Resetting Priorities

I’ve been thinking about this concept of priorities for my life in ministry.

Here’s the list I see all the time:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Our vocational ministry

I actually think that’s entirely jacked up and unhealthy.

Here’s the priorities I think God is calling those of us in vocational ministry to:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Community (a fellowship of friends)
  4. Loving your neighbors
  5. Our vocational ministry

I know that for folks in vocational ministry… this is almost heresy. And in some ministries that’s almost like resigning your position.

But I’m left to wonder. If all that people in my community see of me is busy, busy, busy… Maybe I’m not living a life worth following?

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” In a world which seems to spin faster and faster in every moment… that’s a promise most people need.

The question for me is simple:

“What do I have to change in my life to show that a life with Jesus provides rest for the weary?”


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41 responses to “Resetting Priorities”

  1. jonathan mccormick Avatar

    this of course is based on the assumption that your vocational ministry is burdensome.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      Tell me more…

      1. jonathan mccormick Avatar

        your use of Matt11:28 would suggest that neighbours are watching you be busy all the time and burdened by ministry…but surely if you are enthusiastically involved in your ministry it would be a life worth modelling?

        1. adam mclane Avatar

          Well, I’ll paraphrase a former neighbor who met me after sharing a backyard for about a year… “Man, what do you do for a living. All I ever see you do is go in and out at all hours and then have big groups of people over on Tuesday nights. Do you do sales or something?”

          When I told him I was a pastor at the church up the street he turned and walked away… “Gosh, I’d never want to be a part of your church.”

          1. jonathan mccormick Avatar

            it’s certainly a great challenge. a serious, serious challenge. I’m just not sure it’s as normative as you’re proposing. but, clearly there needs to be some sort of reshifting.

          2. jonathan mccormick Avatar

            also, i think his response was indicative of a western attitude to church…it wants your time and money…but gives nothing back. i’m sure you love your job? but that assumption was not in his mind – he simply saw the church in this case as a vehicle of consumption not distribution and community…?

          3. adam mclane Avatar

            Well, seeing that I live and work within the Western church… pretty tough to get away from that mindset.

          4. jonathan mccormick Avatar

            i’m not arguing that it’s easy to get away from that mindset. rather, i’m arguing that should our priorities be aligned in light of that mindset? – if that makes sense?

          5. jeremy zach Avatar

            @Jonathan I recommend you read a book by Gerhard Lohfink titled: Jesus and Community. http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Community-Gerhard-Lohfink/dp/0800618025/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1291388924&sr=8-1

            This book basically disagrees with your perspective and reframes a better 1st century understanding of community in relation to Israel and the ministry of Jesus and the disciples.

            Regardless if you love your job or not, every youth pastor needs to ask the questions of: How am I loving my family (wife, kids, dog) and how are we loving our neighbors?

          6. jonathan mccormick Avatar

            I’m not disagreeing with the fact that every (youth) pastor / person needs to ask this questions. my disagreement / question for further discussion is about integrating NOT creating hierarchy.

          7. jeremy zach Avatar

            I don’t think Adam is arguing for hierarchy. He is advocating for priorities. Priorities and hierarchy are two completely different ideas. I think the greatest commandments (love God, love your neighbor) and the great commission(go make disciples) are what pastors need to be very aware of.

            just to be clear what are you proposing or trying to argue? Why do you see this list as hierarchy? Are you trying to say if you love your pastor job then this list doesn’t matter?

          8. jonathan mccormick Avatar

            No – that’s not what I’m trying to advocate at all. I’m trying to advocate for more integration and cohesion of these priorities. They are not autonomous but all inter-related, in and of each other.

          9. adam mclane Avatar

            The problem, IMO, is that too many people have it all mixed up.

            You might be totally fine right now. But myself (having been through 10 years of church ministry) and a whole litany of people in my life, are hear as proof that you need to keep that church gig in perspective. It’s literally the 4th or 5th most important thing in your life. It’s not as important as your relationship with God, it’s not as important as your family, it’s not as important as your belonging to the community God has placed you in, it’s not as important as loving your neighbors as yourself.

