I’m not trying to be sensational: honest.
Nor am I suggesting that churches deliberately, literally, kill their solo pastors.
I am saying that churches with solo pastors often, inadvertently, “kill” their pastors, in the sense of rendering them unable to continue effectively in local church ministry.
Here’s one line of evidence for this: health insurance. Twenty-some years ago I was in the process of helping my congregation join a denomination. One of the benefits we thought it would bring us was in providing health insurance for staff members. Before we could get inducted into the group, they had abandoned their health insurance program, permanently.
It seems that pastors make lousy groups for insurance companies. This might seem counter-intuitive: pastors ought to be the happiest, calmest, most stress-free persons on earth. On the contrary, the “job” – especially the job of the small church’s sole or solo leader – is regarded by many as one of the most stressful on earth.
But we’re going to leave the matter of why the solo pastorate is so hard and tackle the subject of not letting your church kill you; protecting yourself from the downsides of the calling.
I’m speaking directly to solo pastors today because, for the most part, pastors must do this themselves.
Before we dive into those seven defensive strategies, I need to make one positive, faith-filled comment first, so I’m not misunderstood.
So without scolding pastors or churches for the current reality, let’s get down to those seven ways – some of which are much better than others – to keep your church from killing you.
- Harden your heart.
No pastor sets out to do this, but it happens, over time, to too many of us. I’m talking about getting tough, hard, contemptuous, sarcastic, and cynical. I’m talking about emotionally, and sometimes physically, isolating yourself from all except a few individuals.
I’ve heard of pastors who had carefully researched pathways between their offices and their church building’s worship platforms, which they could follow stealthily on Sunday morning and avoid almost all human contact.
I really do understand how this can happen, but if this is you, please, change something now. This is not good for anyone, least of all for you. The Great Shepherd certainly cares about your love, or lack thereof, for the sheep under your care.
- Distract your heart.
There are two ways to do this. We all know about pastors who seek and find distraction for their hearts in things that are just plain wicked. Most often, it’s an affair or other sexual misadventure. Everybody knows how wrong this is, except perhaps the sin-sick and deluded individual who tells himself that he works so hard and suffers so much that he “deserves” this fringe benefit.
But more often, the distraction is as innocent as a hobby, a parachurch ministry, a community group or even an athletic team or an organization that we ourselves or one or more of our children are involved in. These activities can be innocent and helpful. But if we’re deeply involved in them because they get us away from a disappointing ministry which we’re neglecting, giving us “strokes” that we’re not getting from our congregations, something is wrong.
- Guard your heart.
This is the first of three good ways to keep your church from killing you that I’ll be sharing.
I’ll start by saying it again: No one will do this for you. No one can do this for you. You are the steward of your own heart, your own health, your own sanity, your own godliness, your own joy. “Choosing joy” isn’t so simple, but a joyful life does involve a choice. Your choice. For you. Pardon my bullet points, but we can only list these today:
- Get good at saying “no.” Learn the difference between the urgent and the important. Learn how to put some serious time into the vital, “important, but not urgent” activity category that makes for long-term success.
- Get enough rest. One of my favorite pastors leads two churches but practices a “real sabbath day” every week as well as a “day off” with his family. Your church will be blessed if you are adequately rested.
- Be enough of a mystic to obtain great joy and peace and satisfaction from God’s presence. Stay in the Word of God long enough to get your “blesser” blessed.
- Learn to hate the twin pastor-killing sins of bitterness (because of what you did to me that you shouldn’t have done) and resentment (because of what you should have done for me and didn’t do).
- Get wise regarding your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re really terrible at hospital visits, maybe you can just admit this and persuade someone else to do it.
- Get your legitimate needs met. I’ve been learning from studying the Birkman (personality assessment) Method that when I get the legitimate needs of my personality met – mine are “literary” and “music” – I have the resources to do the things I need to do that drain my joy (like tending a mailing list).
- Get good at processing criticism and opposition. Pastors And Their Critics (Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson) is an awesome resource I wish I had had forty years ago.
- Learn what it means to be a “differentiated” or “self-differentiated” individual and become one. This is a psychological concept that is worth studying. It’s today’s way of singing, “Dare to be a Daniel; dare to stand alone; dare to have a purpose firm and dare to make it known.”
- Learn how to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10).
Next week: Four more ways to keep your church from killing you.