Ministry is never done.
You never really “clock out,” because ministry never ends.
The work of the church is never going to be over.
These are phrases all of us …read more
From:: Eric Geiger
Before King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and attempted to cover his sin by murdering her husband, boredom settled into his heart. He was bored the night he was on the roof, bored and looking for something else other than God. Earlier in his life, while on the run from Saul, David woke up at dawn with singing (Psalm 57) to the God He sought. David had longed to stare at the beauty of God, but not on the fateful night he stared at Bathsheba. He was looking for something else, something other than the Lord, when his eyes and heart were captured by the beautiful woman bathing.
If we are bored we are looking for something other than God because God never bores. And anytime we look for something other than Him, we are looking for something less. Where does boredom manifest itself in ministry leaders? Where must we pay attention and guard against boredom seeping into our hearts?
The apostle Paul challenged the young pastor Timothy to “pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). We must watch both our lives and our teaching. Boredom in either can lead us away from the Lord.
If we find ourselves bored with our lives, we have stopped staring at the One who is infinitely awesome. If we find ourselves looking for a new mission to conquer, it is because the mission He has given us no longer captures our hearts. There is a massive difference between longing for a new mission and seeking new approaches or opportunities to fulfill the mission the Lord has given. All believers have been given the mission to make disciples, to be His ambassador, to declare Him as praiseworthy. How we fulfill the mission the Lord has given may change, but if the Lord’s mission bores us we are headed towards ruin.
Boredom in doctrine expresses itself in longing for something new and unique to say. But we don’t have anything new and unique to say. We have a faith that “was delivered to the saints once for all.” Longing to say something no one has ever said will pull you away from the truth we are to stand on. Seeking new ways to communicate the same message is vastly different from wanting to say something no one has ever said before.
Don’t let boredom ruin you. Look to Him and you won’t get bored. Seek new ways to fulfill the mission the Lord has given, but don’t seek a new mission. Seek ways to communicate the message in new ways, but don’t seek a new message.
Since leaving full-time local church ministry to become one of the vice-presidents at LifeWay, I have always missed and loved the local church. Dr. Draper, the former president of LifeWay, once told a leader on my team, “If you ever stop missing being on local church staff, leave immediately.” The sentiment was that we could only be helpful to local church leaders if we love what they do and miss what they do.
So after moving to Nashville almost six years ago, I still looked for ways to serve a local church body. I became a teaching pastor at a church and led a Sunday School class for young married couples before I began serving churches as interim pastor. My second interim was a church right where I live, just a few minutes from our home, and I loved and connected with the people very early on. In time they asked me to move from being interim pastor to serving as bi-vocational senior pastor. I was honored and prayerfully jumped at the opportunity. And I greatly underestimated the weight of being the senior pastor. I calculated correctly the time it would take to prepare sermons, meet with pastors on the team, and give direction to the church. I scheduled, blocked off, and fiercely protected the appropriate time. But no amount of time management can decrease the weight of being a senior pastor. It is no exaggeration to say that being an interim preacher weighs less than 1/10th of being the senior pastor—even when the senior pastor is “bi-vocational.”
When the apostle Paul listed all his sufferings, he concluded the list with referencing his burden for the churches he served.
The weight of pastoring, though filled with immense joy, was a weight that topped Paul’s list of suffering.
Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:28-29)
Notice a few of the words Paul uses: face, daily, pressure, concern, sin, inwardly, burn. With those words in view, here are five realities about the weight of pastoring.
Paul declares the weight is “daily.” A pastor never stops being pastor. The weight is there constantly.
Paul writes that he “faces” the pressure daily. The weight of pastoring is not merely something you read or hear about. It is something you face, sense, and experience.
More than merely dealing with measures on an income statement, sales report, or balance sheet, a pastor deals in the arena of “sin” and wrestles continually with the implications of a fallen and broken world.
Paul mentions his “concern” for real people, people who are weak and struggling. There are tangible needs of real people, and they weigh heavily on a pastor who loves the people being served.
