What is an Average Pastor?

It was nearly three years ago that I started this blog on the average pastor.  Since that time this blog has been viewed over 7,000 times and has over hundred of followers.    The response to this information has been so humbling and encouraging.  The success of this concept of the Average Pastor has proved one thing:  Average Pastors are looking for resources for the average church experience. This is why we published The Average Pastor book which is being enjoyed by pastors around the US. Here are some of the testimonies from those who have read the book:

  • “I can not put it down. I hope all of my Facebook friends that Pastor a “Small Church” buy it immediately! You will not be sorry.”
  • “The book is phenomenal and I highly encourage every medium to small church pastor to read this book. You’ll laugh, perhaps occasionally tears will well up, but ultimately you will identify with Pastor Isgrigg’s words and experiences.”
  • “Some great stuff packed into a small book – if you pastor a small or midsize church grab a copy off of Amazon today and be encouraged.”

With more and more exposure to this concept of  being an “average pastor,” some people still misunderstand why we use that label.  So as a reminder, I want to share the first chapter in the book to remind people what we are talking about. You are average, not because you are mediocre, but because your experience as a pastor of a church of under 200 is the average experience of the average pastor of the average church in America.

You Are Average

No that is not an insult. It is the data. If you are a pastor of a church of under 100 you probably feel small. The recent trend of mega-churches and multi-site churches has made you feel this way. Not to mention that all the pastors conferences are focusing on these churches. But it is not true. You and I are not small church pastors. We are Average Pastors of Average Churches.

 

What is average? When it comes to describing quality, people often think of average as being the middle of the road: not exceptional but not terrible. But in statistics, average is a statement of what is typical. It is not a value statement for quality, it is a numerical statement of quantity. Average is the number that represents the most common result of a given range of data sampled. On a bell curve, the average is where most people are. This means that the most common human experience is the average experience, not the exceptional experience.

One of the first leadership books I remember hearing about was “The Enemy Called Average.”[1] Nobody wants to be labeled as “average”, especially not pastors. Everyone of us believes that we will be the exception to the rule. We want to be the one that starts a church that grows to 10,000 people or who takes over a struggling church and builds it into a mega church. Every pastor I have ever met has always started thinking they were that person. I have come to realize that my experience as a pastor of 100 people is the rule, not the exception.

Consider the data:[2]

  • 8% of churches are 100 people or less[3]
  • 2% of churches are under 250 people
  • Average church attendance is 76 people
  • Only 2.4% of churches are over 1000 people
  • 62% of pastors of less than 100 people are full time
  • Average salary is $31,000 for FT pastor[4]
  • 72% of churches under 100 have an annual income of less than $100,000[5]

The Barna group tells us, “Despite the enormous cultural impact of mega-churches and mega-church pastors like Joel Osteen and his 40,000+ Lakewood Church, the largest group of American churchgoers attends services in a more intimate context. Almost half (46%) attend a church of 100 or fewer members. More than one-third (37%) attend a midsize church of over 100, but not larger than 499. One in 11 (9%) attends a church with between 500 and 999 attenders, and slightly fewer (8%) attend a very large church of 1,000 or more attendees.”[6]

What these stats tell us is that the pastor of a church of 100 is normal. It is average. The truth is the mega-church and the large church are both very rare. They are the exception, not the norm! Yet, have you noticed everyone expects all churches to grow to a mega-church? Have you noticed that the conference speakers are always pastors of the exception, not the norm? Have you noticed all the books written by the 2% and not the 98%? Why are so few resources available for the pastor leading a volunteer staff or the church in the rural community?

Average is the normal experience for most pastors of most churches. It is not a problem to be fixed, its normal.

If you are reading this, chances are you are an Average Pastor. Average is not a sign of poor leadership, difficult people or lack of God’s blessing. Average is the normal experience for most pastors of most churches. It is not a problem to be fixed, its normal. It certainly has challenges, that when compared to the experience of larger churches seem to be huge disadvantages. But those challenges are simply normal challenges. If we continue to compare ourselves with the exception we will always feel like a failure. But if we can compare ourselves to the normal church experience, we will see we are not failures at all. We are normal churches with normal challenges to be faced with faith and courage. You are an Average Pastor with an average size church in America. And that is OK!

 

[1] John Mason, “The Enemy Called Average” (Insight Publishing, 1990).

