Are You A “Cry On My Shoulder” Pastor? Prepare To Lead Small

You can choose in favor of hands-on pastoral care. If you do so, that will almost certainly mean leading a smaller congregation. But that is not a lesser choice.
KarlVaters.com Kids Walking on Road

In my 40-plus years of pastoral ministry I’ve spent countless hours with people crying on my shoulder. Often literally.

Crying over a death in the family. Over unresolved childhood trauma. Over almost anything you can think of.

And I wouldn’t want a minute of it back.

Cry-Time Is Not Wasted Time

Throughout my ministry years I’ve been told that if I want my church to grow I can’t “waste” my time on endless hours of pastoral care.

That’s true. Sort of.

You cannot spend hours of time lending your shoulder to church members and also spend the necessary time planning, fundraising and strategizing your next big ministry launch.

Something has to give.

For some, what gives is the pastoral care. The shoulder-cry time has to be taken on by someone else.

But the shoulder-cries are one of the reasons many of us became pastors and we wouldn’t give them up for anything.

A False Choice

There are those who would tell you that you must delegate those daylight-burning hours of pastoral care to others.

They are wrong.

You can choose in favor of hands-on pastoral care. If you do so, that will almost certainly mean leading a smaller congregation. But that is not a lesser choice. Click To Tweet

You can choose in favor of hands-on pastoral care. If you do so, that will almost certainly mean leading a smaller congregation. But that is not a lesser choice. In fact it is the right choice for many pastors and churches to make.

There was a long, difficult season of my ministry where I gave up doing any hands-on pastoral care in an effort to move my church into significant numerical growth.

But it didn’t work.

Not only did the church not experience the promised numerical growth, I also lost the chance to pastor people well.

I’m not alone in this. For many pastors it’s not a choice between 1) being available for pastoral care or 2) seeing our church grow. It’s 1) being available for pastoral care or 2) not fulfilling our calling in ministry.

For many pastors it’s not a choice between 1) being available for pastoral care or 2) seeing our church grow. It’s 1) being available for pastoral care or 2) not fulfilling our calling in ministry. Click To Tweet

Certainly there are pastors who need to delegate the pastoral care to others so they can commit their time to planning, strategizing and other important ministry pursuits. That decision isn’t wrong for them. It’s just not right for everybody.

For me, the sweet spot is a hybrid. Some of the pastoral care is shared by others, but I never want to let it go entirely. Among other things, it keeps me grounded.

Follow Your Calling, Not The Numbers

Some of us are called to be a “cry on my shoulder” type of pastor. Because of that, we won’t be pastoring a relentlessly-growing church (numerically, anyway).

If that’s who you are, you need to be okay with it.

More than okay, you need to lean into it and celebrate it.

Your church may never be big. But your congregation will be loved.

(Photo by Annie Spratt | Unsplash)

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4 thoughts on “Are You A “Cry On My Shoulder” Pastor? Prepare To Lead Small”

  1. After one Sunday service I found myself looking in the mirror trying to figure out what the dark smudge on my face was. I realized I was wearing another woman’s make-up. She had cried all over me. I am, literally, a “cry on my shoulder” pastor. This pandemic has been hard on me and for others like me. I haven’t been able to pastor the way I normally do.

  2. Hi Karl, thanks for this post. Do you have any tips on how a pastor can know where their sweet spot is? Is it found at the intersection of personal gift mix and the needs of the present congregation?

    1. Great question, Jordan. Sorry for such a late response. I had a glitch on my site that caused me not to see comments for a while.

      I think that intersection of gifts and needs is the right place to start. If anyone else reading this has ideas about helpful tools, let us know!

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