Paul writes that he “burns inwardly.” It is not only the tangible needs of people but also the inward burning for continual responsibility for the flock. The tangible needs of individual sheep are present but so is the intangible burden for the whole flock.
I recently met with all the managers and directors of the Resources Division at LifeWay, the division I am responsible to lead. We have nearly 650 employees in the division, and they all report to the leaders who were in that room. At the beginning of each calendar year, I remind our team of our mission and values, our identity that is foundational for all we do. For five years we have lived with the same mission and values and have seen the impact on the culture of being crystal clear about our identity.
I have given up on the fantasy that a leader can get in front of a group of people and declare a culture into existence. We are not the Lord; we cannot speak something into existence. Creating and cultivating a culture takes time. I asked our team if they really believe our mission and values have worked their way into our culture. They shared stories of how our values impact decision-making, inform execution, create shared energy and enthusiasm, and increase our ability to attract the right people to the team. Here is a copy of our team’s mission and values.
So how, over five years, have we driven these deeply into our team? Here are five practical ways:
We invest time to re-teach our mission and values to the team. Sometimes the whole meeting is about the mission and values (as in early January), but most often we embed teaching into our regular meetings. For example, for the last two years I have taught on one value each meeting at each of our division-wide meetings.
We discuss our mission and values in team meetings, and the language is a filter for how we make decisions. If values are only shared from the microphone, they have little chance of being driven into a culture.
We hire through the lens of our mission and values. We want to make them so clear that if someone has not fully bought into them, they self-select out of the hiring process. If you don’t lead with mission and values, you cannot expect to hire the right people.
We give awards based on our values. The awards are based on great stories that illustrate the commitment to the mission and values we desire to live by. Stories can give people a tangible example of what living a value really looks like.
We regularly evaluate how our execution is rooted or fails to be rooted in what we say we believe. From annual evaluations to evaluating a particular project, evaluation through the lens of mission and values further drives them into the culture.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges leaders in growing churches face is the sense of failing to meet expectations, particularly of some who were in the church when the church was not as large as she currently is. Here are a couple of examples from recent conversations with church leaders:
Some members of a church of 2,100 in attendance expect the senior pastor to visit them if they are in the hospital. These members were in the church when it was 250-300 people and that is how the pastor led during that season. Other members in the same church would never even think their senior pastor would or should be at the hospital for their appendectomy or bout with kidney stones. In fact, when a pastor calls these folks, they are blown away “that we have such a relational pastor.” What some view as a calloused leader, others view as a compassionate one.
Some members of a church of 500 in attendance are surprised to learn that the student ministry bought a new sound system. In the past, when the church was just getting started, each of these types of decisions was discussed in a quarterly meeting, and some of the members remember those days. Now, it seems, “decisions are just made with no communication.” Newer members in this church never complain that a sound system purchase should be discussed, nor does it seem they want to endure long meetings to discuss those types of decisions. What some view as an essential directional decision, others view as an issue of execution.
How do we make sense of the difference in perspective? A wise pastor once told me that for many people “in their minds, the church is always the size it was when they first joined.” In other words, in the minds of many people, the church should still function like the church did when they joined.
The reality is that as a church grows, the church must change some ways in which she functions. And if she doesn’t, her growth will be hampered.
A church should not change or evolve doctrinally, as a church should stand on the “faith delivered once for all to the saints.” Nor must a church change her ministry philosophy and mission in her local community. I am simply suggesting that as a church grows, if a church grows, how she functions in at least these three areas will need to change.
1. The expectations on the senior pastor
As a church grows, it is illogical for a pastor to perform every wedding, lead every funeral, and visit every hospital. Some would wisely argue that regardless of church size, the biblical mandate on a pastor is not to “do the ministry” anyway but to equip others for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). But from a logical vantage point, as a church grows, the senior pastor’s role will need to adjust. While remaining connected to people and the community, the pastor will focus more and more time on teaching, on staff development, and on the overarching direction of the church.