[2] http://www.thearda.com

[3] http://www.thearda.com/conqs/qs_295.asp

[4] “The 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff” Christianity Today, 2011, p. 35.

[5] http://www.thearda.com/conqs/qs_314.asp

[6] https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016

 

Some Observations on Father’s Day

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Father’s Day is always on a Sunday.  Like many churches, this year I had to wrestle with what we were going to do for fathers on Fathers Day.  I usually try to think of something simple (and cheap) to give to the fathers just like I do on Mother’s day.  Last year I gave out “Dad’s Rootbeer.” This year I chose a small ratchet strap.  It seemed like something Dads would need.  But a day or so later I was talking with a friend.  He said to me, “What does a ratchet strap have to do with being a father?”  It was a good question.  I admitted I didn’t really know.  He went on to say “What do fathers want?  Time with their kids.  Ratchet straps are for men, not dads.”  His words have been resonating with me.  I have been thinking about them for a week now.  I have also been thinking about the pressure I  feel when I see what other churches did for men on fathers day.  Some churches go all out.  And many times I am jealous of what they do for Fathers. But my friend’s comment has me thinking.

What I am about to say is just some observations.  So please forgive me if they come across as critical. Maybe they are, but they aren’t meant to be.  Please just hear my own struggle in these observations.  Pastoring is a tough enough job without having our fellow pastors criticizing each other.  But I think a few things need to be considered when it comes to Father’s Day. These are thoughts about how we celebrate Fathers Day I am struggling with.

First, I question how Mothers day and Fathers day became Christian holidays to begin with.  Its obvious, if they land on a Sunday, everyone expects the church to do something.  Many pastors, including myself, have shied away from the whole “mothers stand up and we will honor you” thing.  I think we all realize that family situations are so much more complicated.  That applies to Dads as well.  My Dad used to alway say that he hated Fathers Day at church because on Mothers Day the Pastor would say how wonderful mothers were. On Fathers Day, the pastors would beat up on the dads for not doing enough.  I don’t think he’s alone in that sentiment.  Being a parent is really hard. And no one thinks they do a good job at it.  Because of these things, I have had to stop making the service about Dads or Moms and just keep our focus on Jesus. I figure the families can celebrate their own parents well enough without me.

Second, it seems Fathers Day has turned into a sort of “man day” or an annual celebration of men.  In the same way that not all women are mothers, not all men are fathers.  It seems to me that car shows, barbecues, tool give aways and manly events are becoming the most popular way to celebrate fathers today.  But so many of those things are stereotypical ”manly” things. But are they ‘fatherly” things?  I wonder how the female children of that father enjoy the car show?  I wonder if that 50 inch TV will encourage a father to spend more time with their kids?  What if the father doesn’t like cars or bacon or doesn’t fix anything around the house?   What if they love to read? What church gives away books?  What exactly are we celebrating about fathers by giving away WD-40 and big screen tvs?  Those seem more like man things (if that is such a thing).  Like my friend asked, “what does that have to do with being a father?”  I even have a friend who has never had kids who won a pressure washer at a Fathers Day service a couple years back.  He wasn’t sure if he should take it.  You see?  Isn’t it confusing?  I think next year I will give away something that will give fathers time with their children.  To me that would honor fathers. I am not sure what yet. But I have to think of something.

Thirdly.   I fear that the modern church has turned every holiday into a marketing scheme.  Remember when we used to have big Christmas productions so that we could invite all our friends to church?  Now we do that for every holiday: Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Mother’s Day, Fathers Day, Grandparents Day, Memorial day…you get the point.  I know why churches do it up big on Father’s Day.  Its another opportunity to invite people to come to church.  Maybe it works.  But I am afraid its starting to feel like a gimmick to get men to go to church. We sure brand it that way with all the meat, cars and mustaches!  Plus, it really doesn’t work for the average church. Many times these are our lowest attended services.  We don’t get holiday bumps like larger churches. My father comes to my church on Father’s day, but I am the pastor!  Many of my members go to be with their fathers at their churches on Fathers Day. And most of them go to the big churches who have the big events.

