Thom Rainer writes a blog that I read. Today, I came across this post, which resonates true in my experience. Looking at this list, I realized why I sometimes had struggles in my two congregations with traditionally ministry oriented people in those congregations. I tended to be on the outside ministry side of the scale. What I mean is, look below at # 2, # 6 and # 9. I spent over 50% of my time with non-members, and out in the community. It paid off, cause over the years those people came to the churches I served. But, all that time meant I gave less attention to visiting with the members. That got me in trouble sometimes. But we make choices in ministry. #9 was equally tough. I paid more attention to the decisions that had impact on the longer term ministry of the church. I sacrificed the short term for the long term. This was also hard for people in the churches, because we human beings are near term results oriented.
It strikes me that pastoral ministry is a tension between an inward focus and an outward focus. The challenge for clergy is that the congregation pays the bills, and they benefit from an inward focus. However, congregations that are inwardly focused have no future. No one wants to join a mission whose job is to take care of itself. The only people who want that, are the ones who are already in the group. Pastors must push on this tendency, and resolve to pay enough attention to the inward nature of the congregation-- just enough to calm the tension from time to time. But, commit to the vision and practice of ministry in the community. This tension is our greatest challenge today, because what we really need is externally focused congregations, and pastors who will lead them in a ministry of service.
Every day, pastors and other church staff make intentional decisions about what is important in their lives and ministries. Often, the decisions they must make are between competing demands. These decision points are tensions in the lives of pastors and church staff. The directions they choose shape their ministries.
- Family time versus church time. Pastoral ministry is a 24/7 vocation. There is rarely real down time. Families often suffer because pastors and staff don’t know how to say “no” to the expectations of the church.
- Office time versus time in the community. Church members often expect pastors and staff to be in the office and available for their needs. But pastors also need to be out of the office connecting with people in the community.
- Being a people pleaser versus being a good steward. Well-intending church members often begin sentences with, “Pastor, we need to . . .” Those sentences are expectations members have on pastors and staff. The temptation for many of these leaders is to say “yes” to most of the requests. But saying “yes” to everything means you will do nothing well.
- Visiting for crisis needs versus visiting for commonplace needs. I recently talked to a pastor who was berated by a church member because he didn’t visit her when she had a simple outpatient procedure. And if I told you the procedure, you would understand that it would have been awkward for him to be there anyway.
- Counseling versus referral. Most pastors and church staff are not trained in counseling. But many church members want their pastor to provide counseling in a multiplicity of areas. It is often best to refer the church member to someone better equipped to handle the situation, but not all church members receive that direction well.
- Spending time with church members versus spending time with non-Christians. Both are necessary, but pastors and staff have limited time and they must choose how to balance ministry to Christians with incarnational presence with non-Christians.
- Local church ministry versus other ministries. Many pastors and staff are urged to be involved in denominational work, interchurch ministries, parachurch ministries, and mission endeavors. All may be worthy. All demand choices.
- Being prophetic versus being positive. On the one extreme is the pastor who is always proclaiming what is wrong with the world and culture. On the other extreme is the pastor who only wants to offer encouragement and hope and not address sin for what it is. The difficulty is finding the right balance.
- Long-term perspective versus short-term perspective. The types of decisions pastors and church staff must make are shaped by their own perspectives of their tenure at the church. It is not unusual for pastors to have uncertainty about their future at the church when they must make a decision that could have long-term implications.