I have been in active ministry for over 15 years—that is, I have worked for churches for over 15 years. But I have officially been in ministry for over 25 years. This does not include the seven years I was officially out of ministry. If you count the years I have been mentored by veteran pastors, the number would increase still. This is not to toot my ministerial horn, so to speak. It is to merely state that I have been involved in church ministry for more years of my life than not. I have seen many great things happen in churches. But I have also seen some things that need to be corrected.
One pressing issue is the demands that we place upon pastors. According to Soul Shepherding.org, 75% of pastors feel highly stressed, 90% of pastors work between 55 and 75 hours per week, and 90% feel fatigued every week (https://www.soulshepherding.org/pastors-under-stress/). Even more startling, 80% of pastors will not be in ministry ten years later and only a fraction make ministry a lifelong career (Ibid). On average, seminary trained pastors only last five years in church ministry (Ibid)! The best-trained pastors do not remain in ministry on average. Could it be due to a Superman complex? Houston, we have a major problem!
Quite honestly, these demands do not always originate from the church body. Ironically, they often originate from pastors who feel as if they are called to be Superman. I have read numerous articles from pastors who have placed demands upon themselves and upon others who don the ministerial cloak, demands of which no human being could ever accomplish. I read from one pastor that his church expects the pastoral staff to work no less than 55 hours a week. 55 hours a week! But, it seems that this was impressed upon the church by a previous pastor who was a workaholic.
Pastors, if you feel the incessant desire to overwork yourself, don’t be surprised if your congregation, your body, and especially your family suffers. You may find that your children leave the faith because they feel the church stole their father. In reality, God has not called pastors to be supermen. I repeat. Pastors, you cannot be Superman! Here are a few reasons why.
Pastors, you do not have superhuman stamina…but God does. One of the most forgotten passages of Scripture in the pastorate is Mark 1:35-38, particularly verse 35. Mark writes, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] got up, went out, and made his way to a deserted place; and there he was praying” (Mk. 1:35). Did you catch that? Jesus, the Son of God, needed personal time with the Father. Jesus later told his disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while” (Mk. 6:30). As pastors, we do not have an unlimited supply of stamina to keep working without rest. As I grow older, I realize how limited a cache of energy I do possess. God has the stamina that we do not have. If Jesus needed rest, how much more do we? Depend on God’s ability to endure and don’t depend on your own stamina in ministry.
Pastors, you do not have superhuman knowledge…but God does. Preaching and teaching are the two areas of ministry that I enjoy most. There is something special about digging into the treasure trove of the hidden mysteries of God and expounding those truths to his people. As a pastor apologist, I take special pleasure in defending the word of God and showing others why they should believe in Christ. Despite that, I have learned that the toughest words to admit are “I don’t know.” We as pastors, especially those of us with advanced training, like to think that we have all the answers. However, we don’t. We read statistics that indicate that the church is dying in America and we fret and mourn, worrying about what we need to do to save the church. We cannot save the church, but God can! We don’t have all the answers, but God does. God has unlimited wisdom where his pastors do not.
Pastors, you do not have superhuman presence…but God does. Some pastors feel that they must attend every function in the community. If the pastor is an extravert, then this is not so much an issue. But if the pastor is an introvert, then the continuation of public attendance at every function will quickly burn the pastor out. Many pastors become overwhelmed at the places they feel they need to be. However, no pastor is omnipresent. That is to say, pastors cannot be everywhere at the same time. It is okay to say no. But God can and is everywhere. There may be times in ministry where the pastor will have to trust someone else to be where he cannot. He may have to trust that God can do what he cannot do. The centurion believed in the power of Christ so much that he realized that Jesus could heal his servant even from afar, without even being physically present (Mt. 8:5-13). Jesus said that no one in Israel had the faith that this Roman centurion did (Mt. 8:10). Pastors, do we have the kind of faith that the centurion did?
Pastors, you do not have superhuman power…but God does. People like to reflect on Jesus’s words, noting how faith can move mountains (Mt. 17:20). It’s true. However, remember that faith is trust. Your trust is in the God who can move mountains. God has the power. We don’t. If we allow God to work through us, there’s nothing that cannot be done. No mountain is too high. But it is the power of God moving the mountains and not our own. When Paul asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh (whatever that was), God responded by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Cassiodorus (c. 485-580), the founder of the monastery in Vivarium, wrote, “Paul was denied the fulfillment of his prayer for his glory, whereas the devil was granted his [when praying to bring harm to Job] for the devil’s pain. Thus it is often an advantage not to be heard even though postponement of our desires depresses us” (Cassiodorus, “Explanation of the Psalms 21.3”). Pastors, you do not have superhuman strength to move mountains. But you work for One who does!
Pastors, you do not have superhuman persuasion…but God does. One of my personal pet peeves is when pastors say, “I saved x amount of souls this past week.” You really saved no one. You proclaimed the word. The Spirit of God did the work. One of the greatest blessings I have received is the realization that I cannot save anyone. I am not responsible for how people respond to the message. I am, however, responsible if I act like a jerk. But for the message itself, everyone is responsible for how he or she responds to the moving of the Spirit of God. Jesus says, “When the [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (Jn. 16:8-11). The Holy Spirit has the power to persuade and convict. We as pastors do not.
While this article may seem a bit depressing to the Type A, “take the bull by the horn” kind of pastor; it’s really a blessing in the end. As pastors, we have a high calling upon our lives to minister to a lost and dying world. However, we cannot for one moment think that we are the ones bringing salvation or the ones to blame for the condition of society. So long as we are faithful in our ministries, God will use what we offer, as small or large as that may be, and will do something great through our lives. Rest in the assurance that God has the power to do what you cannot. Don’t work yourselves to death. Rest in the loving arms of a powerful God who can do far more than we could ever think or imagine. In a time where ministerial burnout is increasing, it should be welcomed news that God has not called you to be Superman. Pastors, if your place of service does not realize that, then you don’t need to be there. It’s better to be without a job than to have a mental breakdown. God has called you to be faithful—faithful to God, faithful to your family, and faithful in the trust that God can do what you cannot.
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