As a church grows, how she makes decisions will need to change. For example, as a church hires more specialized staff, some of the decisions related to ministry execution should be entrusted to those staff members. They are both trained and equipped for their realms of responsibility and deeply connected to their ministry areas. This is not to say that an oversight group (board, elder team, senior staff, etc.) no longer stewards the overall direction, doctrine, and ministry approach of the church but that many decisions will be pushed to leaders who shepherd groups of people within the church.
3. Communication to the church
As a church grows, communication to the broader body will likely need to change. For example, group leaders in a church of 70 who once stood up at the end of the service to invite new folks to their group likely won’t be able to do so in a church of 700 as there are now lots of groups.
Of course, change is challenging and inevitably results in tension as some people’s expectations will not always be met. Ironically, some of the unfulfilled expectations are ones the church helped set years ago. If a church continues to grow, the tension will continually be there. Wise leaders teach and remind people to hold tightly to the doctrine of the church and the ministry philosophy that gives the church her identity but to hold loosely to the functions that will/should be adaptable.
There can be seasons in a church leader’s life when reading leadership books is a bad idea. If one’s devotional life is weak, Christian worldview is not firm, or compassion for people is waning, then church leaders should flee from leadership books.
However, if devotional life and Christian worldview are solid and accompanied by a growing love for people, church leaders can benefit from reading leadership books. Here are three reasons why:
1. To learn from outsiders
Yes, we can learn from others, even those who write from a worldview that is not distinctly Christian. The most classic leadership development story in the Bible is when Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) confronts Moses for being an unwise leader who is failing to delegate. Jethro was a priest of Midian, meaning he was not a Hebrew but an outsider, and Moses listened to him because the counsel was wise (Exodus 18).
In Luke 16, Jesus tells a parable about a wicked and shrewd manager who, in a savvy way, ensures that people will welcome him into their homes when he is no longer employed. Jesus affirms his shrewdness, not his wickedness, to challenge believers to be more shrewd with eternal matters than the wicked are with temporary ones. Jesus says, “For the sons of this age are more astute than the sons of light in dealing with their own people” (Luke 16:8). There are some things we can learn from the sons of this age. Reading is a great way you can learn an outsider’s perspective.
2. To grow mentally
Reading leadership books can help sharpen your mind. John Wesley believed this so strongly that he told young ministers to “read or get out of the ministry.” Of Wesley, A.W. Tozer wrote, “He read science and history with a book propped against his saddle pommel as he rode from one engagement to another.” Meaning, Wesley did not only read books that were distinctly Christian. Oswald Sanders, in his classic work Spiritual Leadership, devotes a chapter to the subject of “The Leader & Reading” and insists that “the leader who intends to grow spiritually and intellectually will be constantly reading.”
If you value your development, then reading is essential. Many have said that you will be the same person in several years except for the people you meet and the books that you read. Books can help develop you. It is a great leadership blunder not to use them wisely.
3. To understand culture
When a pastor reads leadership books, the pastor is stepping into the world of the leaders in the congregation. The pastor gets a view of the language, values, and priorities that are discussed in staff meetings and around leadership tables in the city where the church is located.
Reading leadership books can help you understand the everyday culture of the people whom you serve. With a better view of the culture, you are better prepared to apply the Word to their specific issues, concerns, and challenges.
A few years ago on a flight, I read the lead article in Southwest’s magazine titled “Enough Already: Praise gets heavy. So why can’t we stop?”
Heidi Stevens, from the Chicago Tribune, wrote a great and funny piece on the downfalls of “praising our kids too much.” She cites research that shows heaping praise on our kids for their awesomeness at everything actually stifles them.
In short, kids who have internalized too much praise are less likely to attempt more difficult tasks because those difficult tasks are a threat to their identity. And when they fail, they are crushed. The solution, according to Heidi and the researchers she cites, is not to stop encouraging our kids but to shift the encouragement to help foster a growth posture in your kids by affirming hard work, practice, curiosity, trying new things, etc.
