Pastor, You Can’t Be All Things to All People

Editors’ note: 

This is an adapted excerpt from 7 Challenges Pastors Face: Overcome Common Struggles and Thrive in Ministry, and published in partnership with Baker Books.

Picture this scene. At a church leaders’ meeting, a member of your board listens carefully to everything that’s kept you busy putting out fires during the preceding month (many of which were created by the board itself!). Then with genuine concern he says, “You need to delegate more, or you’re going to run yourself ragged trying to do everything.”

While you’re still processing this exhortation, you get a phone call on Monday morning after a church-wide workday on Saturday. The head of the grounds committee complains that you didn’t show up to help mow and cut back the weeds around the parking lot. “Pastor, when you pass off work to others, frankly, some of us are beginning to wonder if maybe you think you’re too good to do any of the dirty work around here. You seem to expect the rest of us to be servants. Are you sure you haven’t lost your spirit of servanthood?”

How do you handle the delicate balance between wise delegation and sensitive servanthood? Several factors complicate the situation. Not only are we forced to struggle with our own understanding of what’s appropriate and right before the Lord, but we also have to deal with other issues—such as personal guilt, expectations of fellow leaders, perceptions of the members, availability of volunteers to whom work can be delegated, competing events on our calendars, and a host of other variables we may not be able to control.

Assess Your Heart

To gain any equilibrium in our thinking and action, the starting point has to be an honest assessment of our own hearts. Leaders in the body of Christ are first and foremost called to be servant leaders. Those who haven’t learned to be servants can expect only limited effectiveness in providing spiritual leadership to any group of believers.

Those who haven’t learned to be servants can expect only limited effectiveness in providing spiritual leadership to any group of believers.

Our attitudes about ministry tasks are shaped by our understanding of the role of a servant. The prevailing attitude of servant-minded leaders should reflect a willingness to do any task, to perform any function, and to engage in any duty with a cooperative and humble spirit. No job should fall beneath the dignity of those who see themselves as true servants. Status and personal dignity should have nothing to do with our willingness to perform any task, no matter how lowly and routine or how exalted and special. As servants, leaders must have willing hearts.

Steward Your Gifts

With that said, you might think that delegation has been effectively ruled out as a legitimate option. Not so! Just because we’re willing to do anything doesn’t mean that we should do everything. Balancing our role as a servant and our responsibility to be a good steward of our ministry gifts requires a clear grasp of our priorities and a profound sense of what is important in moving toward accomplishing the purposes of our ministry.

Just because we’re willing to do anything doesn’t mean that we should do everything.

Although we must be willing to fold the bulletins on Thursday, for the nurture of the sheep we’re responsible for feeding on Sunday, would it not be better to have unfolded bulletins than an unprepared sermon? Even though we must be willing to change diapers in the nursery on a Sunday, your presence in the pulpit may be the best use of your ministry gifts at that time. Granted, we can mow the church lawn with the best of them, but if someone else could do that, should we not invest time in doing what that person may not be called or qualified to do?

Focus on Attitude

At the heart of the matter of servant-minded ministry and delegated ministry is our attitude. When we face challenges from those who question our choices, rather than argue the point, perhaps a gentle answer would accomplish more than a lecture on godly priorities:

You know, you may be right. Maybe I should have been there on Saturday, but I struggle with what is best sometimes. Perhaps you could pray for me and the elders as we try to figure out how I can make good choices and wise decisions on things like that. By the way, you guys did a fantastic job.

Who knows? Maybe all he needs is to know that you think what he’s doing matters, and you can affirm him in other ways besides showing up.

There will always be detractors and critical people ready to second-guess every choice we make. We will never be able to settle the issue of what others think. We can’t make them embrace our priorities. What, then, is the primary concern in keeping balance in this area? Attitude.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5–7)

With a conscious effort to monitor the attitude of our hearts, we can move toward a proper balance between servant-mindedness and wise delegation. The greater our sphere of influence in ministry and the weightier our responsibilities for ministry oversight, the more difficult the task of maintaining our balance as a servant leader. Don’t listen to those who would sway your thinking into biblical imbalance; train your ear to hear the voice of the Spirit. If you’re following Christ, both in the direction you choose and in the attitude you demonstrate, you will keep in step with the Spirit and keep your life and ministry in balance.