Balancing an unbalanced ministry

Look up--Jesus and you can do it.

Floyd Bresee, Ph.D., is a former secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association, and continues to pastor and preach in Oregon, where he and his wife, Ellen, live in retirement.

I was painting the house. I'd made a scaffold by laying planks across two sawhorses. But my reach was a couple feet short of the highest point. Foolishly I put a stepladder on top of the scaffold and started up. But the ladder pushed the planks away from the building, and I lost my balance.

Disaster struck. The paint can went one way and the brush another. Instead of being on the scaffold, I ended up with the scaffold on me. Blood dripped down my face from a gash in my scalp that required a trip to the doctor. Losing one's balance can be disastrous to one's health. It can also be disastrous to one's ministry. Instead of being on top of your job, you feel crushed by the job being on top of you.

One of the struggles of my life's journey has been to balance everything a minister does: balance between public and private life, balance in healthful living, balance between doing and delegating, balance between the spiritual and the secular. Looking back at it all, I've recalled a few of the problems I've faced and lessons I've learned in my journey toward a balanced ministry.

Balance between public and private life

My problem: I literally grew up in church. Dad was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. In two of his districts our family lived in the church basement. One basement was so small that I had to sleep upstairs in the little room at the front of the church where the elders met before going on the platform.

In one of Dad's districts we lived in the parsonage next door to the church. Mothers brought their babies to the parsonage to care for them during Sabbath services. Our house was their house. During the week my little sister and I would slip into the church when we could get away with it. She played the piano and I preached to an empty auditorium. Thus, I grew up with little separation between private and church life.

My wife, Ellen, on the other hand, had a father who was an hourly worker, always home evenings, weekends, and holidays. Work life and private life were emphatically separated. She quickly learned that ministry doesn't work that way.

For 42 years of full-time ministry she put up with sitting in the pew without me next to her, even when she had four little ones to manage. She longed for retirement, when she'd have a husband to sit with.

Surveys indicate that pastors seldom make significant separation between their public and private lives. Virtually all our friends are church friends, nearly all our recreation is connected with church activities, almost all our time is spent for the church.

Somebody asked a housewife what time she went to work in the morning. She exclaimed, "I don't go to work. I'm surrounded by it when I get up!" Pastoral ministry is the same way. We don't "go to work"; we're surrounded by it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the doorbell isn't ringing, the phone is. Even at the church social, we're at work seeing that everything runs smoothly and that everybody's befriended and happy. How can we balance the public and the private?

Solution: put family first. Make your priorities: God, family, church. I've opened a discussion with preachers and church administrators around the world and been a bit shocked and disappointed by how many think their priorities should be God, church, family.

That isn't what you preach to your people, and your holy calling doesn't make you an exception. Be what you challenge your congregation to become.

God's love is demonstrated through family love, and love takes time. There are no shortcuts, no exceptions. Love always takes time. Take time for your spouse. Talk together. Pray together. Play together. Plan to do something special with each other every day.

Work together at home. Nobody should make a double bed alone; it's inefficient. Instead of one working indoors and one outdoors, do both together. Working together bonds together, and it doesn't take a bit more time than working separately.

Work together in ministry. A spouse who works elsewhere during the week can still work with you on Sabbath. Practice a foyer ministry if your spouse is comfortable doing it. Greet and befriend worshipers as they come and go. Do it together. And if you travel, try to do it together. In retirement I never take an appointment to which my wife is not invited.

Take time for your child. Why do so many preachers' kids feel disinterest, even resentment, toward the church? Too often it's because the church has become the child's competition for the parent's time and attention. And it's awfully hard to love your competition.

A father rushed out of the house heading for his car in the driveway, dashing off to some important duty. The son stood on the front lawn with a ball glove on one hand and a ball in the other. The father, intending to be a good dad, made a little detour and went to his car by way of his son. Patting him on the head, he declared, "I love you, son."

The boy retorted, "Dad, I don't want you to love me; I want you to play ball with me." If we don't take time for our children and do it early in their lives they have reason to question our love. Love takes time. There are no shortcuts, no exceptions. Love always takes time.

Balance in healthful living

My problem: As an Adventist minister, of course you preach healthful living, but how consistent is your own practice of it?

God's call to holiness involves a call to physical as well as spiritual health. "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 2, NKJV). God has no way of reaching us except through our nervous systems, which are, in turn, dependent upon our overall health.

If we feel miserable, it's hard to act sweet. If our stomach is sour, our disposition tends to be sour. If our systems are upset, we often keep both family and church upset. It's simply easier to be good if we feel good.

My solution: Are you practicing a balanced plan of health reform? It is a stark shame that Adventists all too often settle on vegetarianism, good as it is, as the total embodiment of our health reform practice. Let's include all of what Ellen White calls the "natural remedies": "Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power."*

Notice that rest is not only desirable or acceptable, but essential. Since Christians tend to see work as a virtue, some ministers seem to assume that overwork must be doubly virtuous. On the contrary, workaholics may be struggling with the sin of pride, feeling that if they work more than most they must be better than most. Overwork is probably the sin of which pastors are most likely to be proud. But when workaholics neglect their families and their health, they cannot be pleasing God.