            I know too many people that think that if they give themselves fully to their church job that the rest will take care of itself. (I’d go so far as to say a lot of people in ministry have made their career into an idol.)

            That’s backwards thinking. In fact, the church job will take care of itself when you put it in its proper place.

          10. jeremy zach Avatar

            I wonder what this looks like at a practical level? So basically you are viewing your wife/kids/dog as equal parts/value as the bride of Christ–the church?

            This sounds more like polygamy.

            Bottom line: in my american context, if you receive a paycheck from the church, the (church) will take try to (un)intentionally take advantage of your time.
            is this true in your context?

          11. jonathan mccormick Avatar

            jeremy, once again this isn’t what I’m arguing. i’m simply saying that there is currently too much disparity between, this is my church life, this is my job, this is my family, this is my relationship with god. This NEEDS to be much more integrated. The fact that there is so much distance between these things is a modern invention – look for example at the community of Israel and their arrangement as a community.

            on your context, its fairly similar where I am also. but, i think it’s unreasonable also for church pastors to simply do what they are paid for because they may be paid for 35 hours a week and do that and that’s it, but they are encouraging members of their church community to work more than 35-40 hours per week. They are expected to work their regular jobs and then ON TOP of that they are expected to serve in the church for however many hours a week they can be coerced into.

            bottom line: if you are viewing ministry (primarily paid ministry) as a burden you shouldn’t do it.

          12. jeremy zach Avatar

            Vocationally working in a church is modern construction. I think it is important just to protect the things that really matter at the end of the day. If you leave your church job, the people will forget about you two months later.
            I just think it would be wise as a church employee to really pay attention to loving God, family, and neighbors.
            All I want to say: is be careful of your time.

          13. adam mclane Avatar

            To echo Jeremy’s comment here… I’d add to that, “Be careful that your ministry vocation doesn’t overshadow Jesus’ command to love your neighbor. Working in a church in the community does not give you an exemption from loving the people in your neighborhood. That is… where I think we all get mixed up.

  2. Terry Smith Avatar

    Jesus had a ministry that was based in community. If your ministry segregates you from your community, I would argue that it’s not the ministry for you.

    1. jonathan mccormick Avatar

      I’m not sure I agree with this – because the term ‘community’ is so fluid.

      1. adam mclane Avatar

        @jonathan- actually, love the discussion. Glad to get others thinking about what I’ve been challenged with.

        This post may provide a frame of reference for having community. It’s a word that has many definitions… this describes what I mean.
        http://adammclane.com/2010/11/29/emotionally-healthy-youth-pastor/

        Most people in ministry I know… and I know a couple… are really lacking in community.

  3. Rick Clark Avatar
    Rick Clark

    Jonny… if there is any truth in your November 19th post (Here’s Jonny!), you may be the poster child for a burdensome life. I’m sure Adam, from time to time, feels burdened. I see that as merely an expression of his humanity. I appreciate his willingness to consider and challenge the status quo. Doing so also challenges me…

    1. jonathan mccormick Avatar

      i don’t find my life burdensome at all! I love it! I am not necessarily disagreeing with Adam, i think his blog is great and very challenging. Just wanting to dialogue further. Sorry if it came across in the wrong way.

  4. Andy Avatar

    Adam,
    Love this convo. Great stuff as usual. I wonder if the priorities could be aligned that way if we were to see “vocational ministers” (I am assuming for the sake of this argument that this means ministers on a church staff, or the equivalent) as equippers, leaders, and motivators of others. In essence, that priority list would make sense if the vocational minister was leading and challenging others in their local Body to be engaging in their communities, both the ones made up of fellow believers and (especially) ones made up of the un-churched. Now, I am not 100% sure I even fully advocate this position, but it occurs to me that in some ways it might be part of the sacrifice for those called to vocational ministry that his or her primary calling may very well be to help facilitate these things in the lives of those they lead, even at the expense of not being able to fully engage in these things in their own lives??? I dunno . . . Just a thought. Great stuff.

