On the Ministry: Tasks Verses Relationships

One doesn’t have to serve as a pastor for very long to come to the realization that the Holy Ministry in America is in more than a little bit of crisis. Some of the competing models for the Pastoral Office include: shepherd, maintenance man, leader, enabler, facilitator, therapist, evangelist, social worker, community worker/activist, and the like. I’m sure there are another dozen or more titles or job descriptions which could be used. It is no wonder that pastors don’t know who they are or what they are given to do!

As I have tried to think through what it means to be a pastor, I always come down to the tension between tasks and relationships. Pastors are given certain tasks that they are to do day in, day out. Preach, teach, administer the sacraments, judge doctrine, perform acts of mercy on behalf of the body of Christ, etc. I can sit down in any given week and map out all of my time in terms of the tasks that I am to do as a pastor. Of course, I just listed the nice and easy and obvious list of tasks. There is also the other, unspoken list. Things like editing the bulletin, going through the mail, preparing for and going to meetings, newsletters, correspondence, etc., etc., etc.

At the same time, nearly every one of those primary tasks of the Office only have their purpose when they are given out to the flock. My work as a pastor is about people. It is about delivering Christ to them, in season and out of season. While this again may seem obvious, it is incredibly easy as a pastor to forget it. I can get so wrapped up in getting things done that I forget who I am doing them for in the first place! Yet if I spend all my energies simply and only working on relationships, I can just as quickly lose sight that I am here to deliver Christ and not myself.

Most pastors that I know fall off this wagon on one side or another. Me, I’m much more inclined to get wrapped up in the tasks that I lose sight of the relationships. I think this is the tendency of more academic type pastors. Obviously there are many others who focus more on the relationships. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but it certainly makes it so we don’t understand each other very well.

So how does one maintain the healthy balance between what we are given to do and to whom we are given to do it? Here are some of my ideas, but I’d like to hear yours as well:

1. Be aware of the tension. Lots of good things happen as a result of tension. Being mindful of it can make it a blessing and not a source of stress.

2. Pray about it. Pray that God would make you productive in the sense of getting things off of your plate AND of bringing Christ into the lives of your people. They go together. Be deliberate in your prayers.

3. Think in very concrete terms about both tasks and people interaction. Schedule it. Put it on your “next action” list. However you need to do it to make it work. But don’t just allow the water to find its own level. If that is the case, you will simply gravitate toward your own interests.

So that’s my list. What’s yours?

-DMR

14 thoughts on “On the Ministry: Tasks Verses Relationships”

  1. One thing that continues to be difficult to master is how to deal with the interruptions. Some days there have been so many meetings, visits, and especially interruptions/unplanned events/people/problems that I get to the end of the day, exhausted, and say, "I didn't get anything done today!" That's when I have to remind myself that those people are my work, too, even if they weren't on my calendar or to-do list. It's bad when I only think of getting things done (no reference to the GTD methodology) as checking off things on my task list.

    The most important thing for a pastor, I think, is to keep a healthy balance between the interactions with people (that can chew up huge amounts of time) and the things you have to get done alone (sermon writing, preparing for classes, etc.). And taking time to pray and read Holy Scripture. I know all that, but I'm quite terrible at actually doing it.

  2. One thing that continues to be difficult to master is how to deal with the interruptions. Some days there have been so many meetings, visits, and especially interruptions/unplanned events/people/problems that I get to the end of the day, exhausted, and say, "I didn't get anything done today!" That's when I have to remind myself that those people are my work, too, even if they weren't on my calendar or to-do list. It's bad when I only think of getting things done (no reference to the GTD methodology) as checking off things on my task list.

    The most important thing for a pastor, I think, is to keep a healthy balance between the interactions with people (that can chew up huge amounts of time) and the things you have to get done alone (sermon writing, preparing for classes, etc.). And taking time to pray and read Holy Scripture. I know all that, but I'm quite terrible at actually doing it.

  3. I think pastors are the men with the job that makes them most able to understand what it is to be a mommy. What you both have written sounds like what moms puzzle through and struggle with constantly.

    I know a pastor who has a pretty good handle on the balance between tasks and relationship-time. What's interesting, though, is that -even then- there can be tension, because there are those around him who may not approve of the balance and wish he was going more to the one ditch or the other.

