One of the worst years I ever had was in my early days at Christ Our King Church in Bel Air, Maryland. Our building was finished, and I realized I wasn't being a pastor. I was so locked in to running the church programs I didn't have time to be a pastor.
So I went to the session one night to resign. "I'm not doing what I came here to do," I said. "I'm unhappy, and I'm never at home." The precipitating event was when one of my kids said, "You haven't spent an evening at home for 32 days." She had kept track! I was obsessive and compulsive about my administrative duties, and I didn't see any way to get out of the pressures that were making me that way. So I just said, "I quit."
The elders wanted to know what was wrong.
"Well," I said, "I'm out all the time, I'm doing all this administrative work, serving on all these committees, and running all these errands. I want to preach, I want to lead the worship, I want to spend time with people in their homes. That's what I came here to do. I want to be your spiritual leader; I don't want to run your church."
They thought for a moment and then said, "Let us run the church."
After we talked it through the rest of the evening, I finally said, "Okay."
I'll never forget what happened because of that talk. Two weeks later the stewardship committee met, and I walked into the meeting uninvited. The chairman of the group looked at me and asked, "What's the matter? Don't you trust us?"
I admitted, "I guess I don't, but I'll try." I turned around, walked out, and haven't been back since. It took a year or so to deprogram myself.
There's a line in a poem about a dog going along the road with haphazard intent. My pastoral life is now like that. There's a sense of haphazardness to it because I don't want to get locked into systems where I have to say, "No, I'm too busy to do that; I can't see you because I have this schedule." But the haphazardness is not careless; there is purpose to it. I like to keep a freedom in which I can be responsive to what's going on with my people.
Scriptural Success Model
Because of their different gifts, it's all right for pastors to sharply differ in how they run churches.
I was Bill Wiseman's associate pastor in White Plains, New York. He has personal integrity and is highly skilled in all areas of pastoral work. He did more than any other person to enable me to be a pastor, especially in the administrative and managerial aspects. He runs a tight ship; things like structure and efficiency are very important to him. However, our styles of ministry contrast markedly. He now has a church of 5,000 members in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he would go crazy running a church the way I do.
Later on, I realized my gifts were not in administration. What I really wanted to do was spend most of my time in personal ministry to my congregation. This is how the Lord has spoken to me through the Scriptures, and in our society if pastors shape their pastoral role informed by something other than the Scriptures, they can quickly feel useless.
A hundred years ago, pastors had a clear sense of continuity with past traditions. They knew they were doing work that had integrity; their life had recognized value and wholeness. Today, that's simply not true; we're fragmented into doing different things.
In the pulpit you do have that sense of continuity. When I'm preaching, I know I'm doing work that has continuity going back to Isaiah. I prepare sermons somewhat the way Augustine and Wesley prepared sermons. I'm working from of the same Scriptures as they did, so I don't feel third rate when I'm in the pulpit.