Living In the Dynamic Tension Between Pastor and Manager

Man and machine

I did not leverage my time well this week.

It was wasted in personal pastoral care.

Over a dozen hours were squandered in pastoral counseling – marriage, pre-marriage, divorce recovery, and some harrowing life challenges that they wouldn’t share with anyone but their pastor.

I lost additional hours helping a new believer sort out the next steps in their spiritual life. Then I frittered away an hour mentoring a pastoral ministry student. I also blew half an afternoon crying with an adult victim of child abuse who’s learning to trust God again. All one-on-one.

To top it off, I threw away a couple more hours on two people who have left our church because of complicated life issues. They attend nearby megachurches now, so their offering and their attendance will count in someone else’s bottom line. But I’m still the only pastor they know well enough to trust their secrets with.

In short, I spent far more hours sitting with people and their problems than I did developing long-term systems and sharpening our programs. A lot of pastoring and very little managing. 

And I’d gladly do it again.

In fact, I know I’ll do it again because, while this wasn’t a typical pastoral week, it’s not unique.

Small Church pastors live with this dynamic tension all the time.


I’m Not the Only One Doing Ministry In Our Church

Despite what many of us have been taught, I wasn’t stuck doing so much pastoral care because I’ve failed to train others to do the work of ministry.

While I was being a pastor, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of hours being invested in ministry by our church members, both inside and outside our church’s small building.

This week, we’re holding our annual Summer Bible Adventure (you may know it as VBS), in which about 40 adults (a large percentage in our Small Church) invested their after-work evenings ministering to kids from our church and all over the neighborhood. On Saturday, we’ll top it off with a Family Day for the community, including games, food, worship and a message of hope – almost none of which will cost me any time to prep for, because other leaders are stepping up.

Our youth are spending much of this summer vacation week fine-tuning their instruments and rehearsing their speaking notes for this coming Sunday service, in which worship will be led by teenagers from our church’s Worship Workshop. Then we’ll hear testimonies and see slide shows from last month’s missions trip, where dozens of our youth and their leaders traveled to Panama to help build orphanages. A trip I didn’t oversee, because others have been trained to do it without me.

Last weekend, dozens of hours were invested by church members at the state-run Developmental Center (what used to be called the mental hospital) to help them throw a 4th of July bash for the residents. And I got two big “thank you” notes from a crisis pregnancy center and a camp for foster children expressing their gratefulness for all the time and money our congregation members have donated to their ministries.

All that is happening this week, in addition to our ongoing preschool, extended DayCare, bible studies, mentoring, summer internships and more. That’s what 21+ years of building long-term ministry systems looks like for our church.


Do Your Best and Drop the Guilt

Why am I telling you all this? Two reasons.

1. Because I’m not the only Small Church pastor who has to make those hard decisions. And more often than not, we choose people over programs.

2. Because we’re often given a false choice about being a shepherd or rancher, pastor or manager. We’ve been told we can either pastor people ourselves, or train others to do the work of ministry. But most Small Church pastors have to live with the reality that we’re called to do both. With varying measures of success, depending on our church, our personality, our gift-mix and the demands of any given week.

Setting up systems to train people in ministry doesn’t mean we have to stop pastoring people. But doing pastoral work doesn’t mean it’s OK to neglect long-term systems, either. It’s seldom either/or. It’s usually both/and. With much-needed Sabbaths along the way.

Some weeks we do a lot of one and very little of the other. Many of us regularly feel guilty for not doing both well.

That dynamic tension is normal and healthy. The guilt is not.

Some pastoral care just has to be done by a caring pastor, because people are not assets to be leveraged towards a greater good. People are the greater good.

Next week, I’ll get back to developing and strengthening long-term pastoral care systems for the church.


But this week, developing systems took a back seat to wasting time with people.

Time well wasted.


So what do you think? How well do you live within the tension of pastoring people and developing long-term systems?

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(Man & Machine Relief photo from takomabibelot • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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8 thoughts on “Living In the Dynamic Tension Between Pastor and Manager”

  1. yes! we develop systems by developing people – teaching them both the skills and discipling them toward a deeper walk with The Lord these two things can come together.

  2. Very encouraging. I serve as an Executive Pastor in a small church plant. I need the reminder of “wasting time” with people. I easily get caught up in the Administration of the church and too often fall into the mindset of “the other pastor will take care of the people”

  3. Several years ago I was the administrator for a mid-size church. Each Sunday morning I was to make sure all the “stuff” was in place before the service. I would walk by people because I had a job to do. Thankfully God got a hold of me and reminded me it was about the people. if something was not in place it was not the end of the world.

  4. Pingback: Wednesday Link List | Thinking Out Loud

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