Every Christian should want to know what keeps their pastor awake at night. What is his/her greatest longing and burden for his/her congregation?
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot as I prepare for the next year at MainStreet Covenant Church. It’s year seven or so in the life of this church. The excitement of being part of something “new” has largely worn off, and its easy to settle into a business-as-usual, maintenance mode—just circling the wagons each week.
We’re also tempted to stop casting and holding fast to the original vision and mission, and begin catering to the expectations and desires of the steady trickle of new attenders. But back to the main question: What’s keeping me up at night these days?
Pastors live with a paradox of self-importance. On the one hand, we try not to take ourselves too seriously, remembering that this church is God’s creation and we’re just the leaky vessel he has graciously chosen to through at this time. We’re not indispensable, and should something happen to me tomorrow, I trust and hope God is able to raise up another to take my place.
On the other hand, Scripture would seem to tell pastors we’ve been given a sacred trust to play one of the most important roles in the universe. The local church is God’s vehicle through which he is carrying forward his redemption plans for the entire planet. We pastors are charged with faithfully training up, teaching, and forming kingdom workers and kingdom outposts to fulfill this monumental task. Such a high calling is worth getting up for every morning, even if its overwhelming on bad days.
(If you’ll indulge my ego for a moment, one could argue the President of the United States has nothing on your local pastor as far as significant roles are concerned. The one works in a luxury 200 year old house filled with old furnishings and art; the other is building the very house where God dwells by the Spirit and furnished with his priceless living-masterpieces. The one leads a temporary regime of a temporary nation that will someday fade from history; the other is a leader of the only divinely sanctioned institution on earth that will last into eternity.)
James’ warning rings around in my ears, keeping me poised: “Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). And Paul: “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).
A loving parent carries the burden worrying about of the wellbeing of her 2 or 3 children, and its anything but light. How much more does the loving pastor feel the weight of caring for the spiritual well-being (and eternal destiny) of a faith family of 100+ people?
So, what keeps me up at night? First, let me tell you what I don’t lose sleep over: 1) Budgets, 2) Butts, 3) Buildings and 3) baptisms. Many pastors spend the majority of their time stressing over the next capital campaign, measuring health by Sunday attendance, adding new campuses and building expansions, and getting as many “decisions” as possible, baptizing converts and then hoping they’ll become active disciples, too. (Spoiler alert: Most do not.)
What keeps me awake at night is wondering if people are actually progressing in spiritual maturity, being radically reshaped by Jesus’ kingdom ethic, turning away from the shallow pretensions of the culture and being transformed by the renewing of one’s mind and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a radically new Jesus-shaped, cruciform life.
What keeps me up at night is the thought that some day I will stand before God and give an account of my ministry efforts. Was I a faithful shepherd of the sheep in my care? Was I a wise teacher of the Kingdom who helped people gain a God’s-eye-view on world events? Were Sunday church attenders transformed into active, day-to-day disciples of Jesus?
Next time I’ll share one of my standards for measuring progress in ministry and church health: Ephesians 4.