I can still remember the specific conversation in seminary. We were discussing the practice of ministry as it relates to a pastor’s schedule. How many hours should one spend in preparing sermons? How many hours should be utilized for pastoral care (hospital visits, counseling, etc.)?
It was a rather interesting conversation. Some guys didn’t know what their schedule was or how their hours were spent. Other fellas had every minute scripted out without any allowance for deviance.
When I was asked about our policy at North Side, I responded, “We have an open-door policy around here. Our Senior Pastor, Jeff, has always maintained an open-door policy for those in need whether they are inside or outside of the church.”
“Wait a minute, so do you have a ton of intrusions?”
“Yes we do. The office area of the church is usually very active with people coming in and out needing prayer, help, or encouragement.”
“Well, how do you guys get your ministry tasks done?”
Pause. Longer pause. Trying to make sure what I am about to say is not sarcastic or condescending. Pause. Open mouth. Close mouth. Pause. Speak:
“Well, there are many different tasks associated with ministry. There are tasks that can and probably need to be done with a door closed, but ministry must always involve people. A shepherd needs to be around his sheep.”
“Well, brother Travis, that is a nice thing to say, but I have scheduled times during the week that the doors are closed and no one can reach me so I can prepare for Sunday’s message. How do you balance that?”
“It’s a very difficult balance, but I have never read where Jesus refused to heal someone because he was busy working on next week’s message.”
Conversation ended by professor.
Most people wouldn’t think this about me, but I am an introvert. I love silence and solitude. I don’t mind speaking in front of large crowds or being in the middle of smaller groups, but I absolutely love solitude.
It is encouraging to realize that Jesus sought solitude. He would often rise early in the morning, while it was still dark, to find a “desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). He is often seen withdrawing from the crowds to be alone to commune with his Father (Luke 4:42, 43; 5:16; Matt. 14:23; 4:1). When Jesus had a big decision to make like selecting his 12 disciples, he went out to a mountain by himself to pray all night (Luke 6:12). Jesus sought solitude. He needed to be away from the chaos of ministry so he could pray, but he never seemed to do it at a prime time. He took those times when no one else would really be looking for him (they were all still asleep!).
It is discouraging to realize that Jesus rarely ever got solitude. When Jesus received the devastating news that his forerunner and cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:13-14). He sought solitude, and being fully a man stricken with grief, he desired and deserved solitude, but the people wouldn’t allow it. Did Jesus run from them? Did he lock the door? Did he hide behind his assistant to block incoming calls or visitors? Nope, because he had compassion on them. Jesus was always aware when people were “distressed and dispirited, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). And he embraced the interruptions.
They needed Jesus more than Jesus needed solitude.
Think about it – Jesus was almost always with people. When Jesus called his 12 disciples, their primary objective was that they “might be with him” (Mark 3:14). They saw him on and off the ministry stage and have memories that would fill up enough books to fill up the whole world with all that he said and did that we don’t even know about (John 21:25).
While in between ministry assignments, Jesus was fully aware when a woman needing healing would simply grasp for the fringe of his garment and he would take the time to stop and address her (Luke 8:43-48). Jesus even took the time to pray over those pesky miniature ones that we know as children – he didn’t bar them from the service and he didn’t send them to the nursery – he personally ministered to the children while the disciples thought they (and he) were too busy or too good for it (Matt. 19:13-15).
Jesus’ example in ministry simply ruins my desire to be an isolated, introverted minister who keeps his door closed.
Of course, I must protect my time. I have to care for my wife and my children or else I am unfit to be a minister (1 Tim. 3:2, 4). I need to work on my own relationship with the Lord, but if I watch Jesus, that may mean that I sleep a little less and experience a little more hectic surroundings so that I can “present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28-29).
I have read all the ministry books about healthy boundaries, and honestly, they are not very biblical. They sound more like worldly, leadership principles and do not look anything like New Testament pastoral ministry. You can be a man who loves the Lord, who takes priority with your family, and able to lead your congregation from a stage and one-on-one. It is possible, and it is worth striving for.
Inaccessible and Unapproachable Ministers
It has been shocking to me in my years of ministry at North Side at the amount of counseling that our pastoral and support staff does for people. Maybe it’s because we are free, available, or maybe it’s because we are gluttons for punishment, but we are very busy in the counseling department. While we counsel many members of our congregation, we also minister to another large group of folks and it isn’t whom you would expect.
We counsel just as many non-North Siders as we do North Siders (I would easily say a 50/50 split, if not actually heavier on the non-member side).
The shocking thing is that most of the people we counsel are not members of our church, but they are in fact a professing Christian and a member of another church in town.
Most of these people needing counseling come to us because their pastor is either inaccessible or unapproachable.
And the more I follow Jesus through the pages of Scripture and the more I try to apply the biblical instructions he has given to ministers, that simply breaks my heart.
Why do they say that their pastors are like this?
- “I would be too embarrassed for him to know what we were dealing with. He might look down on us.”
- “He said he doesn’t do counseling.”
- “He is too busy.”
- “There is a waiting list that is xx long.”
- “I really don’t know him.”
- “I don’t feel like he is a ‘people-person.'”
As a minister, I am called to “shepherd the flock among me” (1 Peter 5:1). Out of sheer love for them, I should invest my very life into these people (1 Thess. 2:8). I am to live among them (Acts 20:18) and be willing to teach them in “public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). In fact, I’m not even qualified to be a minster of I am not hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2).
I should be able to tell people to imitate my example (Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 11:1). I should be an example to all believers regardless of my age (1 Tim. 4:12). I should model good works before people (Titus 2:7-8). People should be able to see the conduct of my life and the level of my faith (Heb. 13:7). I should give oversight and be an example to the flock (1 Pet. 5:2-3).
I once had someone criticize our church because we were too big to be able to care for the members adequately. The sheer numbers made it too improbable. I will say this, while it is a daunting task at times, we work diligently to make sure needs are met. The doors are open. The contact info is available. We are engaged. We are at hospitals. We laugh and cry with our people. Our homes are open, and we want to be around people.
Jeff was actually interviewed at last year’s South Carolina Baptist Convention meeting on some of North Side’s practices. When asked by the moderator what do you think is the one thing that North Side does really well, this was his answer: “I think we do pastoral care really, really well. Our elders are very active in the lives of people.”
So, this is my plea, if you are in the ministry, get around people.
Sure you can spend more time with your leaders, just like Jesus did, but don’t neglect the entirety of God’s people. Know them and be known by them.
Don’t neglect today’s needs preparing for Sunday’s needs.
Jesus is burdened for the people of this world and he is burdened because they are like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36). The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt. 9:37).
Will you answer the call today to be invested in the flock to which he has appointed you?
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.