Admit it. You do not have enough time or energy to do everything that is expected of you. I’m in that same leaky boat. The good news is that we are not supposed to. Although our gifts and calling are irrevocable, they don’t make us invincible.
What if we refused to be the solution to every problem in our church? Imagine defining ministry success by how our members’ succeed instead of how we succeed? Our call to equip people for ministry is a call to give plates away, not spin them better.
I want to encourage you to revisit your calling and gifts this summer by embracing these four declarations of what pastors are NOT called to be.
“I am not a referee.”
Referees and umpires have the most thankless jobs on the planet. They should wear spots instead of stripes because they are huge targets for criticism.
Conflict resolution may be that part of a pastor’s job that comes with the most pressure and least preparation. Although every pastor (and believer) is called to be a minister of reconciliation, some of us are more gifted and equipped for it than others. I have met very few lead pastors who consider counseling a core part of their calling.
About half-way through my 30 years of pastoring, I gave myself permission to not fix every feud between spouses, siblings, and church members. God reminded me how He fixed the first church conflict in history—with deacons. As these capable lay leaders waged peace, the pastors refocused on prayer and the ministry of the Word, which led to another wave of growth.
“I am not an attorney.”
When some conflicts reach a legal impasse, people often consult with their pastors about next steps. I refuse to offer legal advice even when I have a strong opinion. Being an expert in God’s law does not qualify you to be an expert in man’s law.
A seminary president was recently terminated for mishandling reports of domestic abuse and rape. Although it may seem like the area between spiritual counsel and legal counsel is grey, the stakes are too high to go with your gut.
“I am not a therapist.”
Mental health issues are difficult to diagnose for a layman—so why try? You may not think of yourself as a “layman” in that field, but just because you took a counseling class in college or seminary doesn’t mean you are a counselor. In some states it is not even lawful to use that word “counselor” without the credentials to back it up.
Since you are likely well qualified to give spiritual counsel, eagerly continue to disciple people. I confess that I cannot easily discern between a chemical problem and a character problem. Some people are struggling with both at the same time. If you suspect that someone needs more than you can offer, please encourage them to talk to their MD or a licensed therapist.
If someone of the opposite gender seeks your counsel, find them the help they need—don’t try to be the help they need. I’m not opposed to an initial meeting when another woman is present or visible, but after that meeting you are in danger of making things worse for both of you. Be consistent, compassionate, and courageous about how you refer people.
“I am not an enabler.”
Pastors must choose whether they want to be equippers or enablers. Whenever we save the day for someone, we remove their need for their real Savior. A hero complex has led many pastors down steep paths of burnout, depression, or worse.
There are some exceptions to these four rules of thumb. I personally know a few pastors who are also attorneys, therapists, or referees. But what if Joe-pastors like you and me stayed in our ministry lane for the rest of this summer? We will not only notice an absence of stress in our ministries, but we will also experience the absolute joy of watching others fulfill their calling.