On the one hand I don’t think we do enough to honor both fathers and mothers for the role they play.  I believe parents have a tough job.   Fathers who stay engaged should be celebrated.  On the other hand, I hope the way we go about celebrating fathers doesn’t distract us from the true value of fathers.  I don’t want to celebrate men, I want honor Fathers.  Fathers matter to children.  Especially to the fathers of children who are still in the homes. These are the fathers I want to go out of my way to say thank you to.  Thank you for playing with your kids when you are tired. Thank you for putting down the remote and reading to your kids. Thank you for taking a trip to the park. Thank you for putting your wife’s needs ahead of your own. Thank you for showing up at the doctor appointment.  Thank you for playing barbies and princesses with your girls.  Thank you for teaching your child when they do something wrong instead of just punishing them.  What can I give a Father who does that?  Do you know?  What can I pass out on a Father’s Day that will encourage and honor Dad’s who do that?  Because that is worth celebrating.

The Economics of the Average Church

MoneyMatters_categoryGraphicOn this blog we try to focus on the average experience for the average pastor. So much of the church world is focused on the exceptional experience of the most successful churches. Many of the experiences written in leadership books usually reflect the 5-15% of pastors who pastor churches of over 200.

One place where the experience of the average pastor is most profound is in finances.  Nothing is perhaps more of a struggle for the average church than church finances.  My experience over the past 6 years has been a good one.  It has always been a struggle but we have managed our finances well and have had very few crisis moments. For that I thank God and my leadership team that has helped me navigate that.  My church pays me a full time salary and I have several part time staff members we are able to give a small weekly salary to.  But, I know even my experience is the exception.  For many average pastors, they would love to have even my experience.

The economics of the average church are difficult considering a couple of factors:

  • The average church is America is 80 people.
  • The average giving per attendee per month is between $80-$100.
  • The average church in America can only sustain one full time salary (if they can afford it at all) and only at the attendance level of 120 are they able to hire someone to help them. For example, 60% of churches in my state are pastored by bi-vocational pastors. These churches cannot afford to pay a full time salary.
  • Churches that are under 100, if they can pay a pastor full time, usually have to devote between 45%-55% of the income to the salaries, where as larger churches can be 35%-50%.
  • Many average churches are in smaller communities that do not have professional jobs available to people. Smaller communities are only getting smaller. And small churches are only getting poorer.

The economics of the average pastor and average church presents a unique set of challenges that small churches have to face:

  • You are expected to do more with less – People visiting your church expect you to have everything a larger church has, but with only a fraction of the resources.  We simply can’t keep up.
  • The pastor is expected to be just as committed to church life, despite the fact that 60% work jobs outside the church.  There isn’t enough time in the day to be working on developing vision, programs and people like  churches that can support a full time pastor.
  • The pastor usually is dealing with the burden of both the church and their own family money pressures.  Its a double edged sword for most pastors.
  • Many of the burdens of the menial tasks and issues cannot be solved by hiring people or buying a new one of something.  That means more energy is given to keeping something going by doing it yourself or going without.

Average Finances in the Average Church

As frustrating as the above challenges are, some economic realities also come into play for the average church verses the larger church.  If the average church is 80 people and the average per capita giving is $100 per month, then your average monthly income is $8,000.

  • If you pay a pastor, its $3,000 – $4,000 per month (45%-55%).  That is about the average salary for churches that can afford a full time pastor.
  • If you have a mortgage, a good range is 30% of your income; $2,500.
  • That leaves you $1,500-$2,500 for other expenses taxes, insurance, utilities and emergencies.  There is not much room for purchases, additional staff and luxuries like advertisement, hiring people to do lawn care, etc.

However, the example given above of $100 per month per person is the exception.  $80 per month for 50-70 people might be more normal for most of the average pastors I know.

  • Total income would be $4,000-$5,600 per month
  • Pastor’s salary could only be $2,000-$2,800 per month
  • Plus a mortgage, utilities, etc.
  • It is a real challenge to have a great church that offers lots of things and does lots of ministry when you barely can make your financial obligations!

Here is the reality of the average church and economics.

If you lose a family of 4 for whatever reason (move, go to another church, etc), you stand to lose $300-$400 per month for that one family leaving.  If you lose several families in a year, you could lose up to 15-20% of your income.

  • That could mean not buying a new computer for the pastor. So he buys it himself
  • That could mean the church not paying the pastor’s medical insurance (if they are able to at all).
  • That could mean not being able to pay a part time kids pastor or worship leader.
  • That could mean not doing an outreach that would cost $300 or not spending money on an event for the church.
  • That could mean not being able to buy ink cartridges to print bulletins.
  • All of these are realities that average pastors deal with simply by losing one family.

