Do you like jokes? I do – even though I’m awful at telling them. I’m sure we all like jokes, especially when they are funny. But even when they “groaners,” we still laugh.
In joke-telling, no one is immune – all kinds of people can be the butt of a joke. Of course, jokes can be cruel. But if we can’t laugh at ourselves and our foibles and shortcomings, we are taking ourselves too seriously. There are jokes that poke fun at blonds, at husbands and wives, and of course, at lawyers. There are even jokes that are told at the expense of preachers! It’s all in good fun.
You know, I enjoy jokes poked at preachers. I never take offence at them, because usually, there is a kernel of truth about them. But there are a few jokes told about preachers that I must confess I don’t appreciate, because they reveal how little many people in the pew know about what their pastors do.
For instance, I can’t tell you how many times throughout my ministry some well meaning parishioner has stopped on their way out of church to joke with me about how preachers have it easy since they only have to work one hour a week. Of course, I laugh, knowing that the person means no harm. Yet it hurts, because it’s far from the truth (ask any preacher’s spouse and kids)!
Far from a cushy vocation, the pastor’s job description is unending. Clergy are expected to preach, teach, prepare sermons and bible studies, visit the sick, counsel, and perform weddings and funeral – yes, of course.
But we also function as a corporate CEO, office manager, administrator, building supervisor, fund-raiser, and the personnel recruiter who is also responsible for the training and supervision of staff. We oversee public relations, are involved in representing the church in the community, and serve on boards and committees for ministries in the community or the denomination. In addition to being expected to be a spellbinding orator, clergy are supposed to also be prolific writers and publishers of newsletters, bulletins and websites. We function as the visionary leader challenging the congregation to move in bold new directions, while serving as a diplomat keeping peace among all groups, and as an mediator of conflict between church members. And in our spare time, we are to function as the benevolent ministry of the congregation, always on-call to work with the homeless, the vagrant, and the poor, listening to their sad stories and trying to meet their immediate needs.
In addition to all that, in some churches, the pastor is also a janitor, secretary, yard man, Mr. Fix-it, and a Jack-of-all-trades.
And during these COVID years, pastors have also been expected to produce and star in online video productions and worship services, and master virtual ministries and meetings.
In summary, the preacher is responsible for everything that goes on in the church, especially for anything that goes wrong. The United Methodist Church simply calls us “the pastor in charge.”
It’s no wonder we hear so much today about clergy burnout! According to some studies, being the pastor of a local church can be one of the most stressful jobs in America today! Clergy marriages are in trouble, leading to divorce and family problems at rates that mirror the rest of society. Discouragement is rampant, caused by the cultural battles that plague our society and congregations. In general, the health of pastors is worse than for most other professions, due in large part, to stress. And an alarming number of pastors are just “dropping out” to pursue other professions.
But burnout is nothing new for the leaders of God’s people, as we have read in our two lessons this morning. Both Moses in the Old Testament, and the Apostles in the New, experienced first hand the stress of leadership of the People of God. In both cases, they were being kept busy with everything, except the very things they had been called by God to do – giving leadership to His people. And their ministries were suffering because of it.
You probably already know that our United Methodist denomination has been declining in membership for 40 or 50 years now. Local churches have struggled to grow, or even to survive. Many congregations have lost sight of the very reason they existed in the first place – to make new disciples of Jesus. And, during this same period, we’ve been seeing more and more clergy burnout. Could there be a connection?
The fact is that many congregations and denominational structures keep pastors so busy with trivia, that we neglect what we were called by God to do – to lead and train his people so that they, the laity of the church, can be in ministry. It’s no wonder that so many congregations are floundering!
Why? Who’s to blame for this situation?
The Clergy? Yes. It’s not unfair to say that preachers can have a huge ego. Many pastors point with pride to their masters and doctorate degrees on the wall, and assume that, since they are the trained professionals in the church, they should do it all. The clergy can believe that, since we are the experts, then only we can be trusted with the business of the church. So, some pastors keep a tight grip on the reigns, and exercise a veto over everything that was not his or her idea. If the truth be told, lots of pastors don’t trust the laity to take leadership in the church. So, yes, lots of time, the Clergy are to blame for their own burnout.
But the Laity must also shoulder some of the blame. For years, the lay people in many churches have been content to just sit back and let the preachers do it! So the laity may say: “If the Pastor wants to run the show, let him!” In fact, many of the folks in the pew think of the clergy as people they have hired to do ministry for them, to be the surrogate who does ministry on their behalf, or to act as their personal chaplain. The laity of many congregations haven’t taken seriously the Biblical mandate that they, too, are called to ministry.
You see, according the God’s word, Laity and Clergy are meant to be partners in ministry. Every person who has been baptized and professes Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is called to be a minister. In the Protestant tradition, we refer to that as “the priesthood of all believers” – that every member is a minister. And when everyone is doing her or his part, then the church prospers.