The Creation account says God set an example by resting one day in seven; and He set the day aside for us to rest. Genesis 2:1-3 teaches that rest time is not only acceptable and essential, but a sacred, divine requirement. To the Seventh-day Adventist pastor, the Sabbath is sacred, but it is not restful. We must see finding other time to rest as a divine requirement.

Balance between doing and delegating

My problem: I taught in the Religion Department at Union College for 16 years. For 12 of those years I did only a little pastoring. But I was teaching ministerial students how to do it, and so I read books on pastoring and finished a Ph.D. that left me with all kinds of ideas for pastoring a congregation.

Then I returned to pastoring and, during the next seven years, shepherded two large college congregations. My head and my files were bursting with dynamic, new ideas for pastoring a church. In both pastorates I put together a plan that included lots of great new methods. Then I went to the church board and business meeting and sold my plan to the church.

I felt certain that my congregations would move forward as never before. But I was soon disillusioned. Although they had voted my plan almost unanimously, my members supported the implementation of it quite unenthusiastically. When I made the plan they rather expected me to do the work. I was guilty of too much doing and too little delegating in preparing plans for my churches. How can we balance doing and delegating?

Some solutions: trust your congregation. Group decisions are the best decisions. It may be efficient for the pastor to do the thinking and planning, but it isn't effective. This principle is true of all management that comes from the top down. It is doubly true in the management of volunteers, and pastors must be specialists in managing volunteers. Everyone, including a congregation, gets most involved and works hardest in reaching "owned goals" goals they have had a part in setting.

Your work is not to do all the thinking and planning. If your people don't want to do a thing, they won't do it anyway. Your work as pastor is to make group thinking work. You do this by seeing that the group gets the necessary information, and by creating a united spiritual atmosphere. So trust your people and let the group process work. I suggest four steps in church planning:

1. Visualize. I want to be a window pastor, not a mirror pastor. Mirror pastors lead so that their ministry is simply a reflection of themselves their gifts, goals, and interests. Window pastors look for some window through which they can clearly see their congregation. Where has the church been? Where is it now in terms of mission, programs, facilities, finances, available spiritual gifts? Where does it want to be in one year? five years? Window pastors see their job not as getting the people to do what the pastor wants done, but as working with their congregation to accomplish what God wants done. They trust the combined judgment of their people more than they do their own.

2. Organize. How can the church get from where it is to where it wants to be? Beware of getting too idealistic at this point. Be realistic. Organize to do only what the people and pastor have the spiritual gifts and interest to carry out.

3. Deputize. Follow the apostles' example in carrying out church plans. They said, "We will turn this responsibility over to them" (Acts 6:3, NIV). The problem with delegating, of course, is that it won't work without also delegating authority. And pastors tend to be possessive of their authority.

4. Supervise. This includes training. One of the basic tasks of pastoral ministry is "to prepare God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:12, NIV). Supervision includes motivating. The apostles delegated so they could give more "attention to prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4, NIV). The resulting preaching and spiritual power motivates the people to do more church work.

Unfortunately, supervision must also sometimes include replacing. Occasionally a member lacks the will or the necessary spiritual gift(s) to do the work the church has assigned. God gives every congregation every gift needed to do the work He wants done. He has not given every gift to every member including the pastor.

Specialize in what you do best. "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others" (1 Peter 4:10, NIV). Too many pastors try to serve their churches with gifts they don't have. No pastor is good at everything. Congregations tend to view their pastors as omniscient and omnipotent, as though, like God, they know everything and can do anything. And pastors tend to enjoy playing the part.

The gifts needed for a perfect pastoral ministry are simply too many: theologian, preacher, administrator, soul winner, trainer, counselor, visitor, promoter. The gifts are not only too many; they are also too varied. The gifts at the top of the above list are of an introvertive, contemplative nature. Those at the bottom are extrovertive, gregarious. No one is likely to be both. Churches tend to expect schizophrenic pastors!

On the other hand, every pastor is good at something. Surveys suggest that many ministers feel they spend as much as 80 percent of their time doing work that is not where their primary talents rest. This not only frustrates the pastors, but also deprives their congregations of their pastor's best.

In the worst congregations the members simply criticize pastors for their weaknesses. In the best congregations the members in general and the elders in particular compensate for those weaknesses and let their pastors specialize in those areas in which they have the gifts to make the greatest contribution.

Balance between the spiritual and the secular

My problem: One congregation I pastored was in the midst of a huge, multimillion-dollar church building project. We had to make decisions on location, architect, size, and plan. And that was only the beginning we needed to choose a heating system, windows, colors, carpet, pews, and everything else that goes into a big church building. Our excellent building committee gave good leadership in all that, but when it came to raising the money, they looked almost exclusively to the pastor.

I began to feel more like a builder, promoter, and money raiser than a spiritual leader. How can we find balance when the secular threatens to outweigh the spiritual?

