For the past several weeks I have been posting articles that interact with Dr. Thom Rainer’s research titled The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors based on his interviews of twenty-plus pastors who had been in Christian ministry for at least 25 years and were over the age of 55. This week I finish the series by combining the final two “regrets” because, in my opinion, these last two are closely related. The two regrets (and their related quotes from pastors in Dr. Ranier’s article) are:
Failure to Share Ministry: “Let me shoot straight. I had two complexes. The first was the Superman complex. I felt like if ministry was going to be done well, I had to do it. I couldn’t ask or equip someone else to do it. My second complex was the conflict avoider complex. I was so afraid that I would get criticized if I didn’t visit Aunt Susie personally when she had an outpatient procedure that I ran myself ragged. In my second church I suffered burnout and ended up resigning.”
Failure to Make Friends: “I know it’s a cliché, but being a pastor can be lonely. I think many pastors get in trouble because we can get so lonely. I wish I had done a better job of seeking out true friends. I know if I had made the effort, there would have been a number of other pastors in town that I could have befriended. Sometimes I got so busy doing ‘stuff’ that I didn’t have the time to do the things that really matter.”
These two “regrets” reveal a sad misunderstanding, in my opinion, of what ministry is and how the pastoral office is to be executed. I can best describe this by telling you a story of a pastor who successfully shared ministry with his friends. Those friends were the members of his church and he never lacked for an abundance of those eager to lighten his ministerial load and hang out with him whenever they could because they were his true and close friends.
Pastor Bob had the ability to cast an exciting vision for the work of Christ through the church. As the members of his church caught that vision they could not stay away from using their spiritual gifts in order to please God, Pastor Bob, each other, and themselves. They were a “team” in the truest sense of the word. And Pastor Bob was their player/coach. A player/coach is a unique position in the world of sports and any other endeavor. It requires personal talent and skill to make meaningful contributions to the team effort as a player and the wisdom and compassionate knowledge to help other team members contribute to the best of their ability consistent with each team member’s talents. Pastor Bob was a very persuasive guy but he always engaged people in a way that made them feel unique and special. He would help them understand what the meaning of 1 Corinthians chapter 12 really meant:
- There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit (verse 4).
- There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord (verse 5).
- There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men (verse 6).
- Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (verse 7).
- The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ (verse 12).
- Now the body is not made up of one part but of many (verse 14).
- Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (verse 27).
A pastor as a player/coach can, based on his belief and practice of what is highlighted from 1 Corinthians 12, both (1) recognize his personal gifts and use them appropriately as part of the team (but knows he is not “the team”), and (2) vision cast, recruit, equip, and unleash the team as a band of brothers (and sisters)… friends together in Christ enjoying their common pursuit of their common task. He knows and appreciates that he is just a small part of the team and he joyfully engages and brings others on to the team so that the total effort is a shared effort for the common purpose of being together as friends and comrades…members of Christ’s body doing the work of Christ on earth.
Failing to engage the members of the church as friends united in Christ’s agenda for shared ministry will ultimately result in these two pastoral “regrets” and the kinds of experiences expressed by the pastors quoted above. Pastor Bob’s experience was never a lack of those seeking to share neither ministry with him or a lack of friends because he had the vision to have fun with his many friends as they undertook something bigger than any one of them could accomplish alone. Vision casting does that. If ministry can be accomplished alone it lacks biblical value; if it is not fun it misses biblical perspective. Ministry is to be a joy, not a burden. Ministry only becomes a burden when done to achieve something less than God’s glory and what is inherently joyful because it is inherently eternally worthy.
I hope it is becoming clear why these two “regrets” are closely tied together. If not, let me try to make it a bit more evident. Both of these “failures” are grounded, in my opinion, in the same root cause: Failure to Exercise Faith! That “regret” was Part 3 of this series. That article spoke mostly of the need for us all to “see” the reality of the “unseen” as being more vivid and real than what is “seen.” Pastoral failure (and consequently “regret”) is revealed when one lacks the faith that God does indeed pour out his spiritual gifts on all men of faith (1 Corinthians 12:7), and to lack the trust that God indeed “sets the lonely in families, leading forth the prisoners with singing…” (Psalm 68:6). But it is more than merely pastoral failure; it is also our failure. Each one of us must deeply believe that we have received and must use that special spiritual gift to build the body. Each one of us must believe we are part of both the visible body, the local church, and the invisible body, the eternal true church that extends forever.
Ministry rightly done is team ministry done together with the pastor and all of the members of the local church. It is also ministry done with a joy that only can come from the perspective that what we are about is larger than what any one of us could ever hope to accomplish alone. Yes, we are pilgrims as “aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13-16), but we are not pilgrims alone as we happily pursue our journey and quest. By faith we can share our pastor’s ministry and be his friend and he ours.
As church conflict consultants, Tara and I have an interest in this discussion for really one principled reason: to equip the church in its goal of unity. And that is the promise we have from our God as we seek shared ministry as friends together. Within the text of 1 Corinthians chapter 12 we find these unifying words:
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (verses 24 through 26).
When you read that passage are you including your pastor as one of the body? Pastor, are you including yourself along with every member? Faith requires us all to answer with a resounding “Yes!” May it be true so we no longer have pastoral “regrets” as a topic worthy of discussion.
In the Lamb,