But this point is made: rejoicing in our kids actually hurts them. Thus, the title of the magazine asks, “Why can’t we stop?”
As Christians, we know we can’t stop rejoicing. God created us as worshippers, as rejoicers. We don’t have to be taught to rejoice. It is in our DNA and we can’t stop. We will find something to rejoice in. When what we rejoice in is something other than Him, it is something less than Him. And everyone loses, even our kids, when something other than Him is the object of our ultimate affection.
Unlike those who rejoice in “the flesh,” in their good deeds, the apostle Paul declared that he ultimately rejoices in the cross of Christ:
But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation. (Galatians 6:14-15)
Rejoicing in the cross is rejoicing in Christ because the cross is where we see God’s character on display. We see His love and His justice, His grace and His wrath, His compassion and His providence, as God the Father orchestrated the events that put God the Son on the cross in our place. The Son lovingly pursued us and absorbed in His flesh the punishment that we deserved. Why does Paul rejoice in the cross? Why should we rejoice in the cross?
Through the cross, we are dead to the world and the world is dead to us.
The world is dead to us in that we don’t find our worth, our approval, or identity in the world or the things of the world. Instead we rejoice in the cross as our approval is there. And we are dead to the world as our citizenship is in another kingdom; another King has conquered our hearts.
Through the cross, we are a new creation.
Jesus did not come to make us better people, to improve the old versions of ourselves. He came to make us new. Jesus did not come to make bad people good; He came to make dead people alive. And through His work for us on the cross, we are a new creation.
We stop rejoicing in something that is less than Him when our hearts are overwhelmed with the cross. We cannot stop rejoicing, but we stop hurting ourselves and those around us with misplaced rejoicing when our hearts rejoice mostly in Him.
Perhaps you have had a leader challenge you to “stay in your lane.” Whether your mind conjured up a football analogy or lanes on an interstate, you got the message. Quit trying to lead everyone else’s area, and focus on yours. And perhaps you heard a different message in a different meeting when the leader told the team, “Everyone must help shoulder this. We all must own this.”
So which one is it? Do I stay in my lane or do I own the whole? And if you are a leader, you may have wondered, Which message do I deliver?
When the apostle Paul challenged believers in Galatia to “carry one another’s burdens” (6:2), he also challenged each person to “carry his own load (6:5).” Some translations use “burden” in both verses, but Paul used two different Greek words. In other words, some things each of us must own for ourselves, and some burdens should be jointly shouldered by the community of believers surrounding us. Paul was writing to Galatian churches to clarify and defend the gospel against legalism, not writing to a leadership team, but here are some general applications from the passage.
Stay in your lane (carry your own load)
You must own your area, your realm of responsibility. If you are a leader, you have been given responsibility for a group of people, and no one should outpace you in passion or concern for the area you steward. If you are overly concerned with everyone else’s position, you may jeopardize playing yours well. You may end up focusing attention on the leadership specks in other people’s eyes while neglecting the plank in yours.
Staying in your lane does not mean you do not care for the whole. You should care for the whole by stewarding your part well. If you don’t carry your load, if you are overly dependent on others to the point that they do your work for you, you are not serving the whole well.
Suggestion for new leaders: If you want to speak into the whole, first steward “your lane” exceedingly well. Then you will be invited to do so.
Own the whole (carry each other’s burdens)
A community of faith is to “carry one another burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Christ bore in His body the burden and the curse of our sin, so we are to bear one another’s burdens. We must care for those around us. We must shoulder their burdens with them. We must rejoice when they rejoice and weep when they weep.
Every ministry or organization has initiatives or goals that transcend areas or departments. They are so big, so burdensome, that everyone is required. Without the whole team pulling together in the same direction around what is declared as most important, these are destined to be misses. A great team pulls together in the same direction and shoulders these initiatives together.
