7 Things Small Church Pastors Need to Be Set Free From, pt. 1

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If I were a psychologist who worked with people in the ministry, I think that nine times out of ten, the anxiety, stress, and lack of fulfillment pastors would bring to me could be traced back to a need for emotional (or spiritual) detachment.

Here are my top three of seven things pastors and church leaders need to be detached from. Each one of these are interrelated—they overlap and feed each other.

1. Pastors need to be detached from reputation.

I’m not talking about having a good reputation. We all want to be leaders with integrity and character.

There’s a difference between wanting to have a good reputation and needing to have a good reputation in order to feel good about yourself and your ministry. We need to be detached from the need to have a good reputation. I think we can care too much what other people think of us, especially our peers and supervisors, and that much of this need can be traced back to our insecurity and pride.

2. Pastors need to be detached from numbers.

There’s nothing wrong with counting. Have you noticed all the counting that took place in Bible times? In fact, there’s a book in the Bible called Numbers.

When I was pastoring I had to count dollars. I just couldn’t show up to the bank and hand them the offering and say, “Here…do something with this.”

There is also nothing inherently wrong with counting heads (attendance). There can be some advantages to keeping attendance records. However, if I find myself feeling “up” when the numbers are up and “down” when the numbers are down, I just might be too attached to numbers.

Remember, the only thing attendance numbers tell me for certain are how many people were sitting out there staring back at me. Counting heads tells me nothing about what is going on inside of my people, nor does it tell me what type of impact my people are having for Jesus in their neighborhoods, workplace, and in their other networks of relationships.

But there’s a difference between wanting to have a numerically growing church and needing to have a numerically growing church in order to feel good about yourself and your ministry. We need to be detached from the need to have a numerically growing church.

3. Pastors need to be detached from success.

Now, of course, all of this is dependent upon one’s definition of success. Unfortunately, the Western Church defines success almost exclusively by numbers (e.g., how many were in attendance, and how much was in the offering).

There were times when I didn’t look forward to hanging out with pastors because I knew that eventually someone was going to ask me, “So…how are things going at your church?” This question is usually the way one pastor finds out if he or she is more or less successful than another pastor.

If my church was growing (which was seldom), then I didn’t mind answering their question. If my church was not growing (which was often), I looked for a way to change the subject or leave the room.

It didn’t matter how many good things were happening in my church, I didn’t really feel successful if my church was in decline or had plateaued for a long period of time. Someone could have been raised from the dead and I’d be thinking, “That’s nice, but that church down the street, the one that is bigger than us, they’re more successful than we are.”

I like to challenge pastors to sit down with their leaders and discover ways to define success in their church that have very little relation to size or numbers.

But there’s a difference between wanting to have success and needing to have success in order to feel good about yourself and your church. We need to detach from the need to be thought of as successful.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Of the three things listed above (reputation, numbers, success), which one do I need to be detached from the most?
  2. How did I become attached to this in the first place?
  3. What steps do I need to take in order for me to detach myself from this?

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You’ve just read an excerpt from my book ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastors, and the rest of us.’ Your copy is waiting for you here.