According to scripture, each and every believer is given different and unique Spiritual Gifts that they are to use for the glory of God and the advancement of His church.
Listen to what Paul wrote in First Corinthians (chapter 12):
“Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are different ways God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work through all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church…It is the one and only Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.”
This text reminds us that ministry is everyone’s business. When we all do our part, great things begin to happen. But whenever any believer fails to exercise his or her gifts, the church suffers and is less effective.
There is a Biblical principle at work here, “Dividing labor multiplies ministry.” When everyone has a job to do and does it well, there is no limit to what the church can accomplish – the effectiveness of the congregation grows exponentially.
We know that to be true here at Tomoka UMC! We have a whole army of volunteers who have many and various gifts, and are eager to use them for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. This congregation is blessed to have many extremely committed lay persons, and it shows in the effectiveness of this congregation in so many ways.
But unfortunately, not everyone who professes Jesus Christ through Tomoka UMC sees themselves as being called to ministry. And that’s too bad, because the opposite of that Biblical principle is also true – when fewer people are willing to contribute their labor, ministry atrophies. Tomoka UMC could do so much more if every member and friend of our congregation were in ministry, utilizing their God-given spiritual gifts for His glory. Do you know your Spiritual Gifts – and are you using them? [ Note to the reader: to discover your Spiritual Gifts, go to your internet browser and enter https://www.umc.org/en/content/spiritual-gifts ]
This Biblical principle is really rather obvious, and we recognize its wisdom in any area of our lives. We say “many hands make light work,” and know it’s true. That’s what Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law understood, and led him to give his son-in-law good advice. But this Biblical principle isn’t just a good idea we might try. It is a command that God gives us. We are to all share in the work of His church, we all have unique and specialized roles to play.
The reason so many pastors are burning out is because, in many instances, they are trying to do their ministries, plus a lot of what ought to be done by the laity. Scripture gives us the job description of pastors, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. See how this compares to the laundry list of tasks I described at the beginning of this message
“He (God) is the one who gave these gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4)
You see, the clergy are called to perform specific tasks of ministry, but not all tasks. Pastors and laity are all called to a “general ministry” of all believers. But out of that general ministry, God calls specific men and women to serve in a “representative ministry,” a specialized ministry of offering vocational leadership within the church. And, what does Scripture say these leaders are supposed to do? “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and to build up the church, the body of Christ.”
My job as pastor of Tomoka UMC is not to do the ministry of the church on your behalf. My Biblical mandate is to equip each and every one of you to go out and do the ministry. On a football team, do the coaches play the game? No. They train the players to carry the ball over the goal line. It’s the same with the church. We don’t have one minister. We should have hundreds of ministers, and one equipper.
Congregations in growing churches understand this principle. When congregations divide the labor, they multiply the ministry, and great things start to happen.
One of the most remarkable transformations that occurs is that, when the laity are in ministry, it frees up the pastor to become a powerful spiritual leader. You see, clergy should do only those things that he or she has been called by God to do. Our scripture text from Exodus 18 tells us the five essential tasks of a pastor:
1) Prayer – Pastors who are kept too busy neglect their own spiritual health. You can’t draw water from a dry well. If laity want their pastors to be powerful spiritual leaders, they must give them time to devote to prayer and meditation.
2) Represent the people to God – In his or her priestly role, clergy offer prayers of intercession and petitions to God on behalf of those under their care.
3) Study the Word – Pastors need to be well-versed in scripture. Personal study is essential if the pastor is to keep the congregation grounded in God’s word.
4) Teach the Word – As a man or woman of the Word, an essential role of the pastor is to open the scriptures to others by teaching Bible studies.
5) Proclaim the Word – Obviously, pastors are called to win souls by preaching the Gospel, offering the good news of God’s love in Christ to all those who are lost and hurting.
That’s it, the pastor’s job description. The Bible says that everything else – all the other tasks and responsibilities of the church, leave to the laity!
So, the first great benefit of dividing labor to multiply ministry is that the clergy are empowered to become the strong spiritual leaders they were called to be. But there is something else remarkable that happens when the church is functioning as God designed – we have vital committed lay people who are living out their faith daily in ministry through the church!
And therein we discover the formula for greatness as a church:
A strong spiritual leader
+ Active laity in ministry
= A powerful and effective church!
Once Moses divided the labor and multiplied the ministry, the result was a community at peace. When the Apostles applied the same principle to the early church, there was an explosion in the number of new disciples of Christ. The principle was true 3,500 years ago, and it was true 2,000 years ago. And it is still true, for those who dare to test it.
Do we at Tomoka UMC want to see God work in amazing ways through our church? If so, we need to apply the principle: dividing the labor so that the ministry of our church can be multiplied. And then, watch out – God only knows what amazing things He might do through us.
© 2022 John B. Gill, III