You are on your way to your kid's ballgame, and you get a call. Mildred, saint of the church, was in a wreck and is at the hospital. Her family thinks you should come.
No matter what you choose in this situation, a part of you dies. You know you have to let someone down.
You aren’t alone. The vast majority of pastors face this conundrum regularly—and the stress it causes is devastating.
We like to be all things to all people—after all, Paul said he did it, right?
Too Many Sick People
What would happen if you only ministered to as many people as you could comfortably walk to from your house? Paul would stay in one area for up to a few years and then move on. I can hear the argument: "But cars make moving around easier." They also exponentially increase the number of people we can personally interact with. This is a recipe for burnout.
In Acts 19, we find that Paul didn’t go everywhere to heal the sick; he sent pieces of cloth—and the sick were healed and demons cast out ... without him being there. I’m not advocating that you send pieces of your clothing to people who ask for your help.
However, there is something fundamental that we can learn from Paul here—he knew that he, personally, was not the solution. He knew that he wasn’t the one doing the healing or casting out demons. Jesus was at work. Paul did what only he could do, delegated where needed and expected Jesus to do the rest.
Reaching the Masses
Jesus took a day trip across the Sea of Galilee to the region of Gerasenes—near the Decapolis. When he arrived at the shore, he immediately ran into a demon-possessed man. You know the story—the pigs went flying, and the people begged Jesus to leave.
Does part of your heart ache to reach the lost? This story shows us how Jesus handled the stress. He reached one man and then expected that man to be His representative—to tell his testimony to the 10 cities. Every person in your church has his or her version of the 10 cities. You won’t have to worry about reaching the masses if you focus on doing what you can do—caring for the people in front of you.
Note: Jesus didn’t give the man a program for evangelism. He didn’t even give him a plan for checking back in with Jesus. He just said, "Live here and tell your story."
So, how do you know when it’s OK to say no or wait?
Every pastor knows the words “Do what only you can do.” However, we often rephrase it to say “Do what no one else will do.” Here’s a plan to help you start to get some clarity in this area:
1. Monitor your physical, emotional and spiritual energy for two weeks. What gives you energy? What drains you? This is a research project.
- Develop a rating scale. There is a food allergy test that will put foods into three categories—green, yellow and red. A green food is one that gives you energy and you can eat all the time. A yellow food must be taken in moderation, and two yellow foods equal a red—so if eggs and wheat are yellow foods for you, you can’t have cookies, but you could have a tortilla (wheat, no eggs). Red foods should be avoided—they do damage to you.
- Apply this scale to your life. There are some things that you do that are green—every time you do them, life feels better. Then there are the yellow things—these will depend on your emotional makeup; what feeds one person drains another. Once you realize the things that drain you, you need to plan to only do one or two before you take time to recharge. Red things are those things that take all your emotional, physical, spiritual or creative energy. After one red event, you need to recharge, and wherever possible, you should delegate red events.
2. Meditate on the difference between God’s job and yours. Sometimes when we work for God, we get that mixed up. People talk to us when they want to talk to God because they can see us. The more you see God as a real person, the more that will shape how you help people approach Him—and it will take stuff off your plate.
3. Create a safety net. The only way you can ensure good responses to difficult situations is to determine ahead of time how you will handle them.
- Develop a policy for ministry emergencies. Talk it through with your family, board and staff. This will give you a safety net and provide predictability.
- Create a resource team. You can’t be all things to all people, but everybody needs something sometime. Create a ministry team so that others can be called on to help in emergencies.
- Get some friends outside your church. Other people in ministry are helpful. When you get caught in those “lose-lose” situations, it helps to have other people to talk to.
This is a hard time of year—not only for pastors, but for our congregations and communities. There is a song that says, “Strength will rise when we wait upon the Lord.” (See Isaiah 40:31.) Would you take time today to listen to this song and let God apply it to your life?
Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach and can be found online at deepimprints.com. She writes a regular column for ministrytodaymag.com.
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