You Don't Have to Be Super-Pastor (Even in a Small Church)
"No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again!" - Mr. Incredible
I love that quote from The Incredibles. Doesn't it perfectly capture pastoral ministry as well? So often it can feel like we are spending all our time and energy jumping from one problem to the next, just putting out fires...
Someone texts us asking for prayer.
A member of the congregation gets sent to the hospital, so we visit.
Phone calls left and right for prayer and counsel.
An email comes through of someone who has some "suggestions" after last week's service.
And somehow we're supposed to find time in all the craziness for sermon preparation, time with our family, and our hobbies. (Wait, what are hobbies?)
If we're honest, it's exhausting. And deep down we know it's not sustainable...
The Superhero Complex
Think of your favorite superhero.
For me, it's Batman. I mean, he's your typical, conflicted billionaire who decides to fight crime for the rest of his life to avenge his parents' death. (If you don't have one of those people in your life, I highly recommend it.)
Ok, in all seriousness, I really do find Batman fascinating. (And yes, Batman is a superhero if you're one of those people...)
Whoever you chose, now think about that superhero's life. They've dedicated their lives to always be on-call. Whenever there's an emergency, they arrive in a moment's notice. No hesitation. No questions asked. No matter where they're at.
Now think about yourself...
Does that describe your perspective of pastoral ministry?
Are you always on-call? Are you there whenever people "need" you? No hesitation? No questions asked?
Because here's the truth: So often we crave that hero feeling. We commit to be there for everyone at a moment's notice. We love to be the one that saves the day. We thrive off the feeling of being needed by our congregation.
I'm right there with you.
But this is what I like to call the superhero complex.
What's so bad about the superhero complex?
At its core, the superhero complex simply flows out of our love for ministry. We honestly love caring for people. We love shepherding our flock. And we love being a crucial part of someone's spiritual development.
Obviously none of that is wrong. It's how most of us are wired. And it's how most of us are gifted. But, if we're honest, there are also elements of pride, of control, of distrust, and of disconnect at play.
To take this further, allowing our congregation to rely on us for all the ministry simply is not the calling of the pastorate. And Ephesians 4:11-12 makes that clear:
"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ..."
That's the structure God designed for our churches. And in those verses, part of our calling is made plain: We are to equip the saints for ministry.
Giving ministry away isn't just a great idea developed in our culture. It's biblical. And it's literally part of the job description God gives us.
When we don't intentionally make equipping saints an aspect of our leadership, we miss out on a couple results that the rest of Ephesians 4 promises.
An atmosphere of maturity.
"until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..." (v. 13)
An atmosphere of stability.
"so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes..." (v. 14)
An atmosphere of integrity.
"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ..." (v. 15)
An atmosphere of community.
"from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love..." (v. 16)
Each of those sound pretty nice, right? Well, these are all promised results when a healthy, biblical structure of leadership development is developed and emphasized. And that's on us.
How to address the superhero complex
It's easy to recognize this as part of our calling without changing anything. It's easy to say equipping saints is important without actually developing a culture that emphasizes opportunities for leadership development and ministry practice.
So here are some ways to address the superhero complex in our leadership and build a biblical culture of leadership development:
1. Give ministry away.
This is where it all starts. And this is a non-negotiable. We need to let things go. We need to hand things off. When we hold on to control in every area of ministry for too long, we actually end up limiting our church's effectiveness as our thin leadership becomes the bottleneck for growth, discipleship, and decision-making.
Action Item: Prioritize your responsibilities by numbering them from the greatest to the least. (Your top three should be things that only YOU can do.) Evaluate the bottom three and try to identify someone in your congregation or on your team that could help you with each of them.
Next, recruit them and, if they are up to the task, be sure to provide a clearly written description of your expectations of the responsibility. Methodically train them and hand-off the responsibility, allowing them the freedom to get the job done as they continue to serve in this area.
2. Release yourself from the expectation that you need to be on-call.
Your job is not to be super-pastor. You can't be. And there is no biblical expectation that you are on-call for everyone in your church, any time they need you. That may be an expectation from some members of your congregation, but it's not an expectation from God.
Consider this your permission to release yourself from that weight.
Action Items: First, appoint an elder/deacon of the week who is designated to the congregation as being on-call. Communicate from the platform on Sunday and in all other communication to regular attenders that this elder/deacon is the first person to contact in the event of an emergency or need.
Second, appoint three elders/deacons on a Sunday that you go on family vacation as contact points in case of emergency or need. Lovingly communicate that you will be spending your vacation focusing on replenishment and time with your family. And then commit to that by keeping your phone off during vacation.
3. Build time in to your schedule that you are unavailable.
This isn't as much about developing leaders as protecting our time, but create a consistent schedule with time blocked off that you are unavailable. Even if it's an emergency. (It always is, isn't it?) This is time for you. This is time for your family.
Actually put this time on your calendar and mark yourself "busy."
Action Item: Have a trusted friend keep you accountable by reviewing your calendar at the first of the week to verify that you actually have marked off time for yourself. Treat the time you have marked off as though it is an appointment with a very important person. If you aren't willing to treat this seriously, then you will always compromise this time as negotiable.
4. Empower other leaders for specific areas of ministry.
A great way to begin creating a culture and structure that promotes leadership development is to designate leaders to head-up specific areas of ministry (i.e. children's ministry, cleaning the facility, discipleship, communications, etc.). Empower these leaders by making expectations clear, gradually letting go of control, and giving them the freedom to actually lead that area of ministry.
Action Item: Handpick leaders within the congregation to lead areas of ministry based on their natural passion. Your job as the leader is to clearly define the expectations of the role, keep them accountable, and to provide any necessary tools and supplies they need to be successful. This person will always be set-up for failure if you empower them to do a job without providing the tools to accomplish it with excellence.
5. Let prayer be an optional answer to "need" instead of immediate action.
There will always be times when people "need" the pastor. They need you to be at the hospital with their family. They need to immediately get your counsel on a life situation. While there are obviously times when you can make those visits, phone calls, or meetings happen, there may be times when you may simply have to offer prayer instead of a visit, or prayer instead of a last-minute meeting. And that's okay.
If necessary, notify the elder/deacon that you identified as "on-call" to be present with the congregation member afterwards.
Action Item: Develop a Prayer Pyramid within your church in order to communicate urgent prayer needs quickly. Empower a Prayer Leader that you communicate with directly. In turn, ask the Prayer Leader to pick five leaders/volunteers within the congregation that they can contact. Then, each of these leaders are to be assigned five to seven families to communicate with in the event of urgent needs. (This system works great if you already have small group leaders in place.) Once developed, communicate that the Prayer Pyramid is the default system your congregation should go to before any other action is taken.
6. Remember that you're not defined by your role in ministry.
I truly hope you love your role as pastor and all that comes with it. But this is not where your identity lies. Not only is your identity ultimately in Christ, your unique personality is made up of are much more than the fact that you're a pastor.
Remember that ministry is what you DO; it is not WHO you are!
Action Item: Allow yourself to be involved in "non-ministry" activities. Join a golf league, hunting/fishing club, community group, governmental organization, or other area where your passion for life is able to be explored outside of your role as a pastor or ministry leader. Pursue opportunities that allow you to rub shoulders with those outside the four walls of your church.
Developing leaders won't happen overnight. And it's not something you can do on the side. It needs to become an essential part of your culture, and your leadership.
If this is an area you could improve in, we dedicate a whole module to it in VisionBox, our new strategic planning resource for small and mid-size churches. This is a simple and affordable way to invest in the long-term health of your church, and it’s a great first step for your church to begin planning for the future.