“We only want big plate leaders here,” was the catch cry on the staff team and the defining principle for ministry success at the church where I began my ministry career. For me, it was like a red cape to a bull. I’ve always loved and thrived on big expectations and tons of responsibility so I did alright in this culture. But while I was there, I saw literally hundreds of others wither and burn out under the insane expectations. Rather than show mercy, kindness, and compassion to those who couldn’t handle these intense expectations, they were often maligned and looked down upon as not worthy of the honor or working on a church staff.
As I have healed from this toxic culture over the last few years, it has become clearer to me just how silly this cultural expectation is, but also how widespread it has become. We need to stop evaluating the quality of leaders based on how much they get done in an allotted period of time. Ministry is not a sprint to see how much work we can all do in a quarter, but a marathon of faithful obedience in the same direction.
Enter Eugene Peterson, the pastoral model for so many, not just in the high expectation world of business-like churches. Eugene Peterson speaks about busyness in the pastorate as antithetical to the call of shepherds, “The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.” (The Contemplative Pastor)
What if Christ was not at all interested in the quantity of our output, but in the commitment we had to being his hands and feet, tending to the sheep, and protecting against wolves? What if he gave us very real limits so that even in our best efforts we had to trust that ultimately he was the one who builds his church, cares for his sheep, and furthers his mission?
If someone has the ability to work quickly and produce a large amount of work, sermons, books, counselling meetings, etc, that’s not a bad thing. If someone can be a healthy, present, ministry leader who gets plenty of work done, power to them. But their worth is not greater nor are they any more valuable to the Church or the Kingdom than a faithful minister who takes longer to do half the amount of work.
The Lord blessed his churches with faithful ministers of the Gospel, not workaholics. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of big plate, small plate, or medium plate just remember to be faithful with whatever gifts you have been given and to be free from unrealistic or worldly expectations of production.
If you can be faithful, holy, and free in your ministry regardless of your capacity to produce, you will be well positioned to hear on that wonderful, final day, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).