Driscoll notes that it is easy for leaders to be distracted by their own well meaning people. People call in the middle of the night with crises. People come into the office sobbing with stories of sin and struggle. People have interpersonal tangles that they would like you to dedicate several hours a week to. People want to be “good friends” with the pastor and spend time together regularly.
And the point isn’t to be heartless or unfeeling or unavailable. Pastors are shepherds, and they must shepherd the sheep. And sheep wander off. Sheep get into trouble. Sheep need lots of care and love and time.
But every pastor must quickly learn that they cannot do everything. And if pastors cannot do everything for everyone in the church, then of necessity, they must quickly learn to prioritize. And just to be clear, this means saying “no” to some things, some people, some real needs, some hard cases. Sometimes it means not answering the phone, not responding to emails, requests, whatever.
Of course, pastors must remain dedicated to loving their people, must remain “given to hospitality,” and must not be rude or unkind. But pastors cannot do everything, and pastors who try to do everything will fail and they will burn out and in the end will actually do their congregations more harm than good.
This principle is always true, even in small churches, but this principle gets more and more obvious and important the larger the church grows. A pastor can know his flock fairly well when it is fairly small. He can fairly routinely make his way around through the congregation, checking in with them, giving counsel, and spending time with them. I remember in the first church I pastored, a mission work, there were maybe 28 people in worship if everyone came. Even in a tiny mission work like that, pastors must not delusionally think that they can do everything, but they can get to know their people and visit with them regularly. But I also remember the last time we had the whole church over to our apartment. Thankfully the weather was nice, and the fifty plus people could spill out into the yard. My wife and I realized we wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. And while our hospitality remained regular, the schedule got longer and longer. While we might have been able to cycle through everyone in a month or two when we first arrived, by the time we were preparing to leave, it would have taken three or four months to make it through everyone.
When we arrived back in Moscow at Trinity to serve as one of the pastors here, I believe the congregation was a little over two hundred at the time. I remember Jenny asking at one point (with some trepidation), “How are we going to be able to have everyone over?” She didn’t mean all at once, just how could we schedule or plan to visit with everyone in the church? And I told her that we wouldn’t because we couldn’t. Over the course of the two and a half years since we’ve been at Trinity, the congregation has continued to grow, and with over three hundred people regularly in worship, it’s just not possible to know everyone really well.
Driscoll recounts similar realizations as Mars Hill grew. He relates how at one point they even had close friends drop by one night to tell them that they were leaving the church. And the reason they were leaving was because the Driscolls hadn’t been spending much time with them any more. Whatever questions we may have for them, the point is that particularly as congregations grow, pastors can’t be best friends with everyone in the church. Just as a side note: Where God provides close friends for pastors and their wives and families within larger congregations, this is itself a particularly significant ministry to pastors and their families. And sometimes these relationships are crucial means of grace at specific times but can also providentially shift and change over time. This must be received with thankful hearts, commended, and people need to guard against any feelings of offense or bitterness or rivalry.
Furthermore and even more importantly, pastors can’t do all the work of ministry in the church because that is not how a healthy church will grow. But the point that Driscoll makes that is a really helpful reminder is that this is the way it’s supposed to be anyway. Pastors can’t and shouldn’t do all the ministry because they aren’t the only ministers.
In fact, Driscoll points to Ephesians 4 where Paul says that Jesus gave His Spirit to the Church in the form of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). In other words, the ministry of pastors and teachers is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. And I’ll just say it one more time to be clear: The saints are to be actively involved in the work of ministry. Of course pastors and teachers are saints too, and they have an important ministry also. But their ministry is to equip the rest of the saints to do ministry. Why? So that the body of Christ might be edified, built up. Literally, the word means to build a house. The way churches get built is by pastors equipping the saints to do the work of ministry. And Paul continues by explaining that this is how the body of Christ will grow up and grow together. If churches want to grow up and grow together, then the saints must be equipped.
Pastors must train and equip by doing and setting an example, but this means that faithful pastors must be training other men to be elders, deacons, and laymen who will then go out and do counseling and evangelism and mercy ministry in the church and outside the church (and likewise the women).
Driscoll fairly candidly admits that at various points in his ministry he was trying to do too much, and it had ramifications for his own health and family life. This is a good warning.
But overwhelmingly, I found this reminder to be freeing and liberating. When Jethro confronted Moses about this same problem, Jethro was a wise elder/father in-law and could see the burn out coming a mile away. Jethro’s advice was good news. It was gospel wisdom. And the Jethro principle still stands as basic, essential wisdom for the body of Christ.
Now I’m a big fan of Richard Baxter style pastoral ministry, and I do think that Driscoll’s advice should be balanced with Baxter’s pastoral heart. It would seem a little strange to me for a pastor to never engage in counseling or pastoral care, though I know in some churches there are pastors who only preach and other pastors who only counsel. I would think that some interaction with the needs and challenges of the congregation remains important and strategic, but the principle of delegation and sharing the load and equipping the saints to do ministry stands. And this is exactly what the apostles did in Acts 6. Whether or not those seven men are “deacons” in the technical sense, they are certainly deacons in as much as they are alleviating the load of the apostles.
Someone might have objected that the apostles were heartless for neglecting the needs of the widows. Wasn’t it the apostle James who insisted that pure and undefiled religion was the care of orphans and widows? And there may be some hyper-Baxters who would have a hard time letting go of the ministry to widows: what if it falls apart? What if they don’t get cared for? But the apostles (James included) said it would not be right for them to worry about that ministry. They were called to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2-4). That’s a wonderful apostolic example set for many pastors.
Train other saints to do the work of ministry. Train other saints to counsel, to do mercy ministry, to help with pastoral care, to do administrative work, to organize events, whatever. And of course gifts and interests will vary from pastor to pastor and that will color this principle in different ways, but the pastor’s job boiled down is to pray and preach.
The last thought on this is that pastors have to remember their own families as the first members of their congregation. The pastoral care must begin there. Pastors who have Richard Baxter as their hero must begin being Richard Baxter in their own homes, dating their wives, loving their children, and not neglecting their physical and spiritual wellbeing. The pastor’s home is his first parish. Pastors can’t do everything, but it shouldn’t even be a question about which members of your congregation you should spend time with first. Love your wife so that she is not a de facto widow; love your children so that they are not de facto orphans. This is pure and undefiled religion.
Anyway, good stuff from Driscoll: Leaders, don’t be distracted. You can’t do everything. So equip the saints. Pray and preach and love your people. And trust Jesus to build His Church.