How My Mega-Church Hasn’t Burnt Me Out
I have a love-hate relationship with the mega-church.
I love the number of people converted. I love the number of people who sing and serve with passion each Sunday. My heart rejoices when I consider the level of gospel influence through our church in reaching unreached peoples, planting churches, training pastors, relieving injustice, helping hurting churches, and deploying an army of passionate followers of Jesus into our city each week. This is what I love about pastoring a big church.
But there’s another side to this. Over the last decade, our church has grown from 2,200 to 3,800. We’ve planted four new churches. Our staff grew to over 80, and by God’s grace we have almost 40 elders. As a result, I’ve spent a lot more time developing “systems” of care—and less time actually making hospital calls. There’s less margin for unplanned visits from people. I have awkward moments as I introduce myself to someone who has been a member at our church for a year or two, and we’ve not met. I sometimes pray with people who call me “Pastor” but whose names I struggle to remember. My life is highly scheduled, very busy, and it often feels what some might call “corporate.” These are the parts I hate.
I’ve been leading a mega-church for over a decade. While it’s not always easy, it hasn’t killed me. It hasn’t burnt me out—at least not yet. Here are five things that have helped:
Keeping Study Sacred
I’ve served in two churches of different sizes. While the pastoral dynamics are often worlds apart, the weekly lingering over the Word has remained the same.
And I’m thankful for that. Early on in ministry, I determined not to allow my weekly rhythm of sermon preparation to be obscured or undermined by other responsibilities. This commitment to feed the sheep the Lord has given me has become a consistent refuge for my soul. Furthermore, it’s anchored me to the foundation of every pastor’s calling—to preach the Word both in season and out of season, to churches both big and small.
Prioritizing my Life
The competing demands on my time require that I relentlessly prioritize my schedule. I organize my life around being God’s kind of person, partner, parent, and pastor—in that order. Cultivating intentional, undistracted time for my walk with the Lord, my health, and my family is essential.
I’ve created an ideal schedule on a spreadsheet so that my assistant can help me balance between administration and discipleship, meeting with staff and church members, attending meetings and making time for planning. Every week, my wife and I review my plan to be sure it aligns with our values. I’ve survived by running my calendar, not allowing it to run me.
Praying for People
I felt called to the ministry because I loved the gospel and people. But, perhaps surprisingly, leading a large church can be isolating and impersonal. That’s one reason I created a staff and elders’ prayer directory. Each page has a picture and the names of family members.
Also, our church members are divided in geographic regions (parishes), so that each elder, including me, is assigned about 100 people over whom we pray regularly. These two resources connect me to the needs of a smaller group of people. While I can’t systematically and regularly pray for everyone in my church, I can intercede for some. I feel the most hope and encouragement for the future when praying for people by name is a part of my daily routine.
Trusting God’s Plan
I believe God called me into the ministry and to my church. This is pretty basic, I know. But it matters when I’m frustrated with the “corporate” side of my role or when I’ve disappointed someone because I can’t meet an expectation. I remind myself that as a pastor I have a divinely given role. I don’t get to decide how I serve my church. Trusting God’s plan for my life as I lead a large church means being content with complexity; it means being joyful amid long meetings. I’ve survived pastoring a large church the same way every pastor survives: trusting the Chief Shepherd.
Creating Personal Pathways
The most disappointing aspect of leading a large church is the potential distance from the congregation. While I can’t connect with every member, I have to try my best. Therefore, I’m available for prayer after Sunday worship. I mingle in the foyer and visit with first-time guests. My email comes directly to me—no filter. And I maintain open appointments on my calendar for people who would like to meet with me. My pastoral accessibility is probably less than a smaller church, but these pathways help me survive and they help our people feel more connected to the pastor who preaches to them most.
Pastoring a large church hasn’t killed me yet. While there are things I hate about leading a complicated, highly structured ministry, there’s far more that I love. And by keeping perspective, maintaining priorities, and a large dose of intentionality, it’s possible not only to survive, but to even thrive while pastoring a big church.