Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Lie number four.."They need me..And I'm indispensable."

There is little doubt that a modern day senior pastor is a busy person. There is little doubt that a modern day senior pastor's family is often neglected. There is very little doubt that many members of the modern day organization we call the local church believe and demand that a modern day senior pastor should ALWAYS be available to them when they, by their definition, are in dire straits.

Add all this together and you get a situation where a, shall I say it again, modern day senior pastor could, unless very careful about it, begin to believe a fourth lie that I state this way..."They need me..I'm indispensable you see." This particular lie can even be framed in spiritual language [It sounds so sacrificial] and, because of that, be defined as particularly godly. Unfortunately that is NOT the case at all.

There are several things wrong with this kind thinking and I wish to address a few that I think will clearly demonstrate that it is a lie in more ways than one.

First, we all agree that the church is the "Bride of Christ." He is her Groom and her head. [Source] As her Lord, He is her authority also. We would agree I'm sure that ALL members of a local body make up that local expression of the Bride of Christ which would include those teaching/leading her as pastors/elders/bishops. In other words, when I'm a teaching pastor, I'm still a part of the bride. I'm not the husband or head of that group. I'm CERTAINLY not the Lord over that group. In fact, I'm a husband/head [source] to only ONE PERSON. That is the woman who is my wife. [She has only ONE lord, by the way, and we've said who He is.]

Now..were I as a pastor to believe that I'm indispensable to the congregation and wind up being more intimate with the bride of Christ, [local body I pastor] in terms of time, commitment, communication, emotional involvement, resources, and general relationship building than I am my own bride, I would be committing spiritual adultery would I not? [Illicit spiritual intimacy with someone else's bride.] So unless I hold that physical adultery is different than.. or worse than.. spiritual adultery, I would, in fact, have a major problem with my own walk with my Lord AND my wife and would be disqualifying myself for a pastoral role to anyone. That, in and of itself, is sufficient to show me the error of such a lie.

Second, every person needs a sabbath. I'm NOT saying "The Sabbath." The Sabbath was unique to Israel and part of her covenant with God. By the way, that covenant was done away with [fulfilled] in Christ and a New Covenant has been ratified by His blood where EVERY DAY is a Sabbath for us [Jew/Gentile/bond/free Christians and we rest from any labor to please God for acceptance] because of being in Christ. He finished the work needed for acceptance quite well.

What I'm saying is that there is seen in creation a sabbath need for rest that means at least one day [Whatever that day might be.] a week ought to be taken to relax, recoup energy, and rest from ANY labor that is tiresome, including pastoring. And for a pastor that day IS NOT Sunday. This happens to be true across the board for human beings in my judgment regardless of job, age, gender, or whatever.

It is for this reason that I recommend what I heard someone else say YEARS ago about removing yourself from your work and investing yourself in your marriage/family and I adopted it as my own. He said [whomever it might have been] "Divert daily.. withdraw weekly..abandon annually." Those three things speak for themselves I'm sure. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what they mean. Each day spend some time investing yourself in the lives of your wife and/or children. Each week remove yourself from your work for an entire day for your personal and family time. Every year there needs to be several days invested in your family relationships with emphasis on isolation with them.

In my own life I made it MANDATORY after the truth about my not being indispensable to the local church became known to me several years ago. Then I saw to it that it was embraced by those with whom I served or had any influence over in the ministry. I remember the wife of a man on staff who came up to me and kissed me on the cheek [Mary standing there] and saying "Thank you pastor Paul for giving my husband back to his family." I can honestly say NO ONE has to sacrifice their own family for the sake of pastoring a people if it is done correctly in my personal opinion.

Third, it seems to me that the SINGLE greatest deterrent to embracing that lie would be to be biblical about having multiple elders instead of a single pastor which is historically Southern Baptist but may be so as a result of the westward expansion in the 1800's rather than the interpretation of scripture. That way no one person would be tempted to think of themselves as indispensable. Nothing like a few others who have their biblical heads on straight to keep yours from getting too big concerning yourself as a teaching pastor to a local congregation.

