The job description and expectations for a pastor in a small church, can vary greatly. Among the indisputables are preaching, teaching, and some form of counseling/discipleship. Wouldn’t it be great if the list ended there? I know at our church the list includes, media, buildings and grounds, maintenance, social organizer, occasional worship leader, and more. It can feel like nothing happens without me and so I need to be present and involved in everything. Over the eleven years I’ve served as pastor, I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is create some margin in my life by backing off and letting someone else do things.
When I was first called as pastor in 2004 we had about five families in our church for a total of roughly 20 people (including the children). Needless to say I was doing almost everything from preaching to leading worship, to mowing the grass and printing bulletins. People would help on a work day (if I scheduled it), but the everyday functions fell on me. We did eventually see growth, but I had already settled in my heart that if something was going to be done, I had to do it. In turn, I began training my people that they didn’t have to do anything but show up because the pastor would take care of all the heavy lifting. In theory I understood and wanted to empower the church (people), but in practice I kept it all to myself. It wasn’t until some very faithful people looked me in the face and asked, “What can we do? We need a place to serve in our church.” that I began to realize the danger of how I was leading.
It can be a little scary letting go of things. All kinds of questions start to creep their way in, and believe me, they are all from the pit of hell: “What if they do it wrong?” “What if it doesn’t get done?” “What if something happens and I’m not there to handle it?” “What if people leave because we don’t have…?” You see, the problem with these questions is that it puts you, the pastor, and the center of church life. You are the standard by which you measure whether something is “done right” or not; you are the lynchpin that makes the church go round; you are the only one capable of doing things and handling issues that arise. I know, it feels that way. I know, history feeds the lie and our perception is that the lie is true, but it’s not. This is God’s church. That may sound trite if you’re struggling in trying to get people to step up and serve within the church but it is a reality that cannot be perverted or neglected. Jesus is the head of the church, not you. The Holy Spirit causes the church to live and move and have its being, not you. If something doesn’t get done, God is neither surprised nor disappointed–He’s got this. Maybe that task is just not as vital as you think.
We will spend ourselves utterly and jeopardize our health, our families, and our walk with God over accomplishing tasks for the church without even prayerfully discerning if any of those tasks are even worth it. Jesus taught about counting the cost in Luke 14 and described how both builder and king would sit down and figure out what needed to be done and what it would take to do it. I think most of the time we just do what we assume needs to be done based on what everyone else is doing and we don’t consider what God really wants for us. We burn out and burn up trying to make our little church run like a big church rather than running the race set before us. Ecclesiastes 4:6 says, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” In other words work smarter, not harder. Don’t kill yourself chasing after what cannot be caught.
Here’s the thing, God commanded a sabbath rest and we totally neglect that…in Jesus’ name. We labor “for God” when God commanded margin–space in our lives to rest, breathe, and enjoy his presence. Will God honor our disobedience? I know that Jesus is our sabbath rest. That means no more striving in him, we are saved by grace. But we still strive as if we have to perform well and grow God’s church for him in order to be loved, accepted, and approved by God. The best thing you can do for God is obey and be sure you have room to rest. Some things won’t get done, but the world will still turn, service will still happen on Sunday (even if there’s no bulletin), and God will be glorified–perhaps more so with true surrender.
As you let go of tasks and duties others get involved. Maybe it takes a while, maybe people have been chomping at the bit to contribute, but others will get involved. That always enriches a church. Pastor, you have to let go of the illusion that the survival of the church depends on you. You have been called to serve the church, not sacrifice yourself to it as though it is some kind of idol. It’s taken me years to get over that hump, but it’s getting easier to let go. We have a good core of people who get things done. We still need help. Instead of just me thinking I have to do everything, now there is a group of us who feel that way. We’ll have to move past that together as we innovate how we do things, but that’s small church life–it’s actually a wonderful growing experience. Always growing pains, but always worth it!
I’d like to offer some practical tips to hand things off, lay things down, and get people involved. First, pray about what you’re doing. It may be that some tasks are not essential and really don’t need to be done. Make time to check in with God. Next, though general announcements are great, ask people face to face if they can help with a task. Complainers are great targets for this as they obviously already have ideas on how things could be done better. Thirdly, force yourself to take a day off. Tell the congregation that they can call each other if they need something, or send an email that you’ll answer the next day, but you are no good to them burned out and resentful, so draw that boundary! The best thing you can do for your congregation is to be a good steward of your healthy and family … because if you can’t do that, how can you expect to take proper care of someone else?