By Dr. Jeffrey Farmer
On Wednesday, Feb. 4, a good friend and fellow pastor had a heart attack and died. Terry was 42 years old and a hard worker. His church was a smaller membership church with a significant debt issue. Terry may have had some health issues, but appeared to be fine aside from carrying a bit of extra weight. While all details surrounding his death are not well known yet, it appears as though the contributing factors of extra weight and stress had a significant impact. For me it serves as a reminder of three significant biblical principles for ministry.
First, we must remember that we are not our own. Jesus Christ has bought each of us with the price of his blood. This means that we are to serve as Christ commands, not as we see fit. This is important to remember when we consider our lifestyle. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” As Christ-followers in general, and specifically pastors, we are to present the best body we possibly can for God’s service. This means taking care of our health in all aspects of life.
Second, it is very easy for a pastor in a smaller membership church to take on too much work in the church. We often feel that since we are being paid, we need to do more to earn the pay. Sometimes we think that it is better to do the work ourselves to make sure it gets done (or gets done properly). This is a prideful mistake. The role of the pastor is not to be the “hired hand.” The pastor is to be the equipper of the local church. We learn in Ephesians 4:11-14:
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, 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, 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.
Pastors are to model to the local church how to do the work of ministry, but we are not to bear the lion’s share of the work. In fact, you will hinder the growth and maturity of your church body if you do not allow them to exercise the gifts and abilities God has given them. Help your church to grow in spiritual maturity and missional living by allowing your church membership to do the work of ministry.
Finally, we must not carry the concerns/burdens of the church on our own shoulders. There are any number of reasons a church carries a debt or has significant hurtles to overcome in order to survive. The stress related to these worries can be overwhelming. What we must remember is that these worries are not meant for us to bear. Your church is not your church; it belongs to Jesus Christ. He has sent the Holy Spirit to empower the church as well as to comfort the church. As pastors, we need to give the burden to God to handle, and enlist a group of trusted prayer warriors to pray for the church issues and the pastor. Bill Gaultiere noted, “Pastor stress today is enormous. The expectations that people put on their pastors today — and that pastors put on themselves! — are debilitating.” The statistics are terrible! In three different surveys, pastors reported that 75 percent of them were “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed.” Eighty percent believe their pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Even worse, half reported not meeting regularly with an accountability person or group and 44 percent do not take a regular day off.
With a ministry lifestyle like this, what are we modeling to our churches? We are teaching them that ministry is destructive, chaotic, and should be avoided. No wonder they are happy to leave the work to the “professionals.” When we teach the biblical doctrine that all believers are called to be ministers in their daily lives, our members understandably reject the notion. Instead, let us equip our church body to experience the true joy of serving our savior. Let us model healthy ministry, and lead them to experience the joy of devoted ministry.
The following steps will help you get on course:
- Make a plan to get healthy. This means your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Enlist the assistance of others to help with this.
- Get a physical. Make lifestyle changes based on the results.
- Enlist a prayer support within the church.
- Find an accountability partner who can tell you the truth bluntly in love.
- Pray with your wife.
- Learn to say no.
- Become an expert at delegating to the right person in the church. Allow them to do the task.
- Take a day off every week. Do not let anyone take that time from you.
Terry left a wife and a daughter. Please pray for them as they mourn. Pray for them as they learn how to live life without husband or father. Please learn from this so that you can go the distance in ministry. After all, it is your sacrificial offering to God. It must be holy. It must be acceptable. It must be a living sacrifice.
Dr. Jeffrey Farmer is the Associate Director, Caskey Center for Church Excellence and Associate Professor of Church Ministry and Evangelism (Leavell College) at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.