Have you ever noticed how quickly things get cluttered when you neglect to clean and organize on a consistent basis? Just take a look in your garage, basement or attic and you’ll see what I mean. Our homes, cars and closets even get cluttered if we don’t keep up with them. I’m sure you don’t think of your ministry as being cluttered, but if you don’t allow the Holy Spirit to clean and organize it from time to time, you will find yourself overwhelmed by the time constraints and emotional burden of ministry responsibility. This causes you to be stressed, possibly depressed and definitely not as effective as you could be in what God has called you to do.
When you begin to experience the domino effect of ministry stress carrying over into your marriage, family, finances and/or health, it’s time to get the clutter out of your ministry! God never expects you to sacrifice your family or personal well-being on the altar of ministry, especially ministry that is out of control. It’s just not worth it. In fact, to do so is idolatrous. I think we’ve bought into the lie that the busier we are doing ministry, the more pleased God is with us. But what God spoke to King Saul through the prophet Samuel rings clear today: “to obey is better than sacrifice.” What God requires of us is to obey Him from the heart, nothing more and nothing less.
Exodus 18:13-23 (NIV) “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said “WHAT IS THIS…?” Moses answered him, “…the people come to me to seek God’s will…” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS NOT GOOD. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. …Teach them the decrees and laws and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people… and have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
These scriptures speak for themselves. God’s will for spiritual leaders is not to be burdened by ministry or anything else for that matter. The Word teaches us to “carry each other’s burdens” but it also teaches us to “cast our cares on the Lord.” If we do the former without the latter, we will find ourselves collapsing under the pressure. That is because our souls weren’t created to carry the weight of life’s problems, not to mention the problems of others, all by ourselves.
Statistics tell us that of all professions, clergy has the 3rd highest rate of suicide and depression! This is directly related to the tendency to do ministry without allowing the Holy Spirit to lighten the load. If ministers would do ministry the way Jesus showed us to do ministry, that statistic would be reversed! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be another statistic. I want to please the Lord, not through the abundance of my ministry efforts, but by taking His yoke upon me. That way, I don’t have to bear the weight alone and ministry will be a natural overflow of my relationship with the Lord. That is the way it was meant to be. But when we allow our ministries to become cluttered (even with good things), we begin to stress out unnecessarily and our effectiveness to minister to others is greatly diminished.
To de-clutter your ministry, the first thing you need to do is “come to Jesus.” This means making personal prayer a priority over ministry AND the preparation for ministry. It’s easy to assume that you are close to the Lord based on your time in the Word and prayer and the time you devote to ministering to others. But if you can’t tell me what God has been talking to you about (not what you have been ministering to others), then your relationship with God has taken a back seat to your ministry. This is called idolatry. When you make a god out of your ministry you begin to lose your first love.
The second thing you need to do is to submit your entire ministry to the lordship of Christ. That means that you need to periodically ask Him some very important questions:
- In the words of Paul as he was apprehended on the road to Damascus, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” When you know what God wants you to do, then you need to seek His wisdom and grace to carry it out.
- Is there something on your plate that God didn’t put there? Pastors tend to become the jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none. Because of their immense compassion for people, they have a difficult time saying “no.” Pastors generally think that to turn down ministry opportunity is to be inconsiderate of people’s needs. But to take on more than you can handle is to be inconsiderate of your spouse and family’s needs! As the Scripture says, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?”
- Is there something on your plate that is bigger than you? Although God has given you a gift to minister to people, you don’t have all the answers. Some situations may require you to obtain advice from others before making decisions or handling dilemmas. “There is safety in the multitude of ” Other situations may necessitate that you refer people to those who are better qualified to help them. This is especially true in counseling situations. Humility will keep you from biting off things that are too big for you to chew.
- Is there something on your plate that should be on someone else’s? By this I mean delegation. In an organization, it doesn’t make sense for one person to do everything while everyone else stands by and watches. Like Moses’ scenario, not only will this wear out the leader, but people will go away with needs unmet. As a good rule of thumb, if someone else can do it, you should let them (you may have to train them). Do what only you can do. This will create more time for you to be a leader rather than micromanage a church that Jesus promised to build Himself.
By asking these questions and responding accordingly to the answers, you will find that you can breathe more easily. You should have more time on your hands for your personal relationship with the Lord, your family, your personal interests and adequate preparation time for the ministry God has called you to. By submitting your ministry to the Lord, you might also discover that you have delegated something to others that you should be doing yourself. This may be due to you not following the guidelines for qualified leaders (I Tim 3 and Titus 1,2), by not adequately training others before handing off the baton or possibly because you told someone else to do something that you just didn’t want to do. Humility also will cause you to make the proper adjustments that make ministry more effective and life easier for everyone!
As Paul so eloquently put it in Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God?” Ultimately, our ministries should be the result of our relationships with the Lord and the grace He has given us for others. We would do well to follow the steps of our Lord who only “did what He saw the Father doing and said what He heard the Father saying.” Jesus was led by Spirit, not driven by the needs of people. His passion was first and foremost to please God, not man. He didn’t allow the opportunity for ministry to trump His need to obey the Father. Our ministries would be more effective if we would learn to simply obey. As we allow the Spirit to de-clutter our ministries, we will experience a freedom that will make life more enjoyable and ministry more effective and fulfilling!