On the flip side, if it is a church of 300 people and the average income is $24,000 per month and they lose one family ($300 pm), you may not even notice it.  It doesn’t change whether or not you pay insurance, whether you can buy printer ink, whether you can by curriculum.  In many ways, a larger church may not even notice an average family giving an average amount in an average month.

The Blessings of Average Church Finances…

Yes, there are some! Its not all bad news and difficulty for us average pastors. There are some benefits I have found for average church economics:

  1. I am forced to be creative.  I used to just buy everything. Now I think of ways to do something without the option of buying it.  For example, most of my stage designs cost less that $25 because I buy things at the dollar store or borrow them from others.  Once you get used to not buying things, you appreciate the value of creativity.
  2. I am forced to use people.  Its easier to hire someone to mow or fix plumbing  or clean the church or build something.  But when you don’t have money, you look to the people in your church to chip in.  I have found that there usually people who enjoy those small tasks that make a big difference.
  3. I appreciate what giving means.  Every dollar has a face in a small church.  I see hard working people giving because they love God.  Therefore I respect each dollar. Its precious and is a gift of worship. The fewer dollars you have, the more you appreciate the people who give them.
  4. One family can change everything.  Because losing one family affects the average church so much, gaining one family can also help so much. For us, there is a huge difference between 70 people and 90 people.  Gaining three or four families can take the stress off and allow us to do so much more. There is a lot of hope that one of two families can bring.

Selfishness and the Church Size Debate

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Last week, popular pastor and church leadership expert, Andy Stanley, made headlines over controversial comments characterizing people who like small churches as being “selfish.” During a sermon discussing the benefits of church he offered to let his listeners in on a “secret” of large churches.  His goal, he said, was to have a church big enough to have both a Jr. High and High School ministry.  The benefits of that sort of arrangement are obvious to a large church. However, what he said next got him in trouble.  He said, “If you don’t go to a church large enough to have Jr High & High School ministry…you are selfish.”

You can watch what he said here:

Andy of course apologized, to his credit.

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CT did a story about it and he explained how he doesn’t really feel this way.  Christianity Today Article

I won’t try to speak for Andy on whether or not he actually believes what he said. I can’t know his heart.  However, I am absolutely convinced that the phenomenon of the large church has created a culture that believes exactly that.  “If you go to a small church, you are robbing your family.”  We all know that is exactly what people believe and what large churches believe as well.  The irony of Andy’s comment is, you cannot say on the one hand “Circles are better than rows” and at the same time say “its better for your kids to be in a church large enough” to have everything they need to not “hate church.” If circles are better, are not small churches the BEST environment of your kids? Or is it only the amenities offered in large churches that makes kids either like or “hate” church?  I’m confused!

Andy said what the church world believes:  Bigger is by definition better.  Bigger means more people, more stuff, better quality stuff, better quality people and programs.  We have so bought into the lie that bigger is better we are even willing to guilt trip people into NOT going to an AVERAGE size church.  That somehow, if you chose a small church, you are robbing your child.  If your child hates church its because they didn’t have all the things his friends church had.  Is this what the Kingdom of God has been reduced to?  Is this the church that Jesus established?  Churches big enough to provide the best possible environment for youth to make friends and love going to church?

Nonsense.  And just plain wrong.

I am trying to think of what I can say to this phenomenon. I am at a loss.  I am just plain frustrated. Not at Andy or LifeChurch or anyone else. But at the system. Here are some questions I have been asking myself after Andy’s comments and talking to my fellow Average Pastors:

  1.  How many churches have closed because of the large church in your area is offering something better (ie. bigger)?
  2.  How many pastors of average churches are 2-3 families away from being viable, but our culture has told people they shouldn’t go to a small church because they are selfish?
  3. How many pastors, who went to a bible school or university, got credentials and have a call to minister but have no where to go because  another church plants a satellite campus and replaces a pulpit with nothing more than branch manager of a video venue?
  4. How many millions of dollars are used to build foyer areas that have a coffee shop with $30,000 wifi system, when a fraction of that could revitalize and revolutionize an average church in the community?
  5. How many of the 80% of Average pastors who pastor churches of under 150 could receive a salary for serving their church if just 20 out of Andy’s 30,000 member church would be “selfish” and chose an Average church?
  6. How many churches employ full time graphic artists, meanwhile  62% of pastors in Oklahoma are bi-vocational and have to work a second job just to provide for their families?
  7. How many young aspiring minister who in a small church could have the opportunity to be used and gain experience end up sitting as just another attender in a church staffed with “professionals”?

