Permission to say, "No!"
Working with pastors as a Field Shepherd with Standing Stone Ministry (www.standingstoneministry.org), I see one common problem again and again. It's the inability or unwillingness to say, "No." In an age where over 90% of pastors who start in ministry right out of college/seminary will quit before they're old enough to retire, burn-out rules! Burn-out leads to numerous other problems including moral failure, divorce, health issues, depression, and most often, resignation. Tens of thousands of pastors, ministry leaders and missionaries quit every year. This has led to the church in America, as well as in other countries, becoming weak and in decline.
So, what can we do about it?
I would suggest there are many things. Empathy is one area that can help. My new book, Things Your Pastor Would LOVE to Say...(But Can't), was written to help create that empathy. You can preorder the book, scheduled for release on 8/2/22 by clicking HERE. On the other hand, one major way to prevent burn-out is to give pastors the permission so say, "No" to things that aren't or shouldn't be, their focus.
Even Jesus said, "No." Gospel texts like Luke 4:42, Mark 1:35, Matt. 14:13 give examples of Jesus moving away from the demands of the crowds so that he could pray. I'm sure these people were hungry. Some were sick. I'm sure some had deep spiritual questions like, "How do I avoid killing my spouse today?" (Just kidding--sort-of). Still, he said, "No" and withdrew--often.
In Acts 6, we read about what most agree is the selection of the first deacons. The early church recognized that the Apostles couldn't do ministry plus manage the physical needs of the 3,000+ new Christians born on Pentecost, 33 AD. So, they delegated to men with certain characteristics/qualfications:
Acts 6:3 Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men confirmed to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will appoint this responsibility to them 4and will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Prayer...and ministry of the word. That's supposed to be the focus. I realize this doesn't include administrative duties such as budgeting, etc., it DOES show us where pastoral priorities should lie. And, while I'm sure that "ministry of the word," includes preaching, teaching and what we might call biblical counseling/coaching or even visitation; I'm sure it does NOT include many things I see pastors doing on a daily basis. Here's just a partial list of things many feel is part of their duty:
* Acting as a chauffer, taking people shopping, or just providing free taxi services.
* Carpentry. Fixing peoples homes for them. I could probably add painting and general maintenance here too...all for free.
* Moving Company Duty. Helping people pack and move--sometimes even paying for the moving truck too.
* Janitorial Services at Church. Cleaning up the church and doing general maintenance around the building(s).
* Cleaning Services for Members. Cleaning people's homes for them.
* Dog watching/walking.
* Babysitting. Coordination of child care for church activities or even just for couples who need a "date night."
* Meal preparation/delivery.
* Social Work--finding housing, food, medical care, and transportation for homeless or people in deep financial need.
* Acting as job references by filling-out forms and doing phone meetings with perspective employers.
* And more...much, much more....
Now before you send me hate mail, please know that I've done most of these myself and I'm NOT opposed to pastors occasionally doing these extra things to help people in need. But when these things begin to become the norm, several problems result:
Prayer and Ministry of the word become secondary or non-existent.
People can be enabled such that the bad behaviors which led to their need are perpetuated.
Pastors burn-out since they can't do this stuff plus keep up with their ministerial duties.
Pastors have to be given, and thus give themselves the right to say "No," to things that aren't part of their primary calling/gifting. Yes, some will be offended. Yes, it will take time for people to learn to do their own laundry, arrange their own transportation, and clean. But isn't this good? Of course it is....of course! And isn't it also good to delegate to other leaders (like deacons for instance) such that they fulfill THEIR calling too?
So...pastors--take a deep breath and try this with me. Look in the mirror and, in the words of former first-lady Nancy Regan, "Just say, 'NO!"
Now didn't that feel good? Let's keep doing this for things that shouldn't take away from the Lord's calling....
To that End,