The Biggest Disadvantage of Pastoring a Larger Church

Yesterday I shared four of my favorite blessings of pastoring a larger church. You can read that HERE

As I think about the burdens, many come to mind – especially when I'm tired or having a selfish (sinful) pity party. But, by far, the biggest disadvantage of pastoring a larger church is choosing how to spend my time.

I've discovered that every time our church doubles in size – the demands on my time triple or quadruple. If we've grown by 400%-500% over the last twelve years – the demands on my time have increased well beyond that 400%-500% – literally more like 1000%.

Here are a few examples:

  • Daily, I receive a lot of church-related emails. My email load is the biggest time hog in my life. If the emails didn't need answers, it would be fine, but many of them are fairly intense (I REALLY wish I could give you some examples). But even though a majority are quickly dealt with, I can spend three or more hours a day doing emails that aren't helping me do my two main tasks (teaching and leading). 
  • Weekly, I receive theological questions via email that deserve an answer. Those emails aren't usually answered in a paragraph, and often require a bit of research to answer well and point them to Scriptures and resources to more fully answer their question.
  • Weekly, I receive emails of great questions like: "What does Northridge think about…?" "What do you believe about…?" "How should I respond to this…?"
  • Weekly, I receive multiple requests for meetings or counseling. 
  • Some people that were at Northridge when we were a church of 250 – still expect or assume that my relationship with each person won't change as we grow. That isn't realistic, and they know it if they think about it, but it is just assumed that I will simply gain more relationships as we grow.
  • People who are new make some assumptions. Because I'm the one that communicates up front most regularly – and if my communication has connected with them – they assume and truly believe that I'm the best one to answer their quesitons, solve their problem, or help them in counseling.
  • Many of our regulars will invite people to come to Northridge. When their friend shows up and says, "I would really like to talk to him (me) about…" That long-term attender at Northridge who LOVES their lost friend will do everything they can to get that desire fulfilled. I don't quesiton their motive. They want what is best for their friend who is far form God. 
  • The amount of administration with a staff our size (18 employees) is more than I would anticipate for a small organization like ours.
  • There are days every week when I tell Sue at the end of the day that I don't feel anything accomplished that day. And what I mean by that is that all I did was put out fires, answer emails, deal with moment-by-moment situations that arise from the staff, and have meetings – where I always seem to walk away with more to do.

Here is the issue:

  • Therefore, the staff and Oversight Team have been calling on me to limit access to me so that I can do all that God has called me to do.
  • To do what I do best (speak and lead) – I have to focus on what I do best which means I can't meet everyone's expectations.
  • Everyone recognizes that I can't do everything people ask me to do, but their personal request makes so much sense – to them.
  • Because I can quickly fall back into a people-pleasing sin, it creates disappointment in people and it creates stress inside of me. And too often, instead of disappointing people – I let down my family or simply overwork.

Here is what I am trying to do:

  • A little over a year ago, we created our first organizational chart. Now – not all the staff have immediate and direct access to me on a daily basis. If they want to meet, they have to go through the proper channels. That is hard for some when they used to have easy access to me, and it's hard for me – as I feel like I'm letting them down. This is still very hard for me (even a year later).
  • I am saying 'no' to all long-term counseling. At times, I may have one meeting with someone and if they are a church leader, a member of my community group, or staff – I will do counseling, but there is staff member who has more experience and training than me, and this is part of the reason we hired him. This is hard for those who are convinced I am the one who can solve their problem. And this is hard for me – as I want to help and I feel that I can help, but I've learned others can help – and many of them can do it better than me.  
  • I am attempting to limit access to me by email. I've begun to use an auto-reply option letting people know that I will read it, but it may take a while and it may be someone else who answers. Others have and will be dealing with my email for me at times. I still will read it all (for now), but I let others answer if possible. We are at the early stages of this, but this will be a huge burden off of me. 

Some of you are in large businesses where you have had to limit access to you. Help me with my thinking. What am missing? How did you go about the process of limiting access to you? 

 

8 comments
  1. Hi Pastor David,

    Firstly, you’re doing the right thing. The right way of going about doing it is debatable, but here are 2 things that may help;
    1. Start and Stop. Jim Collins has his team keep 2 lists, a start and a stop list. If you want to start doing one thing, you have to stop doing another. Simple, but hard to accomplish. For instance, if you wanted to start leading or teaching in a new way, you would have to delegate a task that you normally own. It might be something you really enjoy doing, but it will only take up more time.
    2. Create Momentum. Find ways to attract leaders that will automatically run with tasks ahead of you or behind you to better equip you. Trust me, if you have great team members that share your vision for Northridge church, they will become doers without asking. I’ve seen this happen in numerous environments during the week at the Irondequiot and Greece campuses.
    Keep up the good work – pray, take time to pause, you’re forgiven.

  2. Just read your blessing and frustrations of pastoring a large church.

    Here is a suggestion…(If you read this) ;-)…

    Hire an executive pastor who fills many of the roles you are limited in.

  3. Bryan – 

    Yes, we do hope to hire that XP, but the current number seems to be 1500 to 1700 for when the hiring of an XP becomes the norm.  So I do see it in our future. It simply means that the next year or two will be the most stressful management-wise…

  4. David, its so exciting to be apart of a growing, healthy church body. Thank you for being willing to share the burdens of a growing church openly. It takes courage to be honest about these realities. I love that you are willing to ask for help, admit you can’t do it all and admit that you shouldn’t be doing it all. These only help you be the leader you are called to be.

  5. Thanks for the openness, David. Over the last year I’ve always been surprised to get real email responses from you. Glad you’re finally starting this transition.

    I don’t have experience limiting access to myself, but I will say that honoring proper channels of ‘authority’ in the organization is very good. It empowers your direct reports and makes the organization as a whole more efficient / effective.

  6. Hey, David!

    I am excited to see how God has worked in and through you! It must seem like a long ways back to the youth ministry days!

    I would offer you a thought… Don’t let other Churches determine God’s plan for you and the Church He has called you to lead. You have a unique set of skills, passions, and talents. If you and your Church need an XP at 1400, don’t be afraid to “jump the gun.”

    Praying for you!

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