Is this really better?

What Andy described as his vision for the best kind of youth group is the exception, not the rule!  Andy Stanley’s church represents the reality for less than 2% of churches in America.  The church world has bought into that lie that they should be normal.  There is a place for Andy’s church.  But it is supposed to be the minority.  The AVERAGE CHURCH that he is decrying is NORMAL.  Your church, with a small youth group, a hand full of kids, no coffee shop, no HD video cameras, just small circles of people who are becoming more like Jesus, WE ARE THE CHURCH. We are Average Pastors of Average Churches.

In the past two months I have seen Average Churches I know of:

  • 6 people worked all day to put on a relationship workshop for  20 couples from the community, free of charge.
  • A church give an extra 25% of a months income to help another church in our community stay on its feet after a church split.
  • A youth group of 3 kids decide together that will raise money to send the one kid that wants to compete in a fine arts competition.
  • A church give food out to 40 needy families on a weekly basis despite not having enough income to pay the bills this month.
  • A small church full of people organize a city wide festival for its city of 3,000 people.
  • People called to serve Jesus show up week after week to teach 3 kids in a preschool class because those 3 kids are important to Jesus.
  • Pastor’s wives work child care so that the nursery workers could go to a church service.
  • Volunteer staff take elderly members to doctor’s appointments.

Don’t tell me that people who love churches like that are selfish.  Don’t tell me our children are not benefiting from that type of community and culture.  We are the unselfish ones who give our lives, sacrifice our livelihoods to make a difference in the local church.  The ones who will worship in your church this Sunday are not selfish, they are brave. They are going against the tide of our ‘bigger is better’ culture. They are choosing something that is counter to the message our culture is sending them.

This Sunday, take time to thank your people for being unselfish.  Thank them for choosing to worship with you.  Whether the church world believes it or not, you have some of the greatest people in the world that call your church home.

 

Advice to Pastors from Nanny McPhee

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In the movie, “Nanny McPhee”, a house of unruly children receives a visit from a mystical Nanny who excels in teaching children to behave appropriately.  Nanny McPhee explains to the children, “When you need me, but don’t want me, I will stay. But when you want me, but no longer need me, then I will have to go.”  Nanny McPhee’s mission is to stay until she has done her job and the children no longer need what she has to offer.  Nanny McPhee never needs the children. The children need her and that is why she is there.

There is a temptation as pastors to evaluate our current position based on what we need.  We need more staff. We need more money. We need more people. But when the church doesn’t grow and you reach your limit for what you can do, its easy to ask, “Do I need to go somewhere else?”  Is reaching your limitation a sign from God for you to go somewhere else?  If you have done all you wanted to do, does that mean you should leave? Consider the perspective of Nanny McPhee before you take off for greener pastures.

Your congregation needs you as their pastor more than you need them as a congregation.

Often we assess our pastoral assignment based on our needs.  But I think God bases our assignment based on our church’s needs.  He cares more about the needs of people in the congregation than he does about your needs.  Pastoring is not about you!  Pastoring is about the people you serve.

Maybe you have reached your limit of what you can do to grow the church. Maybe you built the building you wanted.  Maybe you implemented the vision you had in your heart. That may be true, but what if God is not finished with using you to disciple the people you have reached? If you were to survey your congregation, I would suspect that they would want you to stay. They still need you for your teaching and care.  They just want you to be there for them to lead them as they follow Jesus.

A Pastor is a shepherd, not a CEO.  You are not there to build an organization. You are there to take care of people.  If you are able to care for people and the church grows, that is great!  If not, it is not a sign that you should leave.   What should be a sign for you is how much people need you where you are.  Do your people still need you?  Do they need your perspective on the scriptures?  Do they need you to help them grow?  Does the church need your direction to fulfill the vision God has given you?  Like Nanny McPhee, as long as your congregation needs you, that is a reason to stay.  If they want you but no longer need you, then it may be time to look for what God has next for you.

