One of the greatest challenges a pastor faces is keeping Paul’s mandate clearly in focus:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God… Ephesians 4:11-13 (ESV)
I’m currently engaged in a ministry to encourage pastors and connect them in John 17:23 groups. I’m no longer serving as a lead pastor in a local church. Looking back over those 34 years, perhaps my greatest regret is that I didn’t do a better job with this aspect of my calling – equipping others for works of service.
It was easier not to notice my weakness when I pastored larger churches, but when Sue and I planted a church in the mid 90’s it seemed everything fell on me. I never doubted my highest priority was preparing a message for God’s people on a weekly basis, but it was in the myriad of other aspects of ministry where my weakness was most glaring.
It was in all the little things, the tasks that had to be done on a weekly basis that mounted up for me. Some of those tasks I did very well, but it really wasn’t essential that I be the one doing them. Looking back, I would reason to myself, “Phil, you need to get someone else to do this. You don’t have to be doing this.” My wife would tell me the same thing. But at that moment I would think, “But if I ask someone else to do this, I’ll have to train them. At least for a while, they won’t do it as well as I can, and it will cost me additional time to micromanage them to my liking.” Sigh! All it takes is one little thing, then another, and another, all of which have to be done every single week and I found myself constantly working in the ministry instead of on the ministry.
Working “in” the ministry involves sermon preparation, organizing the worship services and other public offerings, and too often a million other little things that have to be done. Working “on” the ministry involves training someone else to do something ultimately better than I. Better, because it would be in his or her sweet spot. It would match up better with their wiring and their gifting. A few years ago, I heard someone say that 85% of what a pastor does is outside his sweet spot. It was certainly true for me.
Working “on” the ministry involves taking enough time away from my normal ministry life to listen to God, and hear His voice speak to me about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Setting realistic goals and getting others to help me achieve them.
What I wish I had added to my motivation to delegate more is the deep conviction that I am not fulfilling my calling if I don’t prepare others to do the work. I’m not simply harming myself. I’m hogging the blessing and cheating others who could grow spiritually by finding and using their gifts. More than the obvious benefit of making my ministry life easier, reducing stress and adding back a little margin to my life, delegating some of my tasks would better prepare other “saints for the work of ministry.”
Meanwhile, I think I felt comfortable with the routine. I got a mild high off my ability to complete all the tasks, checking things off my “to do” list. Yes! I could get all this done! And when the week ended, I felt exhilarated that I had pulled it all off. Unfortunately, another week was now staring me in the face. Time relentlessly marches on.
There was something fundamentally unhealthy in all this, and it became clear the day I discovered I needed quadruple bypass surgery. When the doctor opened me up in surgery, he said it looked like I was a diabetic and a smoker. I was neither, of course. In fact people would’ve judged me as fit and in good health. It didn’t take me long to realize that ministry stress had something to do with this. Was I really that indispensable? Of course not! My head knew it, just not my heart (pun intended.)
Yes, if I had it to do over, I think I would hold this conviction much more deeply. I would do a better job of drawing others in and training them to take over some of the tasks I thought I could do so well. May I ask you today, how much are you doing that others could do instead?
I offer this suggestion if you’ve never done this before. Take some time to work “on” your ministry. Make a list of everything you do in a typical week. Look over the list and prayerfully ask God, “What is on this list I could delegate? Whom should I invite and train to take this off my plate?” You’ll be doing yourself a favor, but even better, you’ll be better achieving one of your highest callings – to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.