Pastors often complain the members of their congregation don’t understand the time pressures of being the pastor of a church. That’s true. They don’t know how long it takes to come up with a sermon (a good one takes longer!) They don’t understand the emotional and spiritual toll demanded while working with people in the hardest moments of their lives.
On the other hand, I’m convinced we as pastors don’t fully understand the lives of our members. Few of us understand the time pressures most of our friends live under. The economy means both parents work. That leaves little slack in the evenings for children’s homework, family meals, and getting ready for the next day. Husbands and wives both collapse into bed exhausted, with little time for each other or themselves. Saturday is catch-up day and most of the time; the kids have somewhere to be. Sunday morning is for church, but Sunday night? That’s the only night the family has together. And of course, they have to get ready for the coming week.
The church used to be the social center of the community. Revivals, conferences and concerts met social as well as spiritual needs. That’s no longer the case. People don’t have time to do all the things they need to do. It’s not a matter of not being faithful. It’s a matter of the new realities of our lives.
Sure, our people are over committed and need to rethink their priorities. I remind our people of this just about every week.
But here is something else I know. The church needs to rethink its programs and expectations as well.
A few years ago our church did a time audit. We listed all of the times we expected parents and children to be at church. What we found out stunned us. We were actively splitting up families by our schedule. While we were claiming to be “family friendly”, in reality we were scheduling against families! Needless to say, we reworked our calendar.
Pastors need to understand that ministry and discipleship happen more in our homes and communities than they do in the church building. Our ministry must refocus on helping our people serve and know God where they live, work and play. We should support their family and individual discipleship efforts while not expecting all of this to be done by “coming to church.” As much as we talk about evangelism, we barely give our members any time to get to know their lost neighbors.
This means the church has to create margin for our people. We have to…
- Maximize every minute our people give us
- Cut meetings and events that don’t achieve stated goals.
We no longer have the luxury of doing something because we’ve always done it that way.
How do you get started? Here are a few hints…
- Recognize our people do ministry away from the church building. Celebrate it!
- Never have a meeting without an agenda. Tend to the business at hand. Then if they want to visit, fine. If not, they’re free to go.
- Don’t overload the members who “always” say yes.
- If there’s no reason to have a meeting, don’t have it.
- Use email.
- Consolidate teams and committees.
- Churches, like people, have unique gifts and opportunities. Focus on these. No church can do everything.
- Make sure every sermon and Bible study is worth coming to.
We live in a much different world. The church, like everything else, has to adapt the way we do our mission. The message hasn’t changed, but the methods have.
Pastor, if you love your people, don’t waste their time.