“The Solution” For Tired, Overworked Pastors

Recently I was talking with a frustrated men’s leader. He expressed to me that when he went and spoke with his pastor about having an intentional strategy to disciple men, the pastor’s response was that he would love that but he simply didn’t have time for one more thing.

The leader said to me, “I wasn’t asking him to do anything, just be supportive of our efforts. But as I thought about it, I realized: There isn’t one major effort in our church that our pastor isn’t involved in. And he often makes comments about being spread too thin.”

That pastor has become embroiled in a vicious cycle that I have recognized in many churches. Here’s a graphic to illustrate it:

Men aren’t involved, leaving more work for the pastor. Pastors don’t get involved in men’s lives because they are too busy doing the work of the church, which—are you ready?—the men should be doing.

Pastor, are you feeling tired, over-burdened, under-equipped and feeling like you might not be up to the task? There have already been plenty of great articles written about this (here and here), but let me add one thing I don’t often hear.

So here it is, the solution (OK, one part of the solution) for pastors who are tired and overworked…ready?

Let your men lead.

What exactly do I mean? Let’s look at it phrase by phrase…

Let them. As the senior pastor, you are the gatekeeper for who gets to do what. Sometimes that’s explicit – the pastor approves all the ministry leadership personally. Often it’s implicit – the church has a system that requires leaders to finish a class or process before engaging in ministry, or you simply won’t “bless” anything you’re not 100% comfortable with. Either way, many churches make it hard for any but the hardest charging, most extroverted laymen to lead in ministry.

Your men. That’s right, they’re yours. You are the shepherd of the men in your church. They don’t need you to build programs, they need you to build them. Building disciples means that you will have more and more qualified help to build the church. My former pastor got this concept. He used to say, “I will build my men, and my men will build the church.”

Lead. This is the hardest part, I think. Letting others lead means taking huge risks. Risk that they will mess up and the consequences will affect you and others. Risk that they will not do things the way you want them to, that you will lose control. Risk that they will do things better than you would have and you will have to deal with feelings of inadequacy. (One pastor actually said this to me.)

Remember the disciples? I’m sure they broke some eggs on their way to making omelets for Jesus. When a man has an idea for ministry, ask some basic questions, and then set him loose!

  • Does he have a plan?
  • Does he have a few guys to help him?
  • Does he know who he is trying to reach?
  •  Is his purpose for the ministry in line with the vision and purpose of the church?
  •  If you feel he’s not equipped to lead by himself, will he accept a mentor or co-leader to work on it with him?

Beaten down by past failures and experiences with unqualified, hard-to-control, self-appointed leaders, it’s easy to ‘lean negative’ when faced with an eager man. Resist the safety of doing everything yourself. Sure, it’s easier in some ways. You’ll always know what’s going on. You won’t be surprised by a poor decision as often. You’ll always be in control.

But you’re a shepherd. You’re not called to safety. You’re called to protect the flock. You’re called to build the disciples. And here’s the irony: the more you build your men into disciples of Christ, the more they can take over the work of the church, so you can do what God has called you to do: study, preach, lead.

Are you feeling tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, and burnt out by your ministry? Break the “Tired, Overworked Pastor Cylcle.” Let your men lead.

For reflection

  1. Have we created unnecessary barriers for men to step up and take the lead? Are there ways we can allow men to lead in smaller ways with a path towards larger opportunities and responsibilities?
  2. Do I consider the men in my church to be given to me by God to grow and disciple? Or are they more of a frustration to me, getting in the way of achieving my vision for the church?
  3. Am I reluctant to let men lead? What experiences have I had that would prompt that feeling? Can I allow men to try and fail?
  4. Am I building disciples or running programs? Am I spending more time in planning meetings than sermon preparation and meeting with congregants?

From a July 1, 2015 guest post on Pat Morley’s blog by Man in the Mirror’s VP of Leadership Development, Brett Clemmer.