Before a pastor steps back from hands-on pastoral care, we need to ask a very important question. “Is the patient healthy enough for this yet?”
I was a very hands-on pastor for many years. And I don’t regret it. Because I had inherited a very unhealthy, broken church and they needed a lot of attention for those first years.
Now I’m far less hands-on. Because part of the work I did during the hands-on season was to train others to do the work of ministry. Now the patient is healthy and does a much better job taking care of herself.
2. Make Fewer Demands on the Congregation
Too many pastors think the answer for a broken church is to push them to do more. That may be the quickest way to kill an ailing congregation.
There are a lot of very busy, very ill churches. As I mentioned in How to De-Clutter Your Church for More Effective Ministry, it’s foolhardy to add more ministries to a church that’s struggling with their current ministries.
No, don’t coddle the church. But there are seasons when churches need rest more than they need exercise.
That happened in the first few years at my current church. They’d been through five pastors in ten years, each of which brought new ideas and a new set of activities to go with them. The church was worn out from trying to please each pastor.
So I gave them a rest. For a couple years, we worshiped, taught scripture and hung out at picnics and potlucks. After a while, the patient got stronger and started standing, then walking on her own.
Today, I’m thrilled to pastor one of the strongest, most innovative and healthiest churches I know. But we wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t slowed down for those years of much-needed, purposeful rest.
3. Alternate Short Bursts of Activity With Long Periods of Rest
Once a church starts getting healthy, a wise pastor will protect them from the temptation to do too much, too soon.
A church recovering from ill-health and brokenness needs to be challenged. Then they need to rest. This helps them assess, heal and prepare for the next challenge.
As I mentioned in Bungee Cord Leadership: Leveraging Tension to Lead a Church Through Change, we have to help people stretch beyond their own comfort, but not so far that it will break them.