Some solutions: never do spiritual things in a secular way. In one sense, the apostles had it simpler than pastors today. There were perhaps as many as five million converts to Christianity in the apostolic time, but we have no evidence of even one church being built at that time. On the other hand, during the medieval years, when the church built its most lavish buildings, it languished spiritually. Along with church buildings comes the inevitable temptation to see the church as a building, thus secularizing the spiritual.

So many things we do seem to be of a secular nature: the church must be cleaned, lawn mowed, building painted, roof fixed, school maintained, money raised, and committees met. However, if we stay close to the Lord we'll find ways to accomplish all these tasks and solve all these problems in a spiritual way. If we can't, our churches lose their mission and we become disillusioned in ministry. Never do spiritual things in a secular way.

Have only one boss but plenty of partners. Pastoring a 100-member church, you may feel you have 101 bosses every one of your members plus the conference or mission. Jesus insisted, "No one can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24, NIV). Whatever could you do with 101? And it wouldn't be so bad if they all wanted the same thing.

The shut-ins want you to spend more time visiting, but your elders suggest you spend more time on your preaching.

The board wants a bigger budget, but the school wants a new building. Your conservatives want to do it the old way, but the progressives do not want to do it the old way. The elderly want the "old truths" preached, but the young want "contemporary issues." Meanwhile, the conference or mission wants baptisms, tithe, and encouraging statistics.

To reject totally any of these is to flirt with failure, but to try to meet 101 different expectations is to court disaster and discouragement. Take all 101 as your partners in ministry to whatever extent is possible, with your conference or mission heading the list. And never forget that your true boss is the Great Shepherd. As His apprentice, you and He shepherd your flock together. He's your real boss.

Give daily devotions highest priority. It's natural for the urgent to crowd out the important. "I'm too busy" really means "That's low on my priority list." Everybody faces a "to do" list every day. Some even write it down. Somewhere on your list must be "private devotions." Whether or not they get neglected depends not so much on how busy you are as on how high they are on your list.

Don't be fooled. What you really stand for is proven not by what's on the list, but by what does and doesn't get done. To give a low priority to our time alone with our Lord is to start down the road to spiritual decline and pastoral discouragement.

A father was moving his library upstairs, and his little boy was helping. Wanting to prove his manhood, the boy picked up the biggest book he could find and started up the stairs. But the book was too heavy for him to handle. In his struggle to carry it upstairs, he fell down the stairs and the book landed in his lap. Tears came as he realized the task was just too much for him. Looking up, he saw his dad coming down the stairway. The father realized his son's predicament and sensed his feelings of failure. He simply reached down, picked up his boy and the book, and carried both up the stairs.

Next time the pastoral load seems too heavy and you feel a little like crying, maybe it's because you were trying to carry it alone. Look up. Together, Jesus and you can lift the load you could never carry alone.


* Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 127.

Further Reading:

Aycock, Don M., editor. Apathy ín the Pew. South Plainfield,
New Jersey: Bridge Publishing, 1988, 151 pages. Points out
reasons for a lack of involvement in church activities on the
part of church members. Shows how apathy was a church
problem even in Bible times, but may have increased in our
present church climate, where works are deemphasized and thus
church work seems less necessary. Offers practical solutions.

Mace, David and Vera. What's Happening to Clergy Marriages?
Nashville: Abingdon, 1980, 144 pages. The Maces are highly
respected Christian marriage counselors and write with a
blend of the scholarly and the practical. Emphasizes the
problem of unrealistic congregational expectations and
concludes with recommendations to denominational offcials.

Wagner, C. Peter. Your Spiritual Gifts. Glendale, Calif.: Regal
Books, 1979, 272 pages. Written by one of the world's
outstanding authorities on church growth and spiritual gifts,
the book deals with the whole subject of spiritual gifts and
how they can help a church grow. Shows how the pastor's
spiritual gifts relate to the growth and success of a church.

Weese, Carolyn. Eagles in Tall Steeples. Nashville: Oliver-
Nelson Books, 1991, 190 pages. Subtitled "What Pastors
and Congregations Wish They Knew About Each Other,"
this book emphasizes the pastor's personal need for spiritual
growth. Shows how pastoral experiences that tend to produce
brokenness can also lead to wholeness.


Continuing Education Exercises:

1. What area of your life and ministry is presently most out
ofbalance? What do you feel your Lord wants you to do about it?

2. Take out your appointment book. What appointments
with your family are written there? Have you canceled any recent
family appointments because of church emergencies? If so, did
you reschedule them?

3. Have you tried using an evaluation instrument as a
rvindorv to help you and your congregation see your church more
clearly? The General Conference Ministerial Association has
such instruments available (write to the Ministerial Association

4. Analyze the excuses you have made to yourself for
neglecting personal devotions. What does it tell you about your
real priorities?

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Floyd Bresee, Ph.D., is a former secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association, and continues to pastor and preach in Oregon, where he and his wife, Ellen, live in retirement.

February 1997

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