If there are any of you out there reading this who are also pastors, I think you’ll resonate with this.
Let me be clear. I’m not here to whinge. quite the opposite in fact. I’m tired of reading research articles all over the internet about the stresses of ministry whilst no one seems to be explicit about what we can all do to make churches better. Let me put it another way, it’s not fair to moan about church stuff if you haven’t been appropriately honest with people about things that they may have no idea are happening. Everywhere.
So let’s just be honest.
People really want to be heard. We all do. One of the ways I’m convinced that this expresses itself in a church context are those comments to the effect of “you’ve really got to read this new book I found, listen to this podcast or see this video on youtube.” I think we do this because we want to impress people. I know I tend to name-drop more around people I think are ‘ahead of me in the ministry game. (Told you I was going to be honest!)
Most of the time it’s really good. But it is exactly that: content. More content in a world of content and ministry is almost nothing but content. The more content there is the more it tends to swallow time like the very hungry caterpillar. This ironically occurs in the midst of people writing more and more, you guessed it; content, about how all our Christian content isn’t deepening our discipleship very well.
But at the same time, there are times when I feel guilty, sometimes very guilty about how I’m using my time. I always want to make sure that the people that give so generously to our church know full well but I’m working really hard for them. (Hands down at the back there, I know it’s for Jesus, but do our structures, conversations, and working theories of church convey that?) Sometimes, according to my wife, like all pastors, I work a little too hard, I feel and fight the lure of replacing time with God with work for God. In those seasons I’ve always noticed my decisions get worse.
I’ve made some crap decisions.
I’ve also made some decisions that were right.
People tend to like the crap ones better, the right ones are often too theologically challenging.
Yep, your pastor will often feel duty-bound to keep their nose at the grindstone and he or she never wants a member of their church to ever catch them slacking off. But they need people that support them by telling them when to slow down. Because sometimes human beings are unable to put the periscope up from their own perspective for long enough to know what needs to be done. Or not done.
They’ll struggle to recognize the need to pull back a little especially when they get the sense people aren’t happy with them.
So, if you are a church member out there here is probably the best gift that you can give to your pastor on Sunday morning. Walk up to them and say something like this:
“I have a book that I’d like you not to read, I have a podcast that I’d like you to avoid listening to. In fact, there’s a really great YouTube video that I think you should give a miss. That reminds me, I was going to bring up an issue with someone that I need your help with, but I don’t want your help anymore, because I actually know what needs to be done and I’ve decided to just get on to it. But, however long it takes you to not engage in more content and whatever time you think is saved by not dealing with my issue that you think I’ve got in my head, I want you to take that time, drive out to a park, beach or a lake and sit still and be with God. If you want to pray for me while you’re there you can, but as someone who is generously giving to this church, I want to make sure that we are being shepherded by someone who is spiritually healthy. I want to make sure you’ve got time to pray for people here other than me.”
One last thing. To those who are not pastors but church members, if you take up my challenge in whatever church you are in, I would expect something of a tussle. Your suggestion may get laughed off, or at best, your pastor might look at the ground sigh, and say “I’ll try to do that.”
Don’t stand for this overpolite nonsense. In fact, call it out. Don’t take ‘maybe’ for an answer. Don’t leave the conversation until they give you their word that they will indeed do exactly what you’ve asked them to do that week. because trust me, underneath the attempted brush off and the wrestle, they will be deeply deeply deeply thankful.
I’d like to thank Matt Whitman for his excellent video that fell into my lap on a low day once: https://youtu.be/COpk09UBXyM