Pressure Relief for Ministers -- Handling Unrealistic Expectations

The pressure a minister can experience to perform at a certain level or to be a certain kind of minister is often more than they can bear. They may not be able to articulate it, but it is not unusual for them to feel a sense of dread that they do not measure up.

This pressure can be internal. Perhaps the minister compares their weaknesses to the strengths of others. Or they hear what God is doing in another ministry and wonder what is so wrong with their leadership that God isn't doing something similar within their own. 

It can also be external. Some folks are all too willing to share their outsized expectations of their minister. Their displeasure is stated out loud, online, or with reduced giving or attendance. They might mention the amazing preacher they listen to online or how much they loved their last pastor. This could be innocent enought, but an insecure minister can take them as slights. PS--We are all insecure at some point or around certain topics).

These internal and external expectations that put pressure on the minister are not all illegitimate. The trouble is when these expectations become unrealistic. This may be in the quantity or in the quality of the minister's capabilities.

Quantity -- It would be really something if a minister was good at absolutely everything. From social media to website design to sound engineering to facility maintenance to book keeping to legal matters... and the list goes on. Yet the body of Christ has many parts and the minister is only one of those parts.

Quality -- Unfortunately (or fortunately!), our congregations have access to the best. The best preaching. The best leadership examples/advice. The best administrative tools. The best customer service. The local minister and ministry can have a very hard time measuring up to these standards!

With all that said there are a few things a minister must do and must do well. Like an actual shepherd (see Psalm 23) a minister must be able to feed the flock (preach and/or teach), care for the flock (pastor, disciple, counsel), lead the flock (direction and basic administration) and protect the flock (from false beliefs and bad behavior). These are the essential elements of a minister's work. 

Even in the essentials, the pressure to make the grade can be too much. So, here's the pressure relief valve for the minister: Though a minister cannot be great at everything, they can do a few things well. God has gifted them and will partner with them to do so. While the minister must resist the pressure from within and from without to make "A's" on everything, with God's help, they can make passing grades. 

Final thought. I've noticed that, within the essentials mentioned above, a minister will find they are more gifted in some than others. They may be great at pastoral care, but not as confident in their preaching. Or vice versa. What I've tried to do is lean into my strengths while shoring up my weaknesses. In other words, there are some essetials I am more than capable of making an "A" on while in other areas a passing grade is the best I can do and that's okay. I just don't want to fail in the essentials nor do I want to grow discouraged when I don't make an "A" on everything. 

Pressure Relief for Ministers -- Home Run Sermons

Preparing and delivering a sermon is like writing a term paper every week, capped off with an oral exam. The exam takes place in front of your family, friends, strangers who are deciding if they will come back based on how you do and even a few folks who are rooting for you to fail.

Add to all of that the pressure to hit a home run every time you step up to the pulpit (or music stand or tall round table [what's that called?]). Given that most pastors in normative size churches have much more to do each week than prepare and deliver a sermon, this pressure is simply too much. Here's the pressure relief valve -- You should not expect every sermon to be a home run, but you can prepare yourself to get a base hit. Imagine you got a base hit every time. You'd be an MLB superstar! Not that being a superstar is the goal. The goal is to be faithful and effective unto the glory of God and for the good of His people. Now, how might you get a base hit every time?

FIRST -- Much of it is in the prepation, which pastors have much control over (accept those rare weeks with multiple funerals). It helps to know what text or topic you'll be preaching before the week of preparation begins. This allows you to maximize and not waste anytime getting started. Once you do start, having a system in which you use to prepare each week will also keep you from wasting time. I use a simple three step process.

SECOND -- It is my conviction that every sermon must not only mention Jesus, but should center itself on his person, his message, his work and/or its results. If you're not of that same conviction, read the words of Spurgeon on the matter and perhaps you'll change your mind :-)  Also, to see how this can be done, listen to any of Timothy Keller's sermons or read his book on preaching. What I am saying is this -- A base hit sermon includes the gospel.

THIRD -- Prepare yourself physically and spiritually. Get enough rest. Don't eat junk the night before or the day of. Drink plenty of water. Give yourself time in the morning to review your message so you are not rushed into the pulpit. Most important of all, spend time in prayer. Do this throughout the process, but make sure you sit with the Lord in prayer soon before you preach. Pray not only for you and the delivery of the message the Lord has given you, but you must also pray for those who will hear the message. Remember, in the end, the success of preaching is in pleasing the Lord and seeking to help those who listen. Being impressive is not the mark of a successful preacher. Faithfulness is.

I do belive that if you do these three things you will preach a base hit sermon. Now, notice that I said nothing of the actual preaching event. You can't always control how things go once you begin the sermon and you certainly can't control the response of the congregation. However, if you wish to improve the actual delivery of your sermon you can go back and listen to your message,  and make notes for improvement. Then perhaps you can get a few doubles. If you take the time to get to know your listeners and if you will love them well as their shepherd, maybe you'll get a triple from time to time. And if the Spirit decides to move in an extraordinary way, you can enjoy a home run. 

Pressure Relief for Ministers -- Ownership v. Stewardship

Coming Soon!