I’ve done a lot of stupid things in church ministry.
But what I’m about to tell you was one of the stupidest.
Many years ago, in my second pastorate, I became discontented with the level of giftedness in our Sunday morning service.
We started the service with announcements. (It was the trend back then.)
Then we had a few hymns.
Then we had a time where people in the congregation could share testimonies … followed by another hymn.
Then I preached … followed by a final hymn.
I didn’t like the way the guy who made announcements made them … so I made them instead.
And we didn’t have anyone decent to lead singing … so I led singing instead.
And I was already leading the testimony time … and saying the prayers … and preaching.
It’s a wonder I didn’t play the organ and piano, run sound, take the offering, and watch the kids in the nursery.
Because of personal anxiety, I started doing more and more things myself.
There’s a word for the way I behaved: overfunctioning.
When someone overfunctions, they assume an unhealthy responsibility for the behavior of others.
And pastors, if they’re not careful, can become classic overfunctioners.
Let me share with you four reasons why pastors should not overfunction:
First, overfunctioners deny the giftedness of the body of Christ.
Jesus had every spiritual gift, didn’t He? He had the gift of leadership … and miracles … and teaching … and faith … and prophecy … and healing … and giving.
He could have been a one-man show. Instead, He chose 12 disciples to be with Him, and to send them out to preach, and to have authority to drive out demons (Mark 3:13-15).
Jesus could have overfunctioned, but He never did. He set the pace, but He let His disciples share His ministry … and learn from Him along the way.
Paul didn’t overfunction, either. He served with Barnabas and Silas and Timothy and Titus and Priscilla and Aquila and Epaphroditus.
While Jesus could have done ministry better than any of the Twelve, He chose to share ministry with them anyway … and when He returned to heaven, they took over.
Even if a pastor can do various ministries better than anyone in a church, it will only grow to a certain level.
A pastor has to recruit, train, and release people to do ministry … and trust that they can do ministry better than he can.
Second, overfunctioners play Holy Spirit in people’s lives.
Years ago, I talked to my board chairman about how frustrated I was with the slow spiritual growth in the lives of some churchgoers.
I’ll never forget what he told me: “Jim, you’ve got to let the Holy Spirit work in their lives.”
I was trying to hurry up people’s spiritual growth so they would attend and serve and give more consistently … but I was trying to do it in the flesh rather than letting God do the work.
When we’re trying to straighten everybody out … when we’re trying to acclerate the pace at which people grow … when we’re doing it for our benefit, not theirs … then we’re overfunctioning and playing Holy Spirit in people’s lives.
And there is no vacancy in the Trinity.
Let’s let God be God. He has no limits.
And let’s let us be us. We are very limited indeed.
Third, overfunctioners fail to let people wrestle with their own problems.
This shows up most in the pastor’s study when he does counseling.
Many pastors go into ministry because they want to rescue people from their maladies.
So when they listen to someone’s problem in a counseling setting, they want to “fix” them right away.
They recommend a book, but give a copy to the counselee rather than letting them buy it themselves.
They open and close the session with prayer, rather than letting the counselee pray at all.
They tell the counselee five ways to deal with their issue rather than letting them make their own discoveries.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:5, “For each of you should carry your own load.” The word “load” has the idea of a backpack, something that each of us can carry on our own.
Yet back in verse 2, Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The term “burdens” has the idea of a load so heavy (think of a piano) that you can only carry the load with the help of others.
Pastors need to help people carry the pianos in their lives while letting people carry their own backpacks.
Finally, overfunctioners eventually run out of steam.
If a pastor tries to be the body of Christ … and he tries to play Holy Spirit in people’s lives … and he fails to let people wrestle with their own problems … then he’s going to collapse emotionally … and he won’t be able to help others for a long time.
Pastors need to know their limits … but in the church, we applaud pastors who work insane hours.
I have a theory about workaholic pastors. Because they’re not convinced of their giftedness – after all, it seems like other pastors lead and teach and administrate better – they try and outwork others so they can feel good about themselves.
In my second pastorate, I arrived at church at 6 am every Tuesday for a men’s prayer meeting. We had board meetings on Tuesday nights, and I would stay through and work a 15 or 16 hour day.
One of the board members lived behind the church. One time, he called me at my office and said, “I see your car in the parking lot. Go home to your wife and kids.”
That was some of the best advice I ever received.
Because if I just use the spiritual gifts God gave me … then I free others up to use the gifts God gave them.
And if I stop playing Holy Spirit in people’s lives … then maybe they can let the real Holy Spirit take control.
And if I let people wrestle with their own problems … then maybe they’ll solve them when I’m not around.
And if I empower others in the church to carry out their ministries … without my help … then maybe I can spend most nights at home with my family.
When pastors overfunction in a church … the body of Christ underfunctions.
And God never intended for a pastor to be the entire body.