A team member not owning the whole is like the high school basketball player who checks the stat sheet immediately after a loss, more concerned with how he will look in the paper than how his team played as a whole and how they are feeling in the locker-room. Who really wants that guy on the team?
So do I challenge my team members to “stay in your lane or own the whole”? Both. A wise leader offers clarity as to what initiatives or plans are to be shouldered by all and what responsibilities are to be stewarded by one particular area.
The Eishenhower Matrix has challenged leaders to focus on the most important things and to not allow the urgent to dominate and derail them.
While many leaders have been served well with the thinking behind the framework, as Christians we must view the matrix through the lens of our faith.
We are servants first
Without understanding your identity as a servant, leaders (myself included) can use the “important but not urgent” category as an excuse to isolate themselves and be unapproachable and unavailable to the teams they serve alongside.
Much of ministry to people is unplanned
My friend Darrin Patrick has said, “The most impactful conversations happen at the most inconvenient times.” Some of the best interactions are not on the calendar. Some of the most holy moments are opportunities disguised as interruptions. Without that understanding, leaders (like myself) can loathe the urgent, and those great opportunities would be missed.
If you approach the matrix with the foundation that you are a servant and that God works in the midst of the urgent, then the matrix can be very helpful. After all, it is possible to be both a strategic leader and a servant leader. One does not need to negate the other. As you think about leading and serving your team, here are three thoughts about serving your team while simultaneously thinking more strategically about your time:
You don’t serve people well if you enable “urgent only” behavior
There is a difference in being responsive to those you lead and enabling them to live with chaotic urgency. Some decisions and some conversations should not be “drive-by” or “drop-ins” because they won’t receive the focused time they warrant. We are serve our teams well if we help them move strategic conversations out of the urgent box.
The more conversations you move to the “important, not urgent” quadrant, the more energy you have for the “important, urgent”
The “important, urgent” quadrant is where work gets done, where people are served in the midst of crises, and where we are able to respond to our teams. It is also the space that most overwhelms leaders. By moving some conversations to the “important, not urgent” box, leaders have more mental and emotional energy for the truly urgent.
If you don’t spend time in the “important, not urgent” quadrant, you are not serving the team well for the future
If you only live in the urgent boxes, you are not serving those you lead well. You are not developing yourself, not planning for the future of the organization, not evaluating, not prayerfully considering the development of your team. You are only thinking about today if you don’t invest time in the “important, but not urgent.”
Martin Luther said, “a Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” We are servants first because He first served us. But we don’t serve well if we enable unnecessary chaos.
If you and your church are going to develop leaders, you must deliver knowledge, provide experiences, and offer coaching. As people receive truth from godly leaders they trust and respect while they are in a serving posture, development is likely to occur.
Knowledge includes information, but it is much more than knowing facts or being able to understand and sign off on a doctrinal statement. To know a friend or spouse is to know much more than their favorite color or restaurant; it is to recognize their moods, to know how to encourage, and to be skilled in relating to them. To know something is to understand it well, to be skilled in it. So when a church delivers knowledge to leaders they are developing, the church is delivering knowledge to more than just the mind.
When the apostle Peter preached the sermon that launched the church in Jerusalem, those listening were impacted in head, heart, and hands. All three domains were involved.
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” When they heard this [head], they came under deep conviction [heart] and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” [hands] (Acts 2:36–37)
To deliver knowledge to the minds of leaders you are seeking to develop, you must know what you believe they must know. In other words, you must have an established sphere of knowledge that you want to pass on to those you are developing. Some questions to consider are: What do leaders need to know? What competencies do they need to develop?
We wanted to answer these questions, so we gathered with ministry leaders who are passionate about and committed to developing others. We sought to develop a simple set of competencies that transcend ministry context and ministry role—a set of competencies that we believe leaders must learn. From our time in the Scripture and our combined experiences learning from effective leaders, we distilled the competencies to the following six:
As we apply knowledge, we must apply knowledge to the hearts of those we are developing. Heads filled with information without hearts transformed by the grace of God is a horrific combination in the realm of leadership development. As King Saul continued ruling, surely his head was filled with more and more knowledge of how to direct people and administer his kingdom. But his heart wandered more and more from the One who ultimately made him king.