  4. I think pastors are the men with the job that makes them most able to understand what it is to be a mommy. What you both have written sounds like what moms puzzle through and struggle with constantly.

    I know a pastor who has a pretty good handle on the balance between tasks and relationship-time. What's interesting, though, is that -even then- there can be tension, because there are those around him who may not approve of the balance and wish he was going more to the one ditch or the other.

  5. Thanks for bringing this topic up, Todd. In the ten virtures a preacher should have, Luther states, “He . . . should let himself be plagued by everybody.” But you express well the frustration we have in that. There are just somethings that have to get done during the day AND there are some people that really need to be visited. I frequently tell my congregation that “people are more important than paper,” especially when they say, “Oh, Pastor, you don’t need to visit. You’re so busy.” Once in a great while I will take a week and record on a seven day calendar with each day divided into 15 minute increments everything I’ve done and everyone I’ve visited. I noted that often times one phone call could easily turn into 15 minutes of work. I shared the snapshot of that week with the chairman of the Board of Elders and said, “This is what a week looks like for me. If you have any questions or suggestions, please offer them.”

  6. Thanks for bringing this topic up, Todd. In the ten virtures a preacher should have, Luther states, “He . . . should let himself be plagued by everybody.” But you express well the frustration we have in that. There are just somethings that have to get done during the day AND there are some people that really need to be visited. I frequently tell my congregation that “people are more important than paper,” especially when they say, “Oh, Pastor, you don’t need to visit. You’re so busy.” Once in a great while I will take a week and record on a seven day calendar with each day divided into 15 minute increments everything I’ve done and everyone I’ve visited. I noted that often times one phone call could easily turn into 15 minutes of work. I shared the snapshot of that week with the chairman of the Board of Elders and said, “This is what a week looks like for me. If you have any questions or suggestions, please offer them.”

  7. Don’t try to do it alone.
    Identify your strengths and get others to fill in especially where you know your weaknesses. Make sure you are doing those things that only you are responsible to accomplish first and then delegate.
    Like the week divinded into 15 minute segments, it is time consuming to do the analysis and recruitment but the result could ease some tension and improve the level of accomplishment.
    Now I need to listen to myself by reinforcing the support I have in my weak areas and making sure I do my best at what needs my attention.
    btw, I admire the skills I see in you, Todd, and thanks for the work you’ve shared.
    Joyfully in Christ,
    Mark

  8. Don’t try to do it alone.
    Identify your strengths and get others to fill in especially where you know your weaknesses. Make sure you are doing those things that only you are responsible to accomplish first and then delegate.
    Like the week divinded into 15 minute segments, it is time consuming to do the analysis and recruitment but the result could ease some tension and improve the level of accomplishment.
    Now I need to listen to myself by reinforcing the support I have in my weak areas and making sure I do my best at what needs my attention.
    btw, I admire the skills I see in you, Todd, and thanks for the work you’ve shared.
    Joyfully in Christ,
    Mark

  9. I would recommend you read some of Scott Hahn's writings-books, articles, etc. even listen to his tapes. Find them at any Catholic Bookstores and/or Christian Bookstores. I sympathize with you. It must be hard trying to be a father and husband to both a family (the domestic church) and a congregation! I understand Jesus' twelve apostles were married except for John and James. Interpreting Scriptures, it sounds like these married men pretty much left their family behind to follow in the footsteps of our Lord working for the kingdom of heaven. Keep up the good spirit Todd and May God bless you and your family for all you do for souls! Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  10. Maybe this is completely off topic, but what about when the congregation begins to hold the Pastor accountable in a way that makes him out to be an employee rather than a minister? Specifically, I think of a situation where the Pastor is a wonderfully faithful preacher and teacher, in that he delivers wonderful Bible Studies and sermons, and that he also administers the sacraments faithfully. Yet, this man is accused of "only doing what is necessary" in other areas of the congregation (i.e. VBS prep, attending non-necessary functions, etc). I know it is a great thing when the Pastor is able to be at things beyond his "call of duty," but what happens when he is getting called out for not being at those things? Is he in the wrong for not going "above and beyond," or is the congregation wrong for calling him apathetic?

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