By Dr. Chris Hefner
“Daddy, we’re going to your church.”
Those were the words of my youngest son one day when we arrived to drop him off for preschool at the church I serve as pastor.
Too often I act like it’s my church. During my years as an evangelism and missions pastor, I served my pastor and the church. I loved the church. But as a senior pastor, I take everything more personally.
Tell me if these thoughts are familiar to you:
- You find it frustrating that the “consistent” attendance in your congregation is relatively half the Sundays a year. While we know there are dozens of reasons for missing church, it’s discouraging families can prioritize work, school, and extracurricular activities, but church attendance is negotiable.
- You take it personally when someone decides to leave your church. Regardless of the reason (moving, frustration, family, etc.), you carry blame and guilt when people leave your church. Even if you’re not directly responsible, you consider scenarios that would’ve helped you keep those who left.
- You’re regularly burdened—sometimes overwhelmingly so—that those who attend your church will become followers of Jesus. You preach the gospel hoping and believing for that visitor, or that teenager, or that child to come to faith in Jesus. You know they need Christ. Yet, they hear and fail to respond.
- You become disappointed when those who are present criticize minor things. Every pastor I know has faced the Sunday frustration of preaching his heart out only to hear a complaint or problem from a church member right after the sermon.
- You bear the sadness of those hurt by immaturity in your congregation. Not every church member is growing in maturity. We all have blind spots for our own sins. Sometimes that means we reserve grace for ourselves but judgment for others. Being judgmental hurts fellow believers. And as a pastor, you share in the hurt and disappointment.
Reasons for this burden
Please don’t misunderstand; I love what God has called me to do. My guess is I’m not alone with some of these thoughts. If I can be so bold, I think there are two reasons why these burdens and frustrations bother me/us so much.
First, we genuinely recognize our own failures and limitations. I know I’ve failed or disappointed people in the church I serve. I know I could’ve worked harder, prayed longer, preached better, or served more humbly. In these frustrations, we see our own flaws.
Second, ministry has eternal significance. We are rightly burdened because the eternity of our neighbor or that teenager or that visitor is at stake. We preach the gospel passionately longing for their response. And we wonder if we could have done anything at all differently to occasion their response.
I don’t have all the answers to these frustrations and burdens. Some are fair. Some are not. But I do know this; the church I serve isn’t mine. It’s God’s church.
Peter wrote to fellow elders (pastors) reminding them the chief Shepherd will come and reward them for their labor (1 Peter 5:4). Remember whose church you serve.
You did not die for your congregation. You did not bleed for them, or suffer for them, or act as their substitution.
Share your burdens with the One who really is the Lead Pastor of your congregation. Reflect on the truth that the cross of Christ cleanses us of our flaws and failures and also cleanses our congregation members.
We serve Jesus’ church. Not only is serving His church a tremendous privilege, but it also brings freedom.
CHRIS HEFNER (@chrishefner) is the husband to a beautiful wife and fantastic mommy, Jean Hefner, daddy of two little boys, William and Nathan, and senior pastor at Wilkesboro Baptist Church. He is also professor of Western Civilization and Apologetics at Fruitland Baptist Bible College and Ph.D. graduate from the Billy Graham School of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.