She said she wanted to be a missionary. When asked how she wanted to serve, she replied: “I just want to love the world”— an undoubtedly admirable but somewhat ill-defined sentiment. My then- missionary wife counseled that she narrow and clarify her vision a bit.
I spend a good bit of time with pastors, many of
whom began their journey into ministry with a strong sense of calling. They started out wanting to
love/save/heal/fill in the blank the world.
They were gripped by a purpose that consumed their imagination and
called forth the best they had to give.
That sense of calling took form as pastoring a local congregation.
Some pastors, from time to time, lose that
gripping purpose; the fire fades to an electric space heater. How does this happen? Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, in their book (Leadership that Fits Your Church-What Kind
of Pastor for What Kind of Congregation) suggest that it is often a
combination of two things: (1) stress and (2) the lack of a felt connection
between what they are doing day to day and the outlines of their initial
calling to ministry. Stress alone does
not “burn out” pastors. When stress is
coupled with a sense that their daily ministry tasks have little to do with
why they became ministers, then pastors are vulnerable to losing heart in their
work. If churches want energetic
passionate pastors who are bringing the best they have to their ministry, then
churches are well advised to insure that the minister is, at least most of the
time, doing things that connect with their sense of ministerial calling.
Ministry, at times, is like any other job. Arrangements must be made for building
maintenance and the plowing of snow.
Forms must be completed, budgets formulated, and office supplies ordered. A backup plan must be implemented when the
caterer backs out at the last minute and you have 70 people arriving in 3 hours
for a dinner. And sooner or later the
roof is going to leak--guaranteed; get a bucket.
If, however, a minister’s life is consumed with things
that simply feel like a job and there is a dearth of things that feel like a response
to a calling from God, they will grow weary.
Moses was a person with a clear calling from God—a burning
bush and heavenly voice. Yet as he moved through
his ministry, he began to become overwhelmed with daily, job-like, tasks. Administration crowded out prophecy in his
Jethro, his father-in-law, saw the
problem. Moses was spending all his time
adjudicating disputes between people. "This is no good, Moses; you are
going to burn yourself out if you keep this up," Jethro advised.
Your job is to be the people’s representative before God and to teach
the people law of God and how they are to live; get some help with the other
stuff (see Exodus 18:19-20.
Appoint others to serve as judges
Jethro advised, encouraging Moses to
reclaim his original calling and give up being a civil servant in the court
All pastors need a Jethro, someone who will see
that they are having ample opportunity to live out their life-giving call from
God, a calling that set them on this vocational trajectory in the first place. Without Jethro, it is unlikely that Moses
ever would have gotten the people ready to live in the Promise Land. Every Moses needs a Jethro.
Executive Minister of the American Baptist
Churches of New York State