150 members.
I was walking about this recently with a good friend who knows A TON of pastors and he mentioned that the preachers who don’t seem stressed out are the ones who don’t feel like it’s their job to build a huge church. Together we came to the conclusion that happy and contented pastors focus on faithfulness in three areas and let the work of the building of the church to Jesus.
These three areas of pastoral faithfulness are:
Our first and main responsibility as pastors is to preach the word and feed our sheep. This takes work! I’ve said before that it’s like writing two research papers every week, then delivering them orally to the same “we’ve heard this before” crowd over and over again.
This doesn’t just happen, we have to put the hours in. The camp meal doesn’t just happen. You have to gather and prepare and serve. Then gear up to do it again in a couple of days.
This is the area I’m working most at right now. I’m a natural introvert who is painfully shy and conflict avoidant. My office is a safe space. But the shepherd should smell like the sheep and this doesn’t just happen. We have to work at it.
For me, I’ve been trying to visit people every day and to do two to three lunch or coffee appointments with men in my church every week. I’ve just been chatting with them about what is going on in their life, what special prayer requests they might have, and finding out their story and how they came to Christ.
I’ve only been doing this a short time, but it’s been super helpful to me and my view of our church. People will tell me stuff over coffee they wouldn’t ever get the chance to share in a service.
But just like preaching, I have to work at it. It won’t just happen.
Finally, we need to be faithful to prayer. As the pastor, I probably know more about people’s real prayer requests (and the things they should be praying about) than anyone else in my church. I need to pray for my people, every day, several times a day.
Preaching, People, and Prayer. The truth is you can be faithful to these three things and pastor a church of 1,000 or a church of 100. It doesn’t matter. I believe the preacher who is faithful in these three areas will be viewed by God as successful.
I also think that these things are stress enough without us adding to them with our own ambition.
Pressured people pressure people. If I feel pressured to build a huge church on top of preaching, people and prayer I’m going to pass that pressure on to others. But if I’m content to be faithful in the ministry God has given me, it’s going to make being a part of our ministry so much easier.