Three not-so-simple ways to be a better pastor

loveDo you want to be a better pastor? Here are three tips you can use to improve your leadership at church, courtesy of Jesus. They come from the great commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 22:27-40

Of course, these are far more than tips. They are commandments, which means God asks us to live them out. They are not simple, and not easy. However, even a little progress in any one of them can make us better pastoral leaders.

  1. Love God.

This is obvious, and you’d think we’d put this at the top of our priority list. You might say, I’m serving God, don’t you think I love God? However, it’s all too easy to put God at the bottom of our priority list in terms of time spent. Prayer gets crowded out by the busyness of ministry life. We know God will be there waiting, and the board chair/dying parishioner/noisy son or daughter can’t seem to wait.

Alternatively, we may feel a little cranky with a God who called us into such a challenging ministry, with the attendant struggles and often personal and congregational financial challenges. We avoid having the hard conversations in prayer.

I’ve said before that five minutes, or even one minute, of prayer is better than no minutes. I don’t want to make you feel guilty for not praying. I want you to get the spiritual support you need for your ministry. Remember, even if you don’t feel like you can love God right now because you are struggling, God always loves you. See if you can at least receive that love for a moment or two each day.

  1. Love your neighbor.

Let’s face it: this can be a challenge in ministry. It’s easy to love the neighbor (read, church member) who loves us. It’s much harder to love the church member who is constantly critical, has no boundaries, or can’t tolerate even an ounce of change.

Yet there’s this commandment. Can you open your heart even an inch more to the most difficult person in your congregation? Note: this doesn’t mean letting them get away with everything, including taking hours of your time each week. It does mean accepting them just as they are, trusting that God loves them despite their challenges or the difficulties you have with them.

If you move toward loving those who are most difficult, you’ll notice a lighter spirit in relation to them. It may never be easy, but it can be a little bit easier.

At the same time, make sure to spend some time with the easy wonderful people in your congregation, the ones who are easy to love.

  1. Love yourself.

Jesus doesn’t say explicitly love yourself, but he does say Love your neighbor as yourself. So in fact this shouldn’t be last. When I was a child I learned a Sunday School song that said, “Jesus, others, then you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.” Message: always put yourself last. I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended here.

Can you love yourself no matter what is going on in the ministry, whether worship attendance is up or down, or giving is up or down, whether people in the church love you or are ready to ask you to leave?

Love yourself as much as God does – or move in that direction – and you’ll be more joyful.

Here’s a post on lowering your ministry stress.

6 replies on “Three not-so-simple ways to be a better pastor

  • James Hinds

    Nicely put Margaret.
    Too true that ministry focus can apportion God second or third or tenth place on “to do” lists. Either loving God is first on list or so embedded that it does not need listing.
    Loving ourselves can sadly morph into narcissism, but without it ministers (and others) can become unhealthy, forgetting or neglecting to care for self. If we preach self-care for care-givers; must practice what we preach!

  • Abigail Stockman

    Thank Margaret – always timely and meaningful.

    Sometimes I remember to ask where is God (the holy and the sacred) in the critical congregant, and in me, in those uncomfortable, “could I please be anywhere but here”, moments. When I am able to do this it lowers my anxiety over the outcome or stress of the moment.


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