One of my earlier memories of church was a Sunday morning service wherein, after 14 years of ministry, our little church of some 300 was saying goodbye to our senior pastor (we only had two pastors at the time). After some words from the pulpit, the entire congregation exited the rear of the building where, on the street, some members had placed the final gift of the day – a brand new “retirement” car.
We loved our pastor… He was stern and devoted. He was a man of the highest integrity – the kind seldom seen anymore. He had led me to the Lord: 1967, “summerish,” Sunday evening service, half-way back on the right-hand side, on the aisle. We loved him, and we were saying, “Good-bye.”
My pastor was a driven man. He preached on Sunday morning… after the morning Sunday school class which he also taught. Preached on Sunday night. Taught on Wednesday night “Mid-week Service” (remember those?). Attended the Christian Ed meetings, the Trustee Board, Missions Board, and the Deacon Board meetings. Counseled and was compelled to oversee the custodial services of the church… trash, vacuuming as well as who-knows-what-else? His DNA did not allow him to delegate much of the many responsibilities across the full spectrum of the body.
Not surprisingly, he was exhorted by his doctor to move out of local church ministry to a more serene setting as the toll it had taken upon his person was irreversible. As I remember, the choices were geographic relocation – somewhere other than the frenetic pace of a church in Southern California, or, six feet under! He chose the former which turned out to be Nebraska, and he still served as Director of Missions in our denomination. He had chosen well and lived to a ripe old age in service to his King.
Not all of us do make the right choice when confronted with the many demands of the church – it is not in our DNA either.
People joke that we only really work one hour a week – on Sunday… right? And then someone comes along with another ministry “opportunity” … for us to do… “Hey pastor! Do more!” … And we, out of guilt or whatever, often in a heartbeat add something else to our plate.
We are told that. Something in our nature buys into that, and we feel compelled to do more.
“Yeah! Maybe if I just do one more thing…”
We shepherd in overload, over-saturated, sometimes to the detriment of our physical and spiritual health, sometimes at great expense to our families. And perhaps, in seeking to do so much, that the quality of our efforts is compromised.
It seems that every good hero, and most action figures are adorned with a cape, or a cowl, though, I am yet unclear what the super abilities afforded are in the donning of such attire. To fly? Sometimes, yes. To simply be identified as something powerful, or magisterial. Who knows? To thwart projectiles? I don’t know for sure, but I do know pastors who regularly… even daily don the sartorial excellence of the cape – figuratively speaking – 24/7.
Scripture tells us that is not the way it is supposed to be. From Moses and the advice of Jethro, his father-in-law (Exodus 18), to deacons serving meals in Acts 6, to the model of leadership in Ephesians 4, the weight of ministry was meant to be carried by many – across the entire “bandwidth” of the Body. From the biblical perspective Church leadership in its many forms is commissioned to train up individuals and teams for the tasks of Church service – not to perform them all ourselves.
Echoing the paradigm of Jethro, Paul affirms the diversity of the Body, and the divine wisdom of delegation:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
The bottom line is that no one gets all the gifts, and, even if they did, time would not allow any one person to perform all of those tasks demanded in ministry. Responsibility is performing those duties which God has called you to undertake at that point in time. And to identify, train, and conscript more living stones to join in the effort.
Person in distress? We’re on it. House on fire? We are on it. Trains colliding? All hours of the night, rain or shine, we are on it. We are compelled to respond to the forces of darkness and need whenever, and wherever they demand. Yet, if we aspire to pastoral excellence, it means that, at times, we allow somebody else to respond to the blinking light.
Hard as it may be, pastoral excellence might mean that we leave the cape in the phone booth.