Watch Out For Yourself
by Kel Willis
Interact Magazine 1992
Volume 3 Number 3
He was in his early forties but looked ten years older. Bob’s (not his real name) previous ministries had been much smaller churches, both of which had a strong core of involved people and evident growth during his tine with them.
The three years in his present work had begun with a sense of excitement. Bob and his family had moved to their new location with real anticipation of a long-term, fruitful ministry. The church had a large congregation, was located in a more established area close to a university and young, middle-income couples were moving back into the area.
Bob soon realised that the people had fairly set expectations of the pastor’s role and responsibilities. In fact they felt that most things were the pastor’s responsibility! He also recognised that there were very few effective leaders and there were other areas of glaring deficiency. More and more of the work load fell on him.
He set about trying to meet these needs – all of them! ‘I don’t know when it first began’, he said. ‘I suppose I just drifted into a rut that quickly became a hole, until I was in over my head.‘
Physically and emotionally Bob was at the end of himself. He had long ceased to read or study for his own personal growth and development and most of his sermons were old ones hastily reprepared. Confessing to a spiritual dryness, he said, ‘I’m just going through the motions.’ Added to this Bob’s family life was under considerable strain (he just didn’t have the time) and although numbers had risen significantly, there were evident undercurrents in the church. Bob knew he couldn’t survive much longer without making adjustments to his life and ministry.
I’m sure this story is not unfamiliar to most of you. It’s a scenario being played out in churches all over the country. Pressures such as these are pushing pastors out of the ministry. To survive, my friend had to make critical adjustments, some harder than others, buy he had to regain some level of control in order to responsibly fulfil his calling from God to pastoral leadership.
All effective leaders who both survive and enjoy a long-term ministry have embraced (either consciously or otherwise) important principles. I want to develop some of these over the next few editions of ‘Interact’.
Winston Churchill said, ‘the main thing is to be sure that the main thing continues to be the main thing.’ One of the most difficult things in Christian work is establishing and maintaining priorities. The more committed you are to the work, the greater the pressures and temptation to take on too much and so lose sight of priorities.
One of the most difficult words in the pastor’s vocabulary is the little word ‘no’. We want to be faithful to the calling of God, to meet needs in people’s lives and be acceptable to those to whom we minister. The reality is however that we cannot possibly say yes to everything and survive. Perhaps that’s why Martin Luther is reputed to have said to his students, ‘Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than being able to read Latin.‘
Michael Tucker in his book ‘the church: Change or Decay’ speaks of a time when he found it necessary to apply this principle. Weighed down with a mountain of management work one morning, he was approached by a young man for counselling. ‘In such a situation some leaders piously proclaim that people always come first. But the truth was that if I could not answer those memos, make those decisions, and respond to that correspondence, I would be violating the trust other people had placed in me. Those pieces of paper on my desk represented people as much as that body in my doorway. The decision was not between people and things, buy between people and people. Now this is very important. Some leaders are always available to people who show up at the door, to the detriment of getting management work done. That kind of choice means that other people will be hurt, delayed, discouraged. The second group isn’t as highly visible as the person in the doorway, buy they are there , and management work is ministry to them.’
We do well to remember that the freedom to say yes to the things we ought to be doing often comes from the discipline of saying no to lesser things. I believe that productive, effective ministries flourish when we determine our priorities and say no to anything detracting from them.
Firstly, we must learn to prioritise our personal time.
The constant danger I personally face is that the ‘work of ministry’ will control me, constantly distracting my activities. The problem is that there is always more to do than I have time for and the danger is that I lose sight of that fundamental of all effective ministries – the importance of what God is doing within me. Apostle Paul’s priority was to know God, to experience the resurrection life of Jesus living through him, to actively pursue God’s stated purpose for him to grow to be like Jesus (Phil. 3:10-14, Gal. 1:15, 16). This in essence is what he urged Timothy to embrace in 1 Tim. 6:11: ‘Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love and gentleness’.
When my personal goal is to know Jesus in an ever-increasing way, to be like Him in all aspects of life, other priorities find their own level.
I suspect for many of us there is the need to rediscover the power of the gospel in our own lives. This does not happen without deliberately choosing time out to search the Scriptures in order to allow God to minister to our minds and hearts.
Secondly, we need to embrace priorities in the relational realm.
Most church conflicts centre in human relationships. Indeed one of the major factors in people leaving Christian work is the breakdown in interpersonal relationships. Being a Christian ought to give me a greater capacity of junction relationally. Paul was concerned about this when he said to the Thessalonians, ‘Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.’ He then urged them to increasingly practice love. (1 Thess. 4:9, 10). In fact if we were to take the simple instructions about relating to one another in the Bible and apply them it would revolutionise the church: bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2);provoke one another to love and good works and encourage one another (Heb. 10:24, 25); be concerned about others (Phil. 2:4). Look them all up and begin to put into practice the simple instructions given.
Of course the key to my relationship with others is my walk with God (1 John 1:7). All growth and ability in the spiritual realm comes from God. When we lose sight of that fact we are in danger of espousing a religious philosophy that doesn’t work, wither in our own lives or in those to whom we seek to teach it. Our constant focus should be upon Him.
Being a Christian ought to make me a better husband, father and friend. These relationships form a base from which I go out and minister to others. When there is conflict there, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to be effective in long-term ministry.
Thirdly, we need to establish priorities in our vocational lives.
Thirdly, we need to establish priorities in our vocational lives.
It’s easy to adopt the world’s view that significance is found in things we do, and thus fall into the trap of trying to be successful for the sake of status! True significance, the kind that has lasting impact, is found in the kind of person we are. Timothy was urged to ‘set an example for the believers…’ (1 Tim. 4:12).
Priorities in Christian work should flow out of a sense of who we are in Christ, (a servant of God, called to be like Jesus) and what our primary calling is (pastor, elder, deacon, etc), a recognition of our primary gifts (teaching, evangelism, administration) and from the input of a small group of godly people whom we respect and trust enough to share our hearts with.
It’s important therefore not to try and do everything that ‘needs to be done’ (that’s the pathway to disaster) but to instead determine to do well the things you know are yours from God to do.
If you are a full-time pastor, a major hurdle will be congregational expectations. Usually people’s perceptions of their pastor’s role are based on someone they respected and admired in the past. Whilst we ought to be the very best we can be in the area of ministry God had called us to, we should never try to be the person that people expect us to be out of such unrealistic expectations. Every one of us is deferent, and will bring that difference to our ministry. That’s the body life principle.
The leader who has established clear priorities is better able to regulate his life and ministry. He has a sense of direction that will motivate him to keep going and bring stability into his life as well.
Rev Kel Willis is the Director of Christian Growth Ministries Inc.
© Rev Kel Willis (1 November 1992)