“Keep watch over yourselves and the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought by his own blood.” Acts 20:28

 

Do Unto Others

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My first few years as an average pastor were pretty tough. I pastor a great church but I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings of loneliness and inadequacy as a first time pastor of a small church. I was accustomed to a large church with lots of help and lots of resources.   Now as a pastor I had very little resources and very little understanding of the unique challenges of an average pastor. Most of my friends were pastors in larger churches and couldn’t relate to my new situation.  I knew very few pastors of small churches. I felt alone. I felt insecure. I felt ignored.

You have heard the golden rule: Do unto others what you want them to do to you. This is an important principle for believers to live by. But it is a great concept for understanding yourself as an average pastor as well. I have learned that one of my keys to happiness is to do unto other Pastors what I would want them to do for me. This conviction has changed my outlook on my role as an average pastor. My experience has led me to a several convictions that have made a big difference in my life.

  1. If I want to have friends, I must go make them. The pastors around you won’t seek you out.   They are busy with their own troubles and feelings of loneliness. I wished someone would reach out to me. I decided if I wanted to be known, I would have to get to know others. So I did.  I called other pastors and went to lunch. I got to know them.  I went out of my way to make others feel known.  In return, I became known.  I don’t feel alone or insignificant any more. Now I have a great network of pastor friends in similar situations that I can share this journey with.
  2. I won’t let any new pastors feel the way I felt. One of the things I like to do is to keep up on the new pastors in my area.  I don’t want someone else to feel like I did.  So when there is a new pastor, especially if they are going into a tough situation, I will go meet them. I want them to know they are not alone. I call and check in on them.  I make sure that they have at least one person that remembers that they are there.  That is what I wish someone had done for me. So I am committed to making that happen for others.
  3. I will invest in other pastors. What I wished people would have done for me, I am now doing for others. That is why I started this blog. That is why I connect with other pastors, giving them resources or inviting them to go with me to conferences. I get so much joy from being a friend of pastors. When I make them feel important, it helps me with my own feelings of loneliness and insignificance.

This weekend my church is hosting a workshop for rural pastors put on my Rural Compassion. Rural Compassion partners with rural churches to help them reach their community. Its mission is to not let rural pastors be forgotten.  They believe that “small towns have big possibilities.” That mission is meaningful to me. So we are hosting one of their workshops here. We are not a rural church, but I know the struggles I have at my church.  Ministry in the rural church is often even a bigger challenge.  Most of these pastors are in small communities and almost all of them are bi-vocational pastors.  I wanted to help make sure these unsung and under appreciated pastors will be able to be appreciated, encouraged and given fresh ideas for ways they can reach their community. I am so excited to be able to invest in these pastors.

Why are we doing it? Because I have learned the golden rule. This is what I had hoped someone would do for me. I will not wait around for someone to do it for others. When I do for others, what I wish others would do for me, we both have our needs met and the body of Christ is built up.

For more information on Rural Compassion, check out the video here:

RURAL COMPASSION + FACTS from Convoy of Hope on Vimeo.

 

The Expert You Need to Listen To

expertThe Expert You Need To Listen To

The church world is full of experts. Ever since the church growth movement began, there has been a rise in the number of “experts” that church leaders listen to.  For church growth is was Willow Creek. For leadership today the expert is Andy Stanley. For church statistics it is the Barna Group.  For church issues some may say its Carey Neuhoff or Thom Rainer.  For small church issues, I argue that our expert is Karl Vaters and newsmallchurch.com.  Chances are as an average pastor, you are looking to the experts to help you lead and grow your church.  I appreciate these leaders. I have learned from many of them. But I realized this week that there is one expert that we as average pastors tend to neglect.

What is an expert?

I am a bit of an education nerd.  Many years ago God put it in my heart to become a PhD.  So for the past few years I have worked toward this. I have a bachelors and a masters in Theology and I am working on a PhD.  The goal of doctoral work is to become an expert on one small particular point of theology that no one else has studied or published about.  What a PhD says about you is that when it comes to your topic, you are the expert.  People can talk about similar issues as you, but on your particular issue, you are the one who knows best on the subject.

You have a PhD in your church!

