The One Thing All Pastors Eventually Forget

August 10, 2015
Pastors have a lot on their minds each week. They have a huge task, and there’s much to remember. Heading toward Sunday, a minister may be preoccupied with dozens, even hundreds of concerns.

They think about:

The shreds of biblical language they learned in seminary.
The number of dollars they’re behind on budget for the year.
The number of volunteers needed to make Sunday happen.
The calls they need to return.

But there’s one all pastors forget eventually. And when we do, it tanks our effectiveness harder and faster than missing budget or blowing a board meeting.

I know this because I’ve done it myself.

Eventually, every pastor forgets what it’s like to be a layperson.

That’s inevitable because our lives revolve around the church in a way that no one else’s does. The church is not just our spiritual home. It’s our relational network—perhaps our only one—and our career. Nobody else has that level of investment.

Laypeople simply do not spend their days wondering about the future of the church. They lose no sleep when attendance is down, finances are tight, or volunteers fail to show. They don’t live for Sunday.

It isn’t that laypeople don’t love church. They just have other things on their minds.

From week to week, people are consumed by their own problems, not the church’s. They arrive on Sunday looking for help from God, not a sense of self-worth from taking part in a successful organization.

When we forget that—as we all do from time to time—we take our anxiety about momentum, the budget, or the next big launch into the pulpit. And we begin to preach more about our strategy for church growth than about knowing God and growing in the faith.

And Sunday morning becomes the answer to a question nobody is asking.

Here’s what most people think about when they walk into a church, whether for the first time or the 1,000th.

“Was it worth fighting with the kids for an hour to get my family here today?”
“Can I forgive my boss for firing me?”
“Why can’t I quit looking at porn?”
“Is it time to put my mom in a nursing home?”
“Will my son go to hell because he’s gay?”
“Is there really a God?”

No one is asking “What can I do to make this church more successful.” Except the pastor.

Others come craving a good answer to this question: “Will God make himself real? To me? Today?”

To those hungry ears, we dare not babble about strategy and programming and key opportunities. We must speak of God or not at all.

It’s not that vision doesn’t matter.

Some people are itchy to know “What’s next, pastor? What’s our plan for the future?” Those are mostly church insiders. And they do need a response.

That can be given in the board room, or the conference room, or the foyer, or the living room. Anywhere but in the worship service.

We dare not waste a single minute of that precious hour giving people our vision for the corporation. Let us give them our vision of God.

When we do that, nothing else matters. And nothing else matters when we don’t.

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.