Before I came to work at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, I pastored for 25 years. I learned a lot about who I was as a pastor and about my ineffectiveness. Many times, I worked 60 hours a week, going in different directions, spinning my wheels, and I felt like the more I did, the more there was for me to do. I wasn’t accomplishing anything.
I thought, “Well, there’s got to be something more to this — there’s got to be some type of focus or something that I’m missing.” I was beginning to understand how pastors can reach the point of burnout. I found myself running a lot of programs and they were taking all of my time, which continued on for another 10 years.
Have you ever felt like you were at the point where you’ve had about all you can handle and you can’t take anything else? You might even find yourself in a conference where they say, “Pastor, you really ought to be making disciples,” but you feel like you can’t take on one more thing.
I realized that there were some things I would have to say no to. Our churches do so many good things, and it’s difficult to find a lens through which you know when to say yes and when to say no.
Here’s a great statement I think we need to come to realize: As pastors, we need to have a lens to evaluate the many good opportunities before us in order to make the best decisions. We have to have the ability to say no to some things.
As a pastor, I was spending all my time doing all kinds of trainings, meetings and other events. I wasn’t seeing any transformation happening in our church. I thought, “I’ve got to look at some things differently than I have before and begin to make better decisions when it comes to investing my time.”
I was spending all of my time doing what the church said I needed to do and very little time doing what God told me to do.
The one calling that’s given to me as a follower of Jesus Christ is to go and make disciples. I was spending all of my time doing what the church said I needed to do and very little time doing what God told me to do. Before I’m a pastor, I’m a believer. I’m called to follow His commands, and I came to a realization that I was not following His commands — I wasn’t making disciples. I was preaching three times per week, going to the hospital, managing various programs, but I wasn’t making disciples.
As I was working on my doctorate at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I came to the realization that I needed to make disciples. Honestly, when I started the program, I thought, “I’m going to go learn some things and come back and fix this church.” What I found was that the problem wasn’t the church, it was me. The sad part was that I had spent the majority of my ministry doing many church things to the detriment of the one thing my Lord and Savior had called me to do — make disciples. I had so many demands on my time that I wasn’t out meeting people who needed Christ.
I’m a person who asks questions. So, when I realized I wasn’t making disciples my next question was, “Okay, that’s what God is calling me to, but how do I do that?” A logical follow-up question was, “How did Jesus do it?” He discipled 12 guys that turned the world upside down after He departed. What was it about the way He went about making disciples that allowed Him to impact those guys in such a way?
I spent my life wanting to be an influence on people. However, I heard someone say, “An influencer influences people when he’s in the room, but a person of impact influences people when he leaves the room.” I didn’t want to be an influencer anymore — I wanted to be impactful like Christ. I wanted ministry to continue when I left the room.
I confess, I was at the place of burnout, thinking, “There’s got to be something more than this.” When I began to take seriously the call on my life to make disciples, I began to have joy in my life. Even people in my congregation who didn’t know me very well would say, “Pastor, did you go to a revival or something? You’re different! You’ve got a whole lot more joy and excitement.”
Once I started intentionally making disciples and sharing the gospel, I began to have a true impact on other people’s lives. It brought me to a point where I had joy and excitement in my ministry. By obeying Christ’s commands, I was able to make new disciples and watch as they became disciple-makers.