By Daryl Crouch
A wise person once said, “A shepherd smells like the sheep.” That’s true. Local church pastors should live close to our people. We should know them, and they should know us. Few practices in spiritual leadership are more powerful than the “ministry of presence.”
In an age of mobile devices and multiple communication platforms, however, is it possible for pastors to be too accessible? Is it possible that we’ve neglected our souls and even undermined our leadership in our well-intended efforts to serve our congregation? Is it possible that our constant connection to one another actually distracts us from our fellowship with Jesus?
So how do church leaders do the personal work of ministry in the modern age and still maintain the rhythm of work and rest that feeds our own souls and serve others well? Let’s consider four critical steps to creating balance between effective, intentional ministry and instant access.
1. Invite your congregation to draw near to Jesus with you.
As much as pastors love our people and want to serve them, our primary responsibility is to lead people to experience intimacy with Jesus—to discover the wonder of His presence above all else. We only do that when our relationship with others is shaped by our intimate fellowship with Jesus.
In this age of accessibility, our greatest need is still our personal connection with God through Jesus Himself. Everything we do in ministry flows from that, and our availability and usefulness to the congregation is only empowered by the Holy Spirit who abides in us.
So as ready as we are to respond to the needs of others, healthy pastors create blocks of time where we get away from serving people in order to seek the Lord. We silence our phones, turn off our notifications, and open our Bibles and listen for the voice of God.
Although it may be difficult for a church member to be denied access to us in those moments of solitude, our hearts are shaped by God’s presence, so our congregational life will be shaped by His presence as well.
2. Create healthy communication habits.
Technology provides amazing opportunities for ministry. We can respond quickly to needs and stay connected even from a distance. This universal access, however, requires wisdom to build habits that not only serve others well, but make us more effective leaders.
Consider these questions:
- Do my regular communication practices allow me to consistently nurture my soul?
- Do my communication practices prioritize my family?
- Do my communication practices help the congregation trust Jesus?
- Do my communication practices create reasonable expectations for sustained ministry and healthy personal relationships?
The answer to these questions will have various implications, but consider text messaging for example. Every text message does not require an immediate response. Consistently responding on someone else’s timetable can distract us from what God has called us to do in that moment.
While I’m inclined to be accessible to everyone all of the time, I can’t be a faithful husband, father, and pastor without building healthier habits.
Rather than responding to every request immediately, I respond to texts or calls according to their kind. Personal matters receive a personal response, but ministry related requests that are not time-sensitive receive a response during office hours. This allows the church staff or me to serve more effectively than if I responded immediately on my own. It also protects me from unwise decision-making, and keeps me attentive to people and tasks directly in front of me.
3. Determine your preferred communication tools and use them.
Not too long ago, church and community members either called or emailed the church office to communicate with pastors. Now text messages, collaboration services (i.e. Slack, WhatsApp), and of course, social media, are all common communication platforms.
There’s no way we can be engaged in every platform with equal effectiveness, so pastors should decide what tools we will use for various types of communication. How we use various communication platforms actually shapes the way people communicate with us.
For example, when I call people, I usually use my mobile telephone. It’s just more convenient. I haven’t used my office telephone very much, so when people reach out to me, they naturally call or text my mobile phone rather than the church office phone. That’s an unhealthy pattern I’ve created, but one that I am now correcting in order to serve people more effectively.
Social media also removes barriers and humanizes us, which gives pastors amazing opportunities for ministry. While I enjoy three different social media platforms, I’ve chosen to not use Facebook Messenger because I discovered I couldn’t manage the flow of communication at the level necessary to steward souls and serve needs well. Instead, I direct ministry requests to my church email address where I can faithfully manage ministry responsibilities.
Whatever platforms you use, determine how you want to use them, and then use them in a way that clarifies the best way for people connect with you.
4. Enlist help managing the flow of communication.
With so much technology available to us, it’s easy to assume we can manage all of our responsibilities alone. For many years, I served smaller to medium sized churches where I didn’t have a ministry assistant. Budget constraints were a factor, but there was also the assumption that because I could write my own correspondence and answer my own phone, an assistant was not necessary. That was a bad assumption.
A ministry assistant who manages communication flow and helps to schedule a daily calendar may be our greatest practical asset in serving a congregation. All of us want to respond well to needs and serve to the best of our abilities; but whether our setting is smaller or larger, without assistance, our human limitations become a hindrance for our church accomplishing its mission to make disciples who live for Jesus’ kingdom.
So consider recruiting a volunteer or paid, part-time or full-time assistant who will work with you in communicating on your behalf so that you can be fully present as you shepherd the flock among you.
It’s easy to fall into a trap of instant accessibility. But even if you’ve established patterns that don’t bring you balance, it is reversible using any or all of these four steps.
DARYL CROUCH (@darylcrouch) is senior pastor of Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.