  5. Adam Avatar

    I have actually been asking this question of myself a lot recently. For me…I feel it may lead me outside of the “normal” ministry position. I feel like my time in “ministry” will be closing for a new ministry that is outside the traditional pathway. The meetings that I am forced to take part in eat up times that I could be using for true ministry, that is just an example. The traditional ministry positions often have an impact on those that impact those that have been in the church many years and eats up time and resources for those people…which takes away from reaching those in need.
    There are too many people in this world who are suffering.
    This is not a poo on the church message…far from it, I love the church. I just feel this is the pathway that I am being drawn to…and it isn’t immediate, I love doing what I do still, but I feel such a drive to find the brokenhearted, blind, poor, and the oppressed and make a difference (yes, I know those people are in our churches as well).

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      I guess my hope would be that more churches would recognize they are spending 90% of their resources on those who show up and maybe… 10% on those who don’t. Maybe if they dealt with that reality (coupled with reaching maybe 10% of the population in a community) they would see that the best thing for their staff would be to allocate the majority of their time in acts of service and ministry to those not attending the church and the minority of their time serving believers.

      Radically simple, eh?

      1. Adam Avatar

        Exactly! Where have we gotten so far off…we have made the church a machine instead of letting it be an organism.

  6. Josh Corley Avatar
    Josh Corley

    It’s even more difficult to set priorities when you’re a bivocational minister who relies on the secular job for income. It also seems that when we put community ahead of ministry we run the risk of not following God. What happens when you’re called (assuming FT ministry) to a different ministry across the country and you subsequently leave community? I like what you’re getting at but I’m having a hard time connecting the dots for myself.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      I think you are reading into my thoughts correctly. Now that I’ve found community where I feel like I belong/contribute/am growing… believe it or not finding another ministry vocation sounds better than finding another community.

      I’d hope that any potential move for a ministry job (let’s face it, they come and go like tennis shoes these days) would be subservient to what’s good for your family, what’s good for your community, and what’s good for your neighborhood. On the surface we may feel like we live in an individualistic society… but the reality is that each of us have complex webs of relationships that are far reaching and must be considered before we hitch up our horse and move.

      I think, for me, the whole discussion is changed by my perspective. I’m feeling community in a way I’ve never felt it before. But there have been times when we worked for churches were it was really just a job and we had no community in the area.. so bouncing was really in our best interest.

      Anyway, complicated answer to a very good comment, Josh.

  7. Len Avatar

    I listened to one of Yac’s talks before Nashville and one of his thoughts was the day was coming when Christians would be known because we had time to spend with people when nobody else did.

    The ministry of presence only happens when you are fully present and not worried about what you have to do next or treat the person as a to-do list item.

  8. Rick Clark Avatar
    Rick Clark

    I’ve been patiently following this thread and I’m afraid that the heart of the matter has been lost in the language of academia. I’m 63 years old, just a regular schmoe in a regular job, struggling like so many to make ends meet every month.

    Even so, I make sure I have the time, energy and love it takes to minister to those around me, people I come into contact with day by day. My community is my ministry, it has been for over forty years. I’ve never confused my calling with my career and neither has ever conflicted with the other.

  9. Cheryl Smith Avatar

    It goes back to that “life on life” video you posted the other day. Living life in community, rather that in an institution.

  10. Ben Zabel Avatar
    Ben Zabel

    Maybe we as ministers are so busy because we try to both train people to reach the lost and reach the lost ourselves? What I mean by this is that, as spiritual leaders in a church community we can be more effective in reaching the lost by empowering our community to grow in faith and live this faith out in every sphere of thier lives than by trying to reach the lost by ourselves.

    In my experience, an individual or family may initially come to church because of a pastor, but they are most likely to stay because of the community of people. In light of this, developing the type of community where salvation is lived out through relationship on a daily basis should become our purpose as church leaders. Maybe this type of leadership will begin to fight against the ridiculous rate of pastor burnout.