In reality, I think we are aware that the only indispensable one who is part of the church is the Holy Spirit. When we truly follow His leading we would never find ourselves committing spiritual adultery, failing to get needed rest and refreshment, or failing to be intimate with our own bride with regularity as He will ALWAYS lead us ONLY into acts of holiness and acts of righteousness..even as senior pastors.

What was it that Jack Nicholson said? "You can't handle the truth!!" [Oh..I'll bet we can.]

Paul B.


Becky Dietz said...

"Divert daily.. withdraw weekly..abandon annually."
Andy has taught this in marriage counseling and given you credit for it! I didn't know it wasn't original with you. Love it!

Paul Burleson said...


My goodness..I'd hate to have to try and find ANYTHING I've ever said that was original with me. SOMEONE has already said to me or taught me everything I know. I just churn my own butter with the milk I get from others. ;)

Chris Ryan said...

That is not a myth. I am indispensable.

Whether I'm a foot or a mouth or an eye, the body needs me.

Now does this particular body need me to the point that they would all perish without me, probably not. As you said, only God is truly indispensable, so we can take a Sabbath and all will survive - the whole world is not in our hands (to parody the children's song).

Paul Burleson said...


I really do understand what you're saying. But...:)...my point is that most people would, I think, understand "indispensable" to mean, as I'm intending, "required to function."

While it true that every person/member IS important and IS NEEDED by the body [Church] and also NEEDS the rest of the body, the body CAN function without everything except the HEAD. This, because while each member is an eye, ear, etc., there are multiples of each part of the body. [I'm not the ONLY eye, ear, etc. But there is only One Head.

This nuance may be so miniscule it's insignificant except that I've seen so many wives and children of ministers angry and even bitter BECAUSE their husband/father was more married to the local church than to the family. We would soundly rebuke, and correctly so, a lawyer, teacher, doctor, for such. But somehow think it's spiritual for us to do it.

I would not quibble with your point at all. I just would refrain from using "indispensible" to describe it. But that's just one person's thought on it.

I'm open to a better word to make my point.

Aussie John said...


How utterly correct you are!

The first small country congregation I was called to expected "the pastor" to be indispensable. That was the culture of small country churches in this country.

They had a modern new building, the grounds of which were nothing more than gravel. My two young sons and I got to work and made lovely lawns and planted shrubs.

One evening, having a conversation with a deacon, I suggested we put together a lawn mowing roster.

His reply was, "You're the pastor. It's your job!.

That was the beginning of wisdom :) You know what I mean!

Your words to Chris are important. It is my firm belief that a good church leader, pastor if you like, ( the last few years I have come to prefer "elder"), will work himself out of being needed, much less indispensable.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

A thoughtful comment indeed.

I really do believe the major problem with modern churches [congregations] and church-life is the need for a paradigm shift away from an institutional paradigm to a organism paradigm. [That was obviously the view that gentleman at your first church had,]

I'm at the place where it's almost impossible for me to carry on a conversation [with enjoyment] with someone who has no concept of church life except as an organization. [Institutional]

That's my absolute joy on this blog and comment section. Everyone who comments here has an understanding to some degree of bodylife. Even Chris in gently disagreeing with me, was thinking "bodylife." That is really enjoyable for me. It's obvious that it's where you are coming from. I LOVED your comment on Wade's blog about "spiritual sheriffs." ;)

Chris Ryan said...

Aussie John,

I'm pretty sure that it isn't only the small churches in your corner of the globe that feel that way.

There was one (small) church that was looking at hiring me. They were okay with me being in school (which was good!). I was also going to have to work 30+ hours a week (which is bi-vocational, which is fine). Then they insisted that I would live in the house next to the church so that I would always be accessible.

I realized there was no way that could end well for me, even if I am single!

Paul Burleson said...


I think I pastored that church early on. [Just kidding.] :)

Rodney Sprayberry said...

I wrote in my Dmin Thesis...

Mutual ministry, edification, and function were important indicators of spiritual health in the house churches of the first century.

Small churches may have buildings,
budgets, and paid staff yet they are still organizational distant cousins of the house churches.

