Creativity in ministry is a gift from God and our gifts are never exhausted, but what can stifle creativity in ministry is when we as leaders are exhausted. Most pastors I know are hardworking, tireless men who visit people in hospitals, do funerals, counsel marriages, fill their own baptisteries, and, oh, by the way, prepare sermons each week. Then, when the week is over we go back to a lather, rinse, and repeat the cycle.
You say, “But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” Sure is… it is a train! And it is coming right back at you. All of us as pastors know the difference between being “tired of ministry” and being “tired in the ministry.” But heed the warning… Being tired in the ministry will one day make you tired of the ministry.
Now we have all heard the urban legend that 1,500-1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. That is simply not true. That is the prevailing myth, but the promising truth is that 250 pastors leave the ministry every month. Pastors, as a rule, are not quitters. They are godly hardworking men who are on the front lines for the Gospel. Ministry is tough, but so are pastors. But there is a caution for all of us in ministry. And that is to be doing so many things, that we miss the one thing God has called us to do. Mark Twain said, “The two greatest days of your life is the day you were born, and the day you discovered why you were born.” I think sometimes exhaustion occurs because we’re operating out of our gift mix, and because we are spinning so many plates that we neglect to put margins in our life. If we don’t do the one thing God has called us to do, we’ll do the many things people “pay us to do.”
Dr. Richard Swenson in his book Margin says, “Marginless is being 30 minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were 20 minutes late getting out of the bank, because you were 10 minutes late dropping the kids off at school, because the car ran out of gas a half block from the gas station, and you forgot your wallet. Margins, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.”
If today as you read this you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, overworked, and even discouraged at your lack of consistency and creativity, let me say this to you, “Welcome to the Ministry.” All of us need margins in our life. In fact, margins aren’t even just a spiritual idea. You don’t have to be a believer in Jesus Christ to benefit from it relationally, financially or even physically. But to us as Christ-followers, we take this very seriously. Why? Because Jesus has called us to be the “light of the world,” to “go the second mile,” to “carry others’ burdens,” to “despise our families,” to “give our money” to “take the Gospel to the nations.” And to do that he presupposes we have margins, physically, relationally and financially.
A margin is not a spiritual necessity but availability is. God expects us to be available for the needs of others and without margins we have great difficulty guaranteeing availability. So what’s the answer? How do we restore margins that bring back that creativity and consistency in our ministry? Once again God’s Word has not only an answer but a great example. In Exodus 18, Moses was struggling with the same thing. He was showing three marks of burnout in ministry and Jethro, his father-in-law, saw it. Jethro saw exhaustion, isolation, and frustration. He told Moses, “What you’re doing is not good. You are not able to do this alone.” What you see here is the frustration of the people and the fatigue of Moses. Moses was burning out because he was confusing his work with his worth. The seriousness of overload is that it is hard on you and it is heavy to you. So Jethro gives him great fatherly advice:
- Reestablish Your Priorities (Administration)
- Praying (vs. 19)
- Teaching (vs. 20)
- Leading (vs. 21)
- Right in the middle of the word administration is the word minister. When Moses was doing their job, he wasn’t doing his.
- Recruit Some People (Delegation)
- You can’t spiritualize management problems and you can’t manage spiritual problems. He told him to find men who had ability, spirituality, and integrity.
- Reorganize the Process (Implementation)
- He said put rulers over 1,000s, 100s, 50s, and 10s.
- Release the People (Motivation)
- He told Moses, “Let them do the work.”
So after 40 years of ministry, I can tell you I have been “that Moses.” I have looked on Instagram and read Tweets, and compared my unfiltered life to everyone’s filtered life and felt like a failure. I thought the answer was working harder, being more creative and innovative in ministry. So let me close by being a Jethro and give you four suggestions to help stay fresh and stay in this race a long time:
- Work smarter, not harder.
- Separate the essential from the additional. Remember the old Greek motto, “You will break the bow if you always keep it bent.” Jethro saw the weariness in Moses’ face. Never allow the important to be replaced by the urgent. The important is “the essential.” The additional many times is “the urgent.”
- Know the difference between the compass and the clock. The compass tells you the direction you should go. The clock is the way you spend your time. Does your schedule line up with the goals and direction of your life?
- To grow larger you must grow smaller. As you influence and ministry grows, your job as a pastor must narrow. Just remember this. If the devil can’t get you to be bad, he’ll try to get you to be busy. All of us need a Jethro in our life. When he shows up, listen to him.
Ken Whitten is Senior Pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida.