Confessions of an Ineffective Pastor

Six years ago our Annual Conference was visited by Rev. Adam Hamilton. Rev. Hamilton is one of the most effective and successful pastors that The United Methodist Church has ever produced. He has grown a church from next to nothing to become the largest United Methodist Church in the United States. He has published book after book after book. He has spoken at the White House and is sought after from many conferences as a guest speaker. As still considered a young clergy (barely) six years ago, I got to meet Rev. Hamilton with a group of other young clergy from our conference. Sadly to say I don’t remember a lot of what he said since I am an older clergy now and my memory is fading, but I do remember what he told us his work schedule was. Rev. Hamilton stated that he didn’t go to bed till midnight or even later if he was working on something and typical woke up at 4 am in the morning to get started on the day. He said he only needs around 2-4 hours of sleep each night to function.

I was shocked, and left feeling inadequate to say the least. Yet this is the model for effective pastoral ministry that was being presented to a gathering of young clergy. I wondered how I was ever going to be as successful as Adam Hamilton. I need much more time to sleep. I have a wife and wanted to be able to be present with her. Then we had children and all of a sudden there were activities related to raising small children…dance recitals, ball games, girl scouts, school! How am I going to be an effective pastor and be a good husband, father, and most especially Christian? 

Then I started to remember my mentor pastors when I first was considering ministry. One has been divorce several times. Another is divorced and no longer in the ministry. A third has health problems. Another nearly burned out. Another is no longer in the ministry and has health problems. Another retired early. Try as I could as I went through a list of people that mentored me in how to do ministry I couldn’t think of a single one that hasn’t had some sort of problem or issue going back to my very first pastor. My very first pastor, the Southern Baptist pastor who baptized me 33 years ago, committed suicide. I am talking about pastors of LARGE congregations. Pastors that everyone around them would see as effective and high functioning leaders. In fact the system rewards these pastors because of their ability to grow high performance churches. They are often seen as effective, productive, level 5 leaders.

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The more I looked into this the clearer the picture became. All of their time was poured into producing bigger and better churches. Their sabbath realities became minimized as their work begin to expand. Yes, this absolutely correlated with larger, bigger, better, and more. But at what cost? Ministers I know have health problems at a greater rate than others around them. They are often obese (like myself), have high blood pressure (like myself), and are never around their families (like my former self). They burn out or blow out quickly. They are struggling, and I know this because I have struggled. Now every time I meet a pastor I wonder silently to myself how fast their legs are churning under the surface of the water to keep afloat. I know they are struggling because I have struggled to keep up. I was churning water as fast as I could and still couldn’t keep afloat. I was sinking.

That was then. Now my ministry has changed. I am unproductive. I am ineffective. I refuse to let metrics dictate my ministry, and this has changed how I do ministry.

  1. I am not a “strategic leader.” I am a “relational leader.” I am not going to turn around a giant church in a declining neighborhood through effective programs and huge events. In fact I have no clue what a “strategic leader” is. I am going to be known in the town, neighborhood, and community as the pastor of the Methodist Church and someone that leaders in the community can depend on for spiritual guidance.
  2. I am not a “calendar filler.” I am an “importance manager.” I am not going to produce a calendar full of events, programing, and meetings that make the church appear to be busy. I am going to make sure things are important and worthwhile for people to attend. Our events are curated to the community and the people we serve. 
  3. I am not a “self promoter.” I am a “Jesus promoter.” I am not going to force people to attend my church because my church is better than the 100 other churches around me. I like my Baptist friends, my Apostolic friends, my Catholic friends, and my Episcopal friends. I am going to encourage people to Christ and to become involved in some church. My church numbers may not go up, but my spiritual friendships will. 
  4. I am not a “social media influencer.” I am a “proud husband, dad, and pastor.” I am not going to have 20 Facebook posts per week about everything going on in my life and the churches life and how many people made decision for Christ this week. I am going to share joy in my family and my church.

So what all this means is that you are as likely to see me at a Junior High Football game, the elementary school, the bank, the post office, at the grocery store, or in a restaurant as you are in church. It means I spend more time praying than I do planning. It means that my children will know their dad growing up. It means that I need longer than 2-4 hours of sleep at night. It means that I am going to model a healthier pattern for my church then was modeled for me.

It basically means that I am an ineffective pastor and proud of it.

 

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