Who knows your church the best?  Chances are YOU do!  You certainly can learn about church matters from the experts mentioned above.  But the reality is that you are no different than them.  They became an expert through the process of becoming an expert in their own churches.  All of Andy Stanley’s wisdom comes from becoming an expert in being the Pastor of NorthPoint.   All he is doing is telling his story. Pastor, you are expert on your church.  You know the history better than anyone else. You know the strength and weaknesses. You know the people assests. You know your community.  A great pastor is one who becomes an expert, not on the principles that make Andy Stanley’s church work, but on what makes your church work.  When it comes to the church you pastor, nobody is better equipped to know what your church needs than you.

“A great pastor is one who becomes an expert, not on the principles that make Andy Stanley’s church work, but on what makes your church work.”

It is time for you to start listening to yourself!  You are an expert!  Lead with confidence.  He didn’t pick Andy Stanley to lead your church. He picked you.  Listen to your own heart for what God has for your church. Trust your own instincts and expertise.  Embrace yourself as the person who is best equipped to know what your church needs.  God has made YOU the expert.  He will help you lead your church into what He has planned for you.

I Smell Burnt Toast: Sleep, Anxiety and the Exhausted Pastor

3e1d7deRecently, something strange has been happening.  Sometimes when I wake up at night, I smell burnt toast.  I noticed it starting a few months ago. Rarely do I sleep through the night. Often my dogs wake up to go outside or my children cry out needing something.  It doesn’t really bother me to wake up several times a night. My problem is, I can’t easily go back to sleep. I am often wake for an hour or two just thinking about church, sermons and the things our people are going through. If you are an Average Pastor, you know exactly what I mean. I am sure I could take sleep meds but that just masks the problem.  I am awake because I am a pastor.  And sleep medication cannot treat that.

I am not exactly sure why I smell burnt toast.  I have asked Amonda if she smells it.  So far she hasn’t been able to smell it when I do. So I am beginning to wonder if it is medical.  I looked online and some people say that people who are having a stroke often smell burnt toast. I doubt that is my problem. But it is an interesting concept.  When your body is experiencing something traumatic, like a stroke, it can send you signals that there is trouble.  It could manifest in the form of a smell  or a taste in order to tell you something is wrong.  The smell should wake you up to try to figure out what is wrong.  Maybe my body is telling me something?

I do not think it is a coincidence that I smell burnt toast while I am awake at night.  I think my body is trying to tell me something.  It is the reason I am having trouble going back to sleep.  My mind, body and spirit is exhausted.  Being a pastor is more like a burden you bear than a job you work.  It is hard to explain if you are not a pastor. It is a weight of responsibility that you always feel. You feel the pain of your congregation right along side of them.  For me that is 61 families.  Every struggle they go through, I carry with them to some degree. It is a wonderful thing, but it also a heavy thing.

It is really hard to have “good days” as a pastor.  At any one point, even if 51 of the families are doing great, there are 10 families dealing with something traumatic for them.  It could be a job loss, a secret sin, a long-term illness, an addiction or just hard life realities.  Most of these situations are unknown to others, even your leaders, but as average pastors we are right there with them in that trauma.  Even when I feel great about my life personally, there are always others I pastor that I am mourning with at the same time.  Pastors cannot turn off these burdens they are carrying with their members. We cannot clock out from that burden. We never get to feel normal.  I am not complaining. It is just the reality we have to try to live with.

When I try to explain this to people, they often say, “Why don’t you delegate? Let someone else visit that person in the hospital.” That sounds great, but I doesn’t help.  It is fine to have others share the burden of tasks like visiting when I am unable to.  But I cannot turn off the burden just because I am not there. I still carry the burden with the person in need even if I am not there. Being there with them actually helps lift my burden I feel because I know how they are doing.  And when their prayers are answered and their burden is lifted, mine is too.

I am smelling burnt toast.  That burnt toast is me.  My anxiety is high because my burden is heavy and my resources are low.  I think it is my body’s signal to me that I need a break.  I need a vacation. So I am taking one.  Perhaps by getting away, I can unplug from those burdens for a while and recharge my soul.  I will come back stronger. But I assure you, the burden will be there the moment I get back. It will be just as heavy as it was when I left it.  Hopefully I will have more emotional and spiritual resource to carry it again.  Until of course I start to lay awake at night and smell burnt toast again. Maybe I will listen earlier next time.