Busyness in ministry is an epidemic. As our world moves faster and faster, pastors are being sucked into a vortex of tasks, projects, emails, and goals.
The problem is that when you get overwhelmed, you get tunnel vision. Your perspective of your church becomes as narrow as your to-do list. What inevitably happens is that the important, but not urgent aspects of ministry get pushed to the bottom of the list.
Yet, if we are honest, it is in those important, but not urgent areas where we make the biggest impact. It is where the best opportunities lie. But we sacrifice that for an empty email inbox.
What opportunities are you missing out on because you are overwhelmed in ministry?
Below I list three opportunities busy pastors might miss when they get too task focused. I’ll warn you, these are mundane, but their normalness ensures that every pastor faces them.
1. Missing the opportunity to impact your church with a well-prepared sermon
Busy pastors are tempted to procrastinate their sermon preparation when they are overwhelmed with other ministry tasks. The devil, that great deceiver of pastors everywhere, tries to fool you into thinking your sermon is getting in the way of doing ministry.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “If only I didn’t have to preach this week I could get so much work done on (enter your latest growth strategy here)?” It takes time to prepare a good sermon, not only in exegesis and writing, but also in prayer and reflection. Sermons are the product of a creative process. An efficient creative process is a contradiction in terms.
When you begin to view your preaching as an obstacle to getting things done, you will be tempted to take roads that look like short cuts, but are really a slippery slope. First you start shortening your prep time to make room other “more important” projects. Then you (and everyone else) notice the quality of your sermons slipping. So you will be tempted to plagiarize. But that is becoming less possible to get away with in the internet age. Now you are putting your job—not to mention your family—at risk.
Instead of seeing preaching as an obstacle to getting things done, let me remind you what it really is: God’s determined primary thing for pastors to do.
It is precisely in your weekly preaching that growth is happening among your congregation.
2. Missing the opportunity to communicate the “why” to ministry volunteers
When busyness overtakes you, it is easy to become focused on the “what” of ministry. When you focus on the “what,” then you recruit with the “what.” But the “what’s” don’t motivate anyone to serve. It is the “why’s” that motivate, impassion, and embolden.
You have an opportunity to develop a call to serve that motivates people from within. Don’t miss that opportunity just because you have a ministry stalled out.
How do you call people to serve by leading with a “why?” You do it by telling them everything God has done for them in Christ, and then you call them to do the same for others.
Jesus said that he came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). How did he serve us? He gave himself as a ransom for our sins. He laid down his life for us. What should our response be? To serve others as Jesus served us. Anyone who does not sense the responsibility to serve others has an entitlement mentality, and has not grasped God’s grace demonstrated in Christ’s sacrifice.
What if you need to recruit a specific area of service? There are gospel verses for specific areas, too.
Let’s say you want to assemble a team of door greeters. The numbers focused pastor will lead with the “what”: this will help us catch visitors and assimilate them at a higher rate.
Do you really think your church cares about efficiently assimilating visitors? The gospel-focused pastor will lead this vision with a gospel-centered “why” like Romans 15:7, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Why should we welcome strangers to church? Because we were all strangers to the kingdom once, but Jesus welcomed us with arms stretched out.
If people aren’t serving, your main concern should not be what is not getting done in the ministries of your church. Your main concern should be their hearts. That people are not intrinsically compelled to serve is the bigger problem!
How do you change their hearts? By supporting your call to serve with the “whys” of the gospel over and over and over again.
3. Missing the opportunity to shepherd your leaders
The best-case scenario is that your lay leadership teams meet twice a month. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on your teams meeting once a month. Because your teams are comprised predominantly of volunteer leaders—who have jobs and families—it is impossible to meet frequently.
How can you do move things forward when you teams meet so seldom? How do ministries gain traction? How long will it take before a goal is reached?
The answer is slowly.
But does slow mean you aren’t getting enough done? Not necessarily.
Herein lies the opportunity to shepherd your leadership teams. It’s the opportunity to get your lay leaders pointed in the direction God is leading your church to go. If you can’t shepherd your most driven and most invested members toward the direction you are sensing God wants to lead, how will you lead the rest of the church?
The advantage of slow decisions is that you have plenty of time to cast vision, theologically support your vision, and gain buy-in to your vision before the time to make a decision comes.
Sure, you will move forward more slowly, but you will move forward in the right direction.
The Organic Metaphors of Kingdom Growth
There is probably a reason why Jesus and Paul use plants to describe the growth of the kingdom.
Jesus painted pictures of farmers casting seeds and mustard trees (Mark 4:1-20, 26-30).
Paul said he planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Nothing that grows organically grows fast. But if it is healthy, it grows strong. Don’t let your busyness shift your focus from "strong" to "fast." Keep watering, and trust that your ministry is growing at the speed God intends.