Monday mornings can be hard on pastors.
Do you know the feeling? Like Sunday was a waste, like nothing was as good as we wanted it to be, like our efforts are doing little and accomplishing less. Most pastors can relate to the potent mix of discouragement, exhaustion, and low-level disillusionment that sets in on Monday morning (often beginning Sunday evening).
Part of the problem is we don’t know how to assess ourselves or our ministries.
Although they never set out to do it, most pastors will evaluate their ministries based on the three B’s: budget, building, and bodies. How big is your church? How big are your facilities? How big is your budget?
These aren’t bad things. Budgets, buildings, and bodies matter. It’s hard to do ministry without them. The problem is not in thinking they matter, but in thinking they are the measure.
It’s understandable how this mindset takes root, and it’s not always from rank sinfulness. It happened to me quickly in ministry as I was looking for some objective criteria to tell me that I was doing a good job. As perennial students, most pastors enter the ministry with a lifetime of letters and numbers telling them how they’re doing, where they rank, and how they measure up. We may be at the top of the class or near the bottom, but at least we get rewarded for all our hard work with some outside measurement. But after the first year of ministry, no one will tell us “You have a 3.87 GPA as a pastor” (and who would really want that feedback anyway!). Pastors are left to search for other metrics—and the three B’s fit the bill.
Almost every pastor will feel the pressure to be successful and significant. This is true no matter the size of your church, no matter your giftedness, and no matter the feedback you receive. Sometimes pastors create unhealthy expectations for themselves, and sometimes the unhealthy thinking creeps in from friends and mentors. In their book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, Kent and Barbara Hughes talk about the well-meaning advice people gave them early in ministry—advice that added up to a crushing sense of failure.
Without realizing it, the Hughes started believing certain lies about the secret to success in pastoral ministry.
- Marketing: If we are visible and accessible, we will grow.
- Sociology: If we contextualize and bless the community, we will grow.
- Stewardship: If our people give, we will grow.
- Godliness: If we are spiritual, we will grow.
- Preaching: If I preach good, expositional sermons, we will grow.
Almost every pastor I know (including the one typing these words) can easily operate with assumptions like these. Hughes summed it up well: “[T]he messages kept coming to me, ‘If you will do this one thing well, your church will grow.’”
We know that’s not true, but after preaching our guts out on Sunday, we tend to forget. With apologies to Jimmy Buffet, come Monday it is usually not all right.
We need to be reminded that we can plant and water, but it’s God who gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).
We need to hear that final commendation again: not “Well done, good and famous servant,” but “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23).
And we need to recall that fruitfulness and effectiveness in ministry is defined as growing in godliness (2 Pet. 1:5-8).
So keep at it, pastors. Prepare one more week. Pray one more time. Preach one more sermon. And pursue God again and again. There’s no guarantee that we’ll see earthly success. But there is a promise from heaven that God will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).