Working Too Hard?

Pastoring is a profession like any other. I am constantly working to hone and upgrade my skills and become a true master of my craft. This takes diligence, effort and a lot of punching the clock. Pastoring isn’t nearly as sexy as I thought it would be.

Pastoring is also a profession unlike any other. I am a midwife and surrogate parent. I am responsible for the spiritual care and well being of my spiritual family, arguably the most important part of their lives, and yet I am given little power to affect anything in their lives. I only have the influence they let me have. Hence, much of my job is persuasion… and it is wearisome.

In my more melancholy moments (like this one), I wonder about the effectiveness of the model of church we have embraced in the West. We, the church leaders and pastors, have tried to make everything so easy — we break down the teachings of Jesus into three point sermons complete with application points; we do much of the heavy lifting in prayer, intercession and service; we try to set the bar as low as possible so it is easy for people to participate; and we pour ridiculous amounts of time, energy, focus and creativity into preparing messages that are usually dismissed with little more than a “good message pastor.” This last piece has me particularly vexed.

The last time I bothered to look up the figure and poll my peers, the average pastor spent around 20 hours of their week preparing a sermon. For those whose sole purpose is preaching and teaching, that number can inflate to 35 or more. I live in a town with 20 churches, each pastor preparing a message each week. That is 400 hours and more being invested into the people of God each and every week, almost 21,000 hours in a year. With that kind of focused investment from highly trained and highly passionate people, why is 50%+ of the city still unreached and the rest of the city relatively unchanged? I’ve been noodling on that for some time and still don’t have the answers I’d like.

It does occur to me, however, that I might be working too hard. Working too hard to make the sayings of Jesus easily digestible, working too hard to apply those teachings to other people’s lives and situations. For me, sermon prep is a worship experience because it forces me to submit to a God who does not think like I do and to rework what I thought I knew in order to follow his train of thought. Perhaps more people need to be doing that each week than the 19 other pastors and I? What if the model we’ve embraced, comfortable as it is, has actually incapacitated the church and is barring us from actually doing what Jesus commanded us to do?

Like I said, I don’t have any good answers, just a lot of nagging questions. I’d love to hear from you guys though. Have sermons changed your life? Are they worthwhile? What would make them more transformative?


6 thoughts on “Working Too Hard?”

  1. Great to ask these type of questions, Ben. We are so set in our traditions at times, we forget why we do what we do. It’s been amazing on my end to transition away from weekly sermons as our church moved from a “building” setting to a “in-home” setting over the last year. I’ve decided to stop teaching & preaching and am now using an ancient tool called Lectio Divina where I now slowly read a small section of scripture to the group 2 or 3 times and then we take time of silence & reflection before we enter into a discussion. After the silence, I then “facilitate” our discussion around what people are “hearing” or picking up as we slowly reflect with each other on God’s Word. This obviously would be difficult in traditional sanctuary settings, but for us, I’m finding much satisfaction from 1) facilitating enlightening conversation around God’s word rather than using just my 1-way talking, and 2) seeing how people are having the “light bulb” go for them as either the Spirit illuminates something for them, or something someone else shares stirs them to a good response. I’m lovin’ it.

    1. Marty, I think that sounds wonderful. I chose to edit out a portion of my post where I rambled on about what it would look like if pastors were to just proclaim the word, not explain it or apply it, just say what Jesus said and then make space for people to interact with God for a few minutes. Very similar idea to lectio divina. I’ll have to spend some more time thinking about that.

      1. I’ve got a couple of pastors in our spiritual direction training cohorts who are beginning to experiment a bit with lectio divina, silence, and reflection in the midst of their Sunday AM teachings. I’m hearing good reports…worthy of some prayerful thought. keep me posted!

  2. Hi Ben, I taught on Lectio Divina last night at youth group and we walked through it together. It is a great way to connect with the Father.

    I still think preaching is so needed today, Jesus was a preacher himself… the problem, IMO is, are the people that need to hear the Gospel hearing it? We need to get more of our un saved friends to church or find a way to get the Word to them.

  3. “I only have the influence they let me have.”

    This stuck out to me.

    Jesus and His Blood and the Gospel are the most powerful things in the world. Nothing trumps it. When we share it, there will not necessarily be a shift unless it is received.

    When the Gospel of Jesus is shared AND PEOPLE RECEIVE IT, there has to be change. Otherwise, the Gospel of Jesus wasn’t really what was received. Jesus changes people when they receive Him.

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