Leaders should experiment with various ways to help the congregation recapture the organic function of the local assembly as practiced in the first three hundred years of Christianity.

In the New Testament there are over 50 references to the types of activities that church should practice with one another. This organic approach to gathered church practice resulted in growth and vitality in early church. The same can be true today.

In other words, small churches will thrive as their people realize they are needed, called, loved, and gifted for the edification of the church and evangelization of the world.

If this is going to happen, the small church pastor which often suffers from an inferiority complex in relation to his more successful (from a worldly point of view) peers needs to realize the possibility and flexibility of various realities that have been
typically seen as a liability on the small church.

If he can set aside his need to have his ego stroked by making himself indispensible, he might be surprised at what God does. In
fact, if he can provide guidance in finding ways to help the church depend more on the Holy Spirit and each other more than the pastor, incredible things just might happen.

I am sure glad someone agrees with me :)

Aussie John said...


I appreciate Chris's comment. I think the syndrome he mentions is universal.

Chris, most churches in this country traditionally had their pastor living next door to their church building. In later years they started to change that big problem.

The attitude I mentioned previously was/is taken much further: One time the very elderly church treasurer gave me my income for the two weeks I was allowed for vacation. His comment was, "I cannot see the sense in paying you to do nothing".

Paul Burleson said...


You have, as have the likes of Aussie J, Chris and a host of others, written a comment that out truths the post itself. Well said my friend.

Rex Ray said...

You made an interesting comment: “If he can set aside his need to have his ego stroked…”

I wonder how many people choose a profession that gives them authority, prestige, etc. because of the need to have their “ego stoked”.

There are many examples of small men in size that choose to be a policeman, and they use their authority to an excess of being charged with police brutality. Of course there are large policemen also. I believe it boils down to the size of their ego.

The Baptist Standard had an article on the ‘overpopulation’ of preachers in many denominations including Baptists.

It said there were about two preachers for every opening position for pastors – makes you wonder if God is calling or they have only their personal reasons for being a preacher.

Once there was a preacher that interrupted his preacher by weeping with his face in his hands. The congregation was shocked because the sermon wasn’t ‘sad’, and he explained no one was saying amen.

Rex Ray said...

Aussie John,
Your mowing experience put a smile on my face.
It sounds like the deacon had a concept of what church grounds should look like, and his reply reflected ‘we didn’t have that problem until you came’.

Our mission team had a concept of what a city park should look like in Kirkastan, and some of the team spent five days mowing and trimming grass. The missionary told us later the people didn’t like what was done. :)

(That town was like going back a 100 years. The lumber wagon was pulled by horses. The missionary is keeping a ‘low’ profile these days. She has relatives in our church.)

You also reminded me of what a preacher said the only time I went to Hawaii; “I don’t mind mowing the church yard – my problem is no one knows I’m the one doing it.”

Chris Ryan,
Our small country church has a house next to the church.
The biggest complaint a former pastor had was the gravel road ended at the church:
“Fools keep getting stuck in mud at night and waking me up to use my phone.” (I was glad he was there because I live a quarter of a mile away. :)

Now that road is graveled also.) But Rodney has done me ‘dirt’ by building a house a half a mile away, and now I’M THE ONE when someone needs a key or half a dozed other things. :)

Chris Ryan said...


I'm pretty sure Rodney didn't do that just to spite you.

But welcome to the life of being on call 24-7. My advice: get out while you can. Maybe you can hop just another half-mile down the road. : )

Rex Ray said...

I got a better idea – I could move in with Rodney. :)

Bob Cleveland said...

Late to the party .. just got back from the Big Vacation. But if we really believe we are a body, then we can probably learn from our own body, and how it adapts to the loss of something or other.

Lose your sight, the other senses sharpen to help compensate. Deaf people seem to be more sensitive to vibrations in the air, as witnessed by the Miss America who danced, to music, though deaf (she was from our city, by the way).

Someone once said that if you stick your hand in a bucket of water, it'll take up so much room; but if you yank it out, you'll see how much the water misses it.

Good post, not only for pastors, either.