Trusting Or Driven: It’s A Tough Call!

Pastoral leadership is becoming more difficult by the day.  To receive a call from God to be a sheep dog for His flock – or at least a small part of it – is one thing; to fulfil that role half well is another.  The sheer weight of the task is often deeply burdensome. The inherent vocational hazards are voluminous.

Consider the following:

  • The gatekeepers do not want to shift gears (they are powerful people with fixed views of ministry
  • Commitment has become convenience (I’ll pitch in today but don’t count on me for tomorrow)
  • Worship services become performances (or we’ll try a better show elsewhere)
  • Giving is patchy (tithing is Old Testament stuff – be grateful for my small change)
  • Fresh ideas and initiatives fall on deaf ears (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it)
  • Long term goals and exciting visions crash on take off (the pastor has had another rush of blood to the head)
  • There seems to be inertia and battle fatigue (we need a few Sundays off every so often).

Actually the list is endless. Just adjust it for your place.  It’s not too hard for many pastors.

And there is a difficult mix to cope with:

Add to what may be a shortage of encouragers, the enthusiasm of critics and the unpredictability of each day and you have a cocktail capable of demolishing the most optimistic of us.  The danger is that we might redouble our efforts to turn the tide single handedly only to collapse in a physical, emotional and spiritual heap.  Our urge to bring about great things for God turns sour and pointless.  He can have His people and good luck to them.  Let them live in their own suffocating, tiny, well regulated, piously irrelevant world which they mistakenly think is the church on mission.

So, let’s be real here.  Not everything in ministry runs according to plan. Sometimes very little of it.  The big dreams do not always materialise.  People do resist change and, yes, they do dig in.  Circumstances do conspire against us.  Our aspiring to effective leadership can fall far short of even our most mediocre goals.  What do we do then?

Well, there’s not much point pushing ourselves to the brink for no purpose:

Driving ourselves into the ground to try and move the slow of heart is not too clever.  Nor is it exactly wise to get cranky with the saints and let them have it with both barrels.  That will produce some additional problems which is not precisely what we are after.  Some strategies are obvious: prayer, gentle encouragement, the counsel of friends, the development of patience in the long term.

But there are a few other realities: 

  • We have not been called to prove to others that we have the leadership goods.
  • Nor should we be trying to add our name to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
  • Our agenda is not to bring in the Kingdom in one marvellous blaze of glory (to be then written up in a thousand journals for change agents in the church followed by hour long documentaries on how we pulled if off).
  • Nor are we to get too ruffled if the ministry wheel starts to fall off (unless we are the ones who have loosened the nuts).
  • We are not here to do what God alone can do.

Let’s learn to hang in when nothing much seems to be happening:

There are times when we have to slow up, stand back and wait for the Lord to move.  We are to do as well as we can the things for which we are especially gifted.  This does not mean that we will all live happily ever after nor does it mean that we will be understood and appreciated.  But if the solutions are out of our league, it makes sense to accept this and give some time for God to move.  If He does not declare His hand, perhaps we have to revisit our call and rely on Him and trusted friends for guidance.

To choose between trusting service and sheer drivenness is a surprisingly tough call:

Especially so in a church culture besotted with performance outcomes and exaggerated success stories.  Opt for trust anyway.  When it comes to the crunch, these are His people, His church and they are His problem.  Besides which, we can be our own worst enemies.  It is entirely possible to be preoccupied with what is not happening and miss the quiet work of God which has been going on unobtrusively all the while.  He may not have advertised the work of His Spirit for all to see but that’s His business.  To believe that He is pushing on with His own agenda is what real trust is all about.

Feeling a bit driven in your leadership lately?  How about slipping out of the fast lane and taking in the view?  It’s worth the effort and you will be in for a surprise or two.

Rev John Simpson