Pastor Matt Boswell from Duvall, Washington recently published an article on ChurchLeaders.com titled “10 Things Most Pastors Hate to Admit Publicly,” a short treatise on the common pressures and struggles of full-time, traditional pastoral ministry. The list includes stressors like:
- We take it personally when you leave the church
- We feel pressure to perform week after week
- We measure ourselves by the numbers
- We regularly think about quitting
- So on and so forth
I’ll confess, Boswell’s list is more accurate than not. Traditional pastors in traditional western churches DO feel the burden to be the next big ministry star. There’s an undeniable pressure to singlehandedly increase the attendance and giving in their church, be looked upon as a nearly infallible leader, even be a featured speaker at a national conference and sign a book deal with their picture on the cover.
The pressure is real and I used to bear that cross every single day. Professional ministry throughout my 20’s was defined by these pressures. I gained more weight and lost more hair stressing over the numbers and whether or not I was good enough at my job, good enough for my church, and good enough for my God.
Then something changed. My eyes were opened. I discovered the idol of our worship. I, and many of the congregations I served in the past, idolized an unhealthy image of ministry. Whereas we expected thoroughly researched, eloquently spoken 20-30 minute monologues complete with flawless musical performances, the early church gathered simply to remember the resurrection and the hope of the God’s Kingdom breaking out in their midst. Whereas we demand a menu full of well funded and carefully structured programs, ministries, and projects, the early church simply made a habit of caring for one another and sharing the love of God with their neighbors. Whereas we stipulate a bloated budget for well-designed buildings and staff structures rivaling that of many Fortune 500 corporations, the early church changed the world through the humble discipline of meeting regularly where ever they could (often in their own homes) and boldly declaring the “priesthood of all believers.”
Today, I serve a church that would be considered an abysmal failure by the traditional western measuring stick. We don’t meet in our own multimillion dollar building, nor are we raising the capital to build one. We don’t have a wide variety of well-funded and structured ministries, programs, or projects. We don’t even have a single full-time staff member. Our worship services regularly include technical gaffes and jokes that could’ve used a few more minutes of reflection.
While we’re far from being the newest traditional suburban megachurch with its own integral coffee shop, The Hills Church is making disciples of Jesus. Every Sunday, individuals who wanted little to do with the faith in the past, actively choose to gather to celebrate and be shaped by Jesus. I see people who struggle to belong, welcomed and embraced by a community of faith no matter what…no matter what. The difference is, instead of focusing on the “business of church” and doing whatever it takes to increase our numbers, we focus on Jesus’ mission to make disciples and I’ve never found myself more refreshed by ministry.
Ministry is still a lot of work, and choosing to pursue it professionally isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly, but it doesn’t have to be the burden Boswell describes it to be. Jesus said “go and make disciples.” While that mission is accomplished in a million different ways in a million different contexts, if you’re in ministry and your burden is whether or not your “performance” is good enough this week, I challenge you to rethink what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. My intention isn’t to come off all that critical of Boswell. He’s a great pastor, with a beautiful heart, and very effective ministry. This isn’t meant to come off as judgemental of him or his work. My point is that most often the traditional pressures of traditional ministry are self-inflicted and entirely unnecessary. There’s a better way. I’m so glad I found it.
The Hills Church meets at 10am every Sunday morning in the theater area of Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh’s South Hills.