“It’s not simply the pastor’s job to make disciples, it’s the job of the whole church,” I had said for the umpteenth time in a message on discipleship. When my sermon was finished, I headed to the back of the auditorium, as I’ve always done, to shake hands with people as they left.
I’ll never forget the look of one faithful church member. It was that of ministry fatigue. We had just finished a series of weeklong ministry projects—a monumental undertaking at our church—and this lady was reflecting the exhaustion that our people felt. She didn’t say anything to me, but the combination of seeing her tired face and the words I’d just preached were used by God to speak powerfully to my soul. Perhaps the reason your people aren’t making disciples is because you have kept them too busy with church activities.
It’s a hard pill for most pastors to swallow. This especially for leaders like myself, who like to plan and dream. My intentions had been sincere: I wanted to do all I could to equip the people of God through training, small groups, and Sunday school. My desire was to facilitate times of fellowship and togetherness through dinners and potlucks and shared experiences. And I hoped to conduct attractive events that would draw the community in order to gain an audience for the gospel.
What I hadn’t realized, till this point, was just how taxing my overambitious schedule was for already-busy people.
What I hadn’t realized, till this point, was just how taxing my overambitious schedule was for already-busy people. Not only was it sapping away their joy and robbing them of needed spiritual rhythms of rest and meditation, it was stealing away precious time—time that could be spent pursuing relationships in the community.
This is something professional church folks like myself don’t often understand. We’ve spent our careers in the rarified air of ministry thinking and dreaming about building Christ’s church. But those who aren’t employed fulltime in this environment—most of the church—have to work long hours and make deep sacrifices to be faithful to the church calendar. We’ve been isolated from the real life of most Christian lay people and wonder why it is that they aren’t making disciples at a faster clip than we think they should.
Consider the truck driver working 70 hours a week who still attends all services and volunteers for various functions throughout the week—are we freeing him up to do gospel work in his neighborhood? What about the stay-at-home mom who juggles her kids’ education schedules, music lessons, and sports activities—are we asking her to do too much at church at the expense of family and friends?
Pastors rightly challenge the business of their people, urging them to choose the best over the good, to apply the gospel to their daybooks. But perhaps we ought to apply that same spiritual scalpel to our church calendars, eliminating good-but-not-best and letting our people breathe enough to live lives that are attractive to those who don’t know Jesus.
At times we deliver two conflicting messages. From the pulpit we say: “Be an evangelist, build relationships, foster friendships, make disciples,” but from the church calendar we say, “Be at every church event, for this is the only place where ministry happens. Ignore giving your time to others for the sake of the kingdom.”
Every church has differing emphases, so there is no cut and dried blueprint on exactly how many activities a church should have for its people. But when pastors gather with their teams to plan the church’s activities, they should ask themselves: Is our schedule helping or hindering the fulfillment of the Great Commission?
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