I read an article by Jen Hatmaker in the Washington Post titled, “How a Consumer Culture Threatens to Destroy Pastors.” While I agree that our culture is a threat to pastors, I wondered whether we place too much emphasis on culture and not enough on our need to create boundaries and realistic expectations. (This spoken from a minister.) What if we looked at ourselves and asked, “How do I make ministry harder than it needs to be?” Below are five ways:
1. It Feels Good to Be Needed
Ministers love to be loved. And one of the best ways to be loved is to feel needed. Yes, I’ll teach Bible study; yes, I’ll preach 45+ Sundays a year; yes, I’ll visit everyone in the church every month. Congregants love these ideas and pastors (myself included) love to be needed.
2. We Think Ministry Only Happens When We Are Present
It is a hard pill to swallow when a minister sees a successful ministry that s/he isn’t leading/creating/nurturing. This speaks to our need to be needed and how we often assume (we all know what that word means) we need to be the leaders/facilitators/guides for every ministry.
3. We’ve Ignored The Invitation of The Statistics of Decline
We all know that church membership and pledges are in decline, but that hasn’t stopped us from continuing to do church the way we always have. Even with diminishing budgets and declining membership, we still maintain an understanding of church that requires certain things (programs, ministries, staff).
4. We Love To Feel Busy
Ministry is a lonely profession (something we don’t talk about very much!), so when we are offered an opportunity to do something with congregants we jump at it because we will be with people. We also (subconsciously or not) believe that if we are doing something with someone then we are working. This stems from a cultural understanding that “ministers only work one hour a week,” something we hate to hear. Instead of addressing it, we pile on things to do to combat that sentiment.
5. We Were Trained to Be Servants
The reality of ministry is that we are called to be servants and that means we serve others. We often hear (or use) the phrase, “God first, others (usually family) second and me last.” That is a pithy way to think about ministry, but it sets up an unhealthy paradigm if we rarely move past serving God and others. The health of ministers is horrendous. Simply Googling, “Statistics on Ministers Leaving the Ministry” reveals sobering statistics (many of which Hatmaker points out). This bevy of stats almost overwhelmed me. As much as our call is to serve others, we must also learn to care for ourselves.
It’s time ministers and churches discuss the realities of ministry. My invitation is for pastors and Sessions (or whatever governing body leads your church) to sit down and—as Hatmaker suggests—be vulnerable and real with each other.
- Have a conversation with your church (or with your pastor if you are a congregant).
- Set realistic boundaries that all parties can maintain.
- Make public these boundaries so people know and can respect them.
- Communicate often (an annual review is not enough). This allows you to hold each other accountable to your agreed upon boundaries.
- And most importantly, focus on God, you and your church and not on what culture is doing.
Are there other ways we make ministry harder? Are there other invitations you’d offer?