As Saul’s leadership and responsibility increased, the cracks in his character became more visible and pronounced. His heart could not handle others developing and growing. He was filled with jealousy as songs were sung, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). His heart could not handle victory, either. After defeating the Amalekites, in pride Saul disobeyed the Lord’s command and instead built a monument to himself (1 Sam. 15:12). Both pain and victory exposed Saul’s character. Pride, jealousy, and fits of anger raged within his heart. Saul’s ability to lead outpaced his character. His skills were greater than his integrity. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king (1 Sam. 15:11). Greater responsibility tends to reveal one’s character. We must deliver knowledge to the hearts of those being developed, not just the heads.
As leaders are developed in their thinking and in their affections, they must also be equipped with knowledge to serve. They must be taught how to lead, how to serve. Zeal for leading, without knowledge of how to lead is not good (Prov. 19:2). Zeal without knowledge is dangerous because we can be deeply and sincerely passionate and completely misguided. As competencies are taught, wise leaders connect these competencies to actions.
Each week ministry leaders feel the weight of responsibility to disciple people in the church while also owning the responsibility of “pulling off church” that week. The kids’ ministry, student program, weekend services, and mission activity won’t happen without the help of others, without volunteers engaged in the ministry. Sometimes these two responsibilities are viewed as polarizing opposites, as if ministry leaders are confronted with the choice to either (a) disciple someone, or (b) invite a person to serve. The dichotomy is unnecessary and unhelpful as people can and should be developed through ministry experiences.
Church leaders must confidently invite people to serve, knowing that the opportunities to serve provide moments where development occurs. Churches must emphasize that all of God’s people are ministers and have the opportunity to influence and impact others through the ministry of the Church.
Some questions to consider are:
Is it easy for someone to find a serving opportunity at our church? Is there a culture of inviting, where current leaders are encouraged to invite others to serve alongside them?
In his book Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin makes the strong case that the top performers in any field have engaged in “deliberate practice” for sustained seasons of their lives. The practice is “designed to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help,” and “the practice activity provides feedback on a continual basis.” Those who hone their craft have been fortunate to have people throughout their lives provide real-time feedback. Coaching from someone we trust and respect deeply impacts our development.
Ministry experiences present many teachable moments, and when those moments are shepherded by a godly leader, development increases. A godly leader applying the truth of God to the heart must converge with the teachable posture that serving provides. Development and discipleship are relational, not merely informational. Without the truth applied to hearts, all a church produces is people who accomplish tasks.
As Jesus cared for the hearts of His disciples when they excitedly returned from ministering, so, too, a church must care for the hearts and not just the actions. As Jesus reminded the disciples that they were forgiven sons first, so, too, must church leaders remind those being developed of their fundamental identity. If leaders are not constantly reminding people of Jesus and His grace, development will degenerate into altruistic legalism—attempts to justify oneself through deeds that are applauded and boost one’s self-image.
Remind people that they are serving because He has first served us, not because we are attempting to earn His love or pay Him back for His love. There is nothing to be paid back as the debt has been paid in full. If you lead a team in the hospitality ministry, remind them that Christ first welcomed us. If you lead a team in the worship ministry, remind them of the joy of celebrating who He is and what He has done for us through Christ. If you lead a team in the kids’ ministry, remind them God’s Kingdom is ultimately for children, for those of us who trust Him as our Father.
Some questions to consider are:
Do we have conversations with those serving in our church about their experiences and about what the Lord is teaching them? Are we constantly reminding people of the “why” beneath the serving?
Leaders are responsible for future leaders. Development is part of discipleship. To develop other leaders, deliver knowledge, provide experiences, and offer coaching.
This is an excerpt from Eric Geiger & Kevin Peck’s newest book Designed to Lead. Pick it up here.