Thom Rainer’s blog (thomrainer.com) is a must-read for any Southern Baptist pastor. Every post has factual, practical wisdom based on both sound research and biblical principles. (Send the check to my church address, Dr. Rainer).
His latest post buttresses a statement my dad used to make about a study done years ago, showing the unrealistic expectations of congregations on their pastors. This one was performed by Dr. Rainer himself with his deacons at a church he served previously. It is entitled, “How Many Hours Must a Pastor Work to Satisfy the Congregation?” – the title pretty much tells it all. Here is what Dr. Rainer found.
An experiment I tried several years ago, though, might prove instructive. When I was a pastor in St. Petersburg, Florida, I gave a survey to the twelve deacons in the church (I jokingly said we had eleven good deacons and one Judas!). I listed several congregational responsibilities and asked them to share the minimum amount of time I should average in each area each week. I listed about twenty areas; but they were free to add other responsibilities to the blank lines.
I’m not sure exactly what I was anticipating. I just know that I was shocked when I tallied the results. In order to meet those twelve deacons minimum expectations I had to fulfill the following responsibilities each week:
- Prayer at the church: 14 hours
- Sermon preparation: 18 hours
- Outreach and evangelism: 10 hours
- Counseling: 10 hours
- Hospital and home visits: 15 hours
- Administrative functions: 18 hours
- Community involvement: 5 hours
- Denominational involvement: 5 hours
- Church meetings: 5 hours
- Worship services/preaching: 4 hours
- Other: 10 hours
Total: 114 hours/week
Okay, guys, no problem there, right? All we have to do is work 16 hours per day, 7 days a week to satisfy the congregation. I’ve got this. I’ll just slip into this booth over here, don my Super-pastor costume, adjust my cape and I am on my way. Or, if I want a day off, all I’m required to do is work 19 hours a day the other 6 days. Someone with my superpowers needs little sleep anyway.
I’m not sure that every church has the same level of expectations as Dr. Rainer’s church had, but the expectations of members can be a little unrealistic and oppressive. Being in the ministry is stressful in many ways. But I find that the greatest stress is this:
No matter how much work you do, there is always more left undone. You never finish the work. You never do everything you could have done. You never satisfy everyone. In 32 years of full-time Christian ministry, I have never once completed everything on my to-do list.
Time management and ministry efficiency have always been a struggle for me. But in my decades in Christian ministry, I’ve learned few lessons I’d like to share with you, especially you young whippersnapper pastors who are new in the member-satisfaction game.
1) Realize for whom you work.
I have worked for 4 churches in the 32 years of my ministry – one in Florida, one in Virginia, and two in Iowa over the last 23 years. But I tell people I’ve worked for the same company for 32 years, just in different local offices. Yes, my paychecks have changed but ultimately, I work for the same boss. I am not advocating that pastors refuse to be accountable to their local churches (I will argue the opposite below), but I think it is important for us to remember who the real boss is.
It is great when everyone loves me (what’s not to love, right?). But there is one Boss to whom I answer, One to whom I will give account. It is my duty to be faithful to him, not to meet the expectations of my congregation. It is naive to think that if I obey God, everyone will like me. It didn’t work for anyone in the Bible, why should it work for me. Every prophet had enemies. Paul encountered enemies, even inside the church, everywhere he went. Why should we be any different.
It is not just rhetoric to say that we must live for the pleasure of God. We must be faithful to him. We must be led by God and have our agenda set by him. If people are upset or are critical, okay. That never feels good, but we must learn to live with people not liking us or disapproving of us. You won’t last long in ministry if you need everyone to like you, approve of you or support you. We must be led by God in everything, not controlled by the opinions of church members.
2) Listen to your people, even your critics.
Having said what I said in the first point, I balance that here. We need to hear our people, listen to their grievances and allow them to fully express their opinions. Ministry is not just delivering articulate sermons on Sunday, it is ministering to hurting people. The sheep need a shepherd. Good shepherds listen to the bleating of the sheep and try to help them.
No, we do not allow the sheep to control us. We do not live for their approval. But neither do we ignore their bleating. A wise pastor hears criticisms and responds in a godly, loving way. He does not ignore it, or strike back at those who criticize or react in defensive anger against it. He listens, takes it to the Real Boss, and responds in humility.
3) A well-fed people is a happy people.
I got this piece of wisdom from an older pastor when I was a younger pastor, and I am thankful for it every day.
Each of us has strengths and weaknesses in our ministries. But if you feed your people well, they will tend to be patient with and overlook other faults. If your people are spiritually hungry, they will get angry about everything!
There is a lot more to ministry than preaching, but the proclamation of the Word is at the heart of all we do. I think the most important and effective discipleship program in the church is consistent biblical preaching over time.
I have a plethora of ministry weaknesses. I think I have a few strengths, but my weaknesses probably outweigh those. This piece of advice has aided me, though. I have endeavored to preach the Word weekly from my pulpit, and by and large, people have been patient, kind and forgiving about my faults because of this.
4) Love the sheep and they will generally love you back.
I used to find this old saw annoying.
People will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
That’s because I had more knowledge than I did compassion or empathy. People picked up on that. As God changed my heart and I began to be more loving, compassionate and empathetic to those I pastor (not claiming perfection here – not even close) people have responded better to what i preach.
Love, by the way, is not just giving out hugs and flattering people from the pulpit. That’s not love, that is self-serving. True love is putting the needs of the Body ahead of your own needs. It means sacrifice. It means being insulted and not insulting back. It means being wronged but responding with right. It means being there for people when they need you.
