Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

Juggling Act

How can a pastor juggle public demands and personal needs without wearing out and dropping everything?
Sometimes I think pastors would be best described as jugglers. This is because most of us have more responsibilities than we can carry, and we are generally far too relentless to give up any of them.

So what's a guy to do? We juggle them--from one to the other--trying feverishly to keep up with whichever responsibility screams the loudest for needed attention.

Pastors, the larger portion of whom are men, constantly face the responsibilities of being a husband, a father, a role model, a counselor, a minister, a mentor, a visionary, an orator--the list goes on and on. One needs an event planner just to figure out how to make it through another week.

Of course, all of these jobs are joys and passions for most of us. But occasionally, they create stress--and sometimes even depression--as we struggle to live up to all the expectations of those around us.

Many of us as pastors are so busy with the needs of our parishioners, their problems and expectations, that we often are struggling to stay afloat ourselves. It is difficult for us to maintain a healthy home life for our families as well as a thriving church while feeding our own need for quality personal fulfillment. Quite honestly, we all have days when we feel as though we simply do not have enough strength--and even more days when we are forlorn regarding how we should respond to life's many challenges.

For many men who are leaders and world changers, there is a backwash of guilt that taints their shiny armor. This guilt over our inadequacies is reinforced by the often legitimate grocery list of issues that we failed to accomplish effectively while helping others to navigate through their lives. Add to this already glaring feeling of insufficiency the insensitive persons around us, marriages that have become as lukewarm as the Laodecian church, children who have failed morally, academically or spiritually, and you have a volatile concoction of private struggles and public successes. Juggling all of this may appear noble, but it actually leads to a deep emptiness.

Headed for a breakdown. Some time back I called a pastor I hadn't seen for a number of years. I wanted him to come to my church and minister. I was facing a need in our church to which I thought his gifts would be perfectly aligned.

It took a while to reach him. I discovered that he had moved, and I had trouble tracking down his phone number. When I finally did get a hold of him, he stuttered for awhile and then finally came out and said: "I am out of the ministry. I am not preaching anymore."

I was astounded. This man was a great pastor and a better-than-average preacher of the gospel. He went on to tell me, "I left my wife, left the ministry and just gave up."

While I struggled for speech and sound to come back to my throat, he told me he was sorry that he had let me down. Admittedly, I was shocked. But I wasn't as concerned about a "letdown" as much as I was about what sounded to me like a "breakdown."

My friend had broken down like a tired muscle in an overextended workout. He had too much weight, not evenly distributed, and eventually he was too exhausted to go on. He finally gave way to the silent and lethal killer that stalks us all. My friend had lost years of investment into his marriage and his ministry because he got tired of the weight.

Now I know it doesn't seem imaginable to some of us that we could ever get to that point. For me ministry is very fulfilling, marriage gives me a personal source of strength, and parenting gives me an awareness of legacy. But I can honestly say that managing it all still gives me an occasional headache. Though I have never entertained walking away, there have been moments when the demand seemed greater than the supply.

Unrealistic expectations. Perhaps the greatest enemy here is unrealistic expectations. We have a tendency to think that because we preach the Word, we are somehow exempt from the problems of those whom we seek to serve. But alas--in reality, we are but mortal men.

Men who preach about God can easily develop "God complexes": human guilt over not being able to live up to the Father we preach about and feelings of inferiority as fathers or husbands. There is a vast difference between preaching about the answer and being the answer. In short, none of us succeeds at being everyone's answer all the time. The best we can hope for is participating in the process of parenting, pastoring and people-feeding.

I doubt there are many of us who can honestly say they have mastered any of the responsibilities we as pastors have been assigned. But just as someone without a lot of money who wants to buy an expensive item, we can put it on layaway and continue to pay down on it until it is attained.

Our children. It is often said that the carpenter's home is the worst one on the block. Of course we don't want our marriages and families to be the worst ones on the block. But the proverb doesn't end with the carpenter--there are a few such sayings being touted about pastors' kids as well.

The one thing I am most certain of is that this parenting business is hard work. Only those who are finished (if "finished" is a realistic term to be used with parenting) can ascertain whether or not they were adept at it. The rest of us are stumbling around, trying to make a few more payments, hoping that we have expended enough to keep afloat all we love and care about.

An older gentleman once told me that the joy of being a grandparent centers around your ability to "love 'em and leave 'em." He said, "You can love the grandchildren, spoil them without guilt and still give them back." That may be true about grandparenting, but it is a far cry from parenting.

Greater still, life is not like grandparenting either. We can't just give it back and say, "I have had enough!" Ideally, the goal is managing life. Our prayer should be, "God, give me the grace to manage what I lack the strength to carry."

The goal is to manage effectively the myriad responsibilities we have been assigned; win at everything we set our hands to; pastor thriving, effective churches; maintain wonderful marriages that are fulfilling and vitalizing; have morality of steel and integrity that becomes a legacy; and preach so effectively that no one wants to miss our services to see the Pro Bowl. While these may be noble pursuits, it is likely that at least one of them may wane from time to time.

Walking in His grace. Because balancing all of these responsibilities--and not always perfectly--is an unavoidable reality, the solution may come from allowing the same grace that we extend to the pews to flow upward to the pulpit.

Yes, we are held to a higher standard. But should that standard be the Superman role we have turned it into? Many of us have placed undue strain on ourselves, feverishly trying to manipulate life and everything in it to attain a winning score.

But I am not sure that God grades on the basis of human accomplishment. It might be that we get extra credit for the much needed humility of being able to live with days that end without completed tasks; children who--like us--are human; marriages that go through tests like everyone else; and sermons that, every now and then, fall to the ground like rotten apples from an aged tree.

Much like physicians, who only claim to "practice medicine," we too don't have to master every case or win every battle to have helped masses of people and to have inspired those closest to us to be Christians. Maybe it is not always our efficiency that wins people anyway. It may be our constant dependency on God for strength that is the most inspirational.

I am convinced that when it comes to the art of living, the operative word is always balance. People who are balanced live incredible lives, help many people and often manage to have a little happiness themselves.

So the goal, ladies and gentlemen, is balance. It is not just juggling as much as it is balancing our responsibilities, maintaining our families and contributing to our generation without becoming a basket case!

One final word: The art of balancing becomes a whole lot easier when we keep Christ in the center of our lives.

I have made the decision not to become top-heavy with responsibility, nor bottom-heavy with guilt over missed moments. Instead, I have decided to remain calmly centered on enjoying this brief moment we call life, doing what I can for whomever I can and going to bed at night resting in the fact that I have a God who makes up for all the areas in which I underachieved that day.

Pastor--it is not just the sheep who lie down in green pastures. The shepherd gets to take a nod every now and then, too. God is calling you to rest in Him.

T.D. Jakes bases his ministry in Dallas, where he pastors The Potter's House church. His most recent book is The Great Investment: Faith, Family, Finances (Putnam).

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