“Pastor, we don’t want you to leave, we just want you to do what we tell you to”. The head deacon at the last church my dad ever pastored was sincere in those words. He knew the difference my father had made in three short years. The first weekend we set foot in the church there were just over 45 people in a sanctuary that seated around 400. Three years later as my dad took the pulpit one last time 360 people looked back at him. But like every church, with success came politics and with politics came power struggles. Deacons and elders who shook their head before and didn’t know what to do to help their church all of a sudden had all of the answers. They proudly took the platform each Sabbath to lead prayer and were willing to literally fight for their place (my dad broke up at least one fist fight at church board meetings). As we got in the car one last time to leave that church and ultimately life as preachers kids, I realized for the first time that churches don’t want pastors to do ministry. They want them to do their job.
It’s the sad fact of life as a church pastor. After spending years going to undergraduate school followed by seminary pastors jump headlong into service with a dream of spreading the gospel to the world, bringing one person at a time into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. They see that first empty little church just ripe for God to use them fill every pew. They’re bursting with “the call” right up to the moment the church board hands them the list of things they want the pastor to do.
But what is the difference between doing ministry and doing a job?
Ministry is inspired. Ministry is transformational. And not to say a job can’t be those things, but far too often the tasks, obligations, and expectations of a job get in the way of ministry. You are now focused on goals instead of the Holy Spirit. You are focused on budgets, offerings, and attendance rather than “the good news”. The Bible becomes a tool holding you to a specific place rather than a catalyst propelling you forward. I can honestly say that the biggest mistakes I’ve made in ministry is when I took my eyes off of the ministry of Jesus and focused on the tasks of the job. When I placed my faith in fundraisers and technology above relationships, the job suddenly drowned out the ministry.
Pastors are ill prepared to do a job. They don’t learn financial management, strategic planning, and marketing. They are trained to listen for and share the voice of God. Far too often the death nail of a church is when it’s members take ministry away from the pastor. The pastor second guesses himself because rather than being the specialist at ministering to others and drawing them to Christ, he finds himself with 9 supervisors questioning why he didn’t spend more time at the nursing home on visitation this week. It’s like hiring Steve Jobs to run your computer company, but the board of directors questioning him on why he spends so much time on R&D when the real need is customer service.
A church can expect one of two things from a pastor, they can do the ministry they were called to do or they can do the job you want them to do. But be aware, if you have a list of jobs for a pastor to do, it’s up to the members to step up and actually do ministry. Don’t get me wrong, pastors can still minister and touch lives doing the “job” portion of the job. But it won’t be the same. When a pastor is asked to “do a job”, that’s exactly what it is. They start watching their hours and finding ways to balance life outside of the church. They put in their 40 hours a week and turn off the pager. But if the pastor is cut loose to follow their call to ministry, to go and do as the Holy Spirit leads them, there is no earthly reward rich enough for them. They’ll be like the CFO of a hospital I met with who told me “some days I get up and say ‘I can’t believe they actually pay me to do this'”. It’s at that point that members, staff, and the community see God working, and seek to follow Him into a life altering existence.