I would say that there are two things every pastor needs to do. First, preach the Word. Second, love the sheep. Everything else is gravy.
5) Get a well-written job description and policies.
The anti-institutional bent of the current generation might lead us to view policies, job-descriptions and such things as passe and unnecessary. I used to disdain such things. But if you tell me today, “Pastor, you are not doing your job,” I can take you to a document that defines (in what we believe is a biblical framework) exactly what I am contracted to do. I can say, “what is it that I am not doing?”
If someone thinks the job description isn’t biblical, fine. They can go to our admin team and recommend changes. But I am not subject to every members’ whims. I have a detailed job description that governs my employment.
It may not be hyper-spiritual to say, but (well-written, biblical) policies and procedures are our friends!
6) Don’t feed the monster!
Let’s admit it, brother-pastor. Our egos are our enemies. We often operate out of ego; desiring to be indispensable in our congregations. We are too often threatened when someone else gets credit or praise for what they do.
But if I don’t want to work 116 hours a week, we have to share the load and share the credit. We have to admit we do not have superpowers, cannot do everything and that we do need help. And, we have to share the credit for that work.
I have an associate pastor who handles a lot of the shepherding duties at the church. He visits the hospitals (I do too, but he probably takes 60% of that burden) and keeps in touch with our sick, injured and homebound members. Again, I try not to ignore this, but he does the bulk of the work. That means that very often, members’ primary pastoral attachment is to him. He gets asked to do funerals a lot. I have to admit that, a time or two, the fact that members turn to him in times of need feels bad. “If you were a good pastor,” says my self-recriminating inner voice, “they would come to you!”
Do I feed my ego? Do I try to be all things to all people? Or do I share the load and share the credit?
Having struggled with this myself, and having watched others and talked to them, I am convinced that our own egos sometimes feed this expectations monster that we then complain about!
When you are building your ministry team, don’t choose people who think like you, have the same gifts and abilities. Look for people who are different – different gifts, different abilities, different ministry goals. Where you are weak, they can be strong. That whole 1 Corinthians 12 thing really works!
7) Hey, Kobe, pass the ball!
Fair warning – I’m not a Lakers’ fan. Used to be, but Kobe turned me in another direction. I don’t like his selfishness. I like those players who pass the ball! Piggy-backing on my last point, we need to be team players as pastors. I have weaknesses and so do you. Recognize those and find people who are strong where you are weak.
I had been in Cedar Rapids for over 14 years when my current church contacted me about becoming pastor. God’s leading was strong here and within a couple of months, I was leaving my hometown and the church I had labored to build and I was headed west to Sioux City. It confused me. I was fairly sure I would retire as pastor of Northbrook and did not understand why God led me away.
I understood it when we had a meeting the week after I resigned. One man, a close friend, said, “Dave, this church is going to go to nothing now that you are leaving.” That is flattering to the flesh but horrifying to the Spirit. God was jealous for the glory of his church and I was in the way. It was never my intent and I never tried to make everything revolve around me, but over 14 years it happened. I held the ball and took too many of the shots myself. My scoring average looked pretty good, but the team was not winning.
Build a good ministry team (pastoral and voluteer) and give real ministry assignments to them! Give them responsibility, hold them accountable, and let them get about the work (and even get the credit when it is due).
8) Avoid the bragging game.
This may be more of a personal gripe, but since I’m writing the post, I get to gripe. It seems that some of my pastor friends use social media to brag about how wonderful they and their churches are. I know, I know… you are just “giving God the glory” and all, but it comes across as bragging, as hype. And I think it feeds the monster.
The more we hype, the more we are required to hype.
9) Tell the People the Truth.
My daughter attends a Christian college that is going through a lot of transition and because of that there is tremendous turmoil and trouble among the students. And the administration tells them nothing. They get controlled information that is more public relations than it is truth. Everyone knows something significant is going on but no one knows what it is.
Too many churches treat their own people with Jack Nicholson-type disrespect. “You can’t handle the truth.” Of course, there is a place for confidentiality, but it is better, most of the time, to be open, honest and truthful with your people.
Years ago, in a previous church, our treasurer left in a huff, accusing me of fraud on the way out. We didn’t even have the password to the accounting software. We opened what we had of our books to a professional (who exonerated us from the fraud charges – said we weren’t even in gray areas) and tried to help us figure out our books. For most of year, we were wandering in the dark.
We could have tried to hide this from the people and pretend nothing was wrong. Or, we could do what we did. We went to business meetings month after month and said, “We’ve got a mess. Here’s what we think is happening, and we are doing all we can to figure out what is really going on. Please be patient.” There was not even the smallest problem in the church. We told the people the truth and found that they could handle it pretty well.
Another gem of wisdom from my dad:
And informed people is a happy people.
10) Beware the tyranny of the urgent.
If you haven’t read Charles Hummel’s classic pamphlet, “The Tyranny of the Urgent”, then you need to get it and read it today. He says that there are two kinds of tasks that we must do. There are important things – things that matter in eternity. And the there are urgent things – things that must be done today. Here is the thesis of the book:
Those things that are important are seldom urgent. Those things that are urgent are seldom important. Don’t waste your life doing only what is urgent. Make sure you do that which is important too.
Often, your member’s demands and expectations fall into the urgent category. They are not eternally important, but they must be done today. Don’t let the urgency of those demands crowd out the eternal work of God!
I keep thinking of more stuff I should add here, but I think I will stop now. You can interact with my views, add your own. I may even edit a little along the way.
What say you?