Unfortunately, many churches labor through a seeming fog of discontent. Studies show that a large number of pastors are unhappy, feel overworked, and have a lower sense of self-worth than when they started out in ministry. At the same time, congregations demonstrate their discontent in unnecessary conflicts and people frequently changing churches. Sadly, some who live in small towns, run out of churches after awhile.
Now, I’m a big fan of the church and I believe that things look pretty bright, most days. But I also believe it’s important that we look honestly at these places of struggle. Why does this discontent occur? How can we make it stop?
In some cases, there is a disconnect between the agendas of pastor and people. Pastors, having been schooled in the Great Commission and challenged by those we deem successful, want to build a great church. The people, on the other hand, having been promised the love of Christ to salve the hurts of life, want to be cared for or shepherded through their struggles. Pastor wants to impact the community and world while people want to be cared for. And when two people want to achieve different goals, it’s rare that both can be happy.
Now, don’t be defensive. I know that most pastors want to care for people and many people are Great Commission-minded too. But in places where discontent reigns, neither seems happy to engage the primary agenda of the other. Pastors see some of their people as hindrances to the kingdom effort while some of the people complain that the pastor is far too focused on reaching new people and doesn’t drop everything when I need him. They’re chasing two different goals–goals that don’t always lead them to move in parallel paths.
Now let me assure you that both goals are worthwhile. Clearly the Church exists to fulfill the Great Commission and loving one another is the core strategy. Neither the pastor nor the people are completely wrong. But think with me about two common problems.
1. The pastor can glean his sense of self-worth from the perceived success of his local congregation. Yes, we want the church to grow, but when the pastor ties his sense of self-worth to the growth of the church, things can become emotionally unhealthy in a hurry. In such cases, the pastor begins seeing the needs of his people as a hindrance to his work, rather than as an important part of his work. Modern church growth models tend to move the pastor further and further from the needs of real people, further reinforcing the idea that someone else should be caring for the people while the pastor leads the church. I’ve attended more than a few conferences where the focus seemed to be more on the things that the pastor shouldn’t be doing than considering what he should.
Now time management is a critical component of pastoring the large congregation, but those who lead smaller congregations can’t afford to see the people needs around them as an interruption of their days. The shepherd model may not be easily applied to a congregation of thousands, but Jesus used it to describe life with a hundred sheep (and He still lived it when crowds got bigger).
2. People can fall into the trap of thinking that church is about us–what we like, what we want, what we need. The kingdom of God never works that way! It’s always about “Him and them.” The greatest commandments call us to love God and love others. There is no 3rd command insisting that we make sure we get our needs cared for.
Instead, Jesus said that if we seek first the kingdom of God… (Him and them)…then everything we worry about and need will be provided for us. There’s no room for self-focus in the church. As we worship God and care for others, God provides for all of our needs. He doesn’t respond favorably to self-focus, but cares for those who give themselves to His agenda.
So the point? If you’re a pastor, be careful of the success bug. It may be the source of your unhappiness in ministry. Don’t see the needs of people as intrusions into your day. Rather see those moments as an important part of what you are there to impact.
If you’re a member of the congregation, find ways to become more focused on God and on others. I guarantee that you’ll be happier as you serve more diligently. And God will bring amazing blessing and reward to your life. Nudge your friends away from self-focus too.
The local church is designed to impact the world and care for the needs of its people. It’s what we do! Don’t let a one-sided focus teach you to be unhappy.