    PS- if you are a pastor working more than sixty hours a week and not feeling burdened in your job then maybe someone else in your life is feeling the burden for you..

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      And maybe the reason pastors are good about bringing people in but they bounce rather quickly is that they are leading a life that is so unhealthy and out of balance that they are repulsed? You know, maybe they get close enough to the pastor to realize they don’t want their life to be like his/hers?

  11. Ben zabel Avatar
    Ben zabel

    Agreed. But I would submit that anyone who comes into a church doesn’t look to the pastor as their model, but at the other people in the church community. How much do they give? How many evenings a week? Etc.

    I also think there is an essential difference for people who see their position in a church as temporary and those desiring to spend the rest of their “career” in the same church. If I desire for the church I am serving to be my primary community them the separation of these things is a non-factor.

    Also, if I live in the immediate neighborhood as my church (more of a parish model) then loving my neighbors becomes synonymous with my vocational ministry and building community.

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      I agree with you strongly on the second idea.

      But the first one… um, maybe you’ve been on church staff too long? Let me tell you…. everyone who goes to your church is looking at the lead pastor. People who are there for the first time and people who have gone for a long time. Everyone is checking out the pastor and how he/she lives.

      In our congregation, it’s “Stephen this” and “Stephen that.” All the time… even the staff do it. What would Stephen say about this? Yada yada yada.

  12. Ben Zabel Avatar
    Ben Zabel

    Do you really think that people in the church feel they should be doing as much as a full time staf person? How could they? I think that maybe the pastor is the model for spiritual life, but people are really good at separating that from how they spend their time. They might feel pressure from the church staff to “do more” based upon what expectations are placed upon them, but I don’t know anyone who feels like they have to be at church as much as their pastor. Maybe I am wrong though…

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      We’re not talking about the same thing. I don’t mean “be at church as much as the pastor.” I mean, they look at his life as a model for how to live their life. When its out of balance (putting in too many hours) it is a life they don’t want to live.

      People in the pews aren’t fooled. They know a ministry job is a job. And when they see the pastor work 60 hours they aren’t impressed… they talk in their small group about the pastor being a work-aholic and a jerk to his kids.

  13. Ben Zabel Avatar
    Ben Zabel

    Adam,
    I really appreciate this conversation. As a pastor who grew up the son of a pastor this is something close to my heart and experience. Ideally, all ministers would be serving in a community they would want to grow old in. This doesn’t even seem to be the majority experience though. So should that type of fit be a major goal in churches seeking staff an the other way around? Do both parties focus on the wrong things in this process?

  14. Ben Zabel Avatar
    Ben Zabel

    Jeremy,

    I think Adam is saying that we as ministers can’t adequately lead the bride of christ if the other aspects of life and calling are out of balance. I submit that the goal is a proper balancing of these things, which we may never really find, but which should be a constant goal and conversation in each of these areas of life.

    Adam, am I properly representing your position here?

  15. Ben Zabel Avatar
    Ben Zabel

    I Timothy 3:4-5 speaks, I think, directly to what Adam is arguing

  16. Ryan Avatar

    Some of the dialogue here is trying to reconcile the lexicons of 3 cultures- the modern non-American church culture and the historic-biblical culture and the modern American church.

    I read about Jesus “retreating” from his ministry community (disciples and supporters) and “seeking” his missional community (those who he wants to reach) one. We see him challenging his disciples to prioritize the kingdom mission (like when Peter’s Mom is sick). We see him challenging others to give to God what is his first.

    Paul goes one further he says if you desire to minister stay as you are and don’t pursue family. And if you do have a family- as an elder make sure your life and family are in “order” (in this context prioritized?) for our “missional/vocational” ministry is given credibility how we lead and love our families.

    Our Modern American Church Culture does not (IMO) the organic structure God designed within the family to disciple, to love, and meet the needs of others.

    Bottom line- THE Church is designed to be the “ideal” community- we can’t love others, if we don’t love the families we have- if we take a paycheck from the church to lead and organize “the community” and put our families at risk- we are ministry whores.

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