When I was a young church planter my team and I spent countless hours trying to deal with the kinds of complicated pastoral situations that inevitably come up – marriages on the rocks, mental illness, interpersonal conflicts and such. It is amazing how much trouble a small group of people can get into.
The problem was two-fold: first, we thought we were supposed to “fix” or heal all of these situations ourselves, and second, we thought we could bring healing to them if we just tried hard enough.
To make many long stories short – our efforts mostly ended in failure. Along the way, so much time was spent in meeting deliberating what to do with these folks. Then in yet more meetings we tried to counsel people to solve long-standing problems and we ended up neglecting the things we most needed to do to get the church established and reaching our community.
I have learned that pastors are going to hear a lot of problems that are already beyond the point of repair by human efforts and certainly beyond our ability. I have also learned that it is best to pray, to share whatever spiritual guidance is needed and to refer people to experts on the other stuff. Further, I have learned that some problems can’t be fixed short of a miracle and no amount of effort makes any difference at all. As a result I have learned to pray more and spend less time in meetings. Lastly, I have learned that I am not responsible to fix everyone’s problems – that is not the job that God gave me. They have a Savior already and it’s not me. My job is to point them to the Savior and build a spiritual community where they can grow in relationship with that Savior and with each other. But it is not to fix or heal all their problems.
I have seen church planters lose months of time and emotional energy over problems they thought they could solve but in the end couldn’t. And the church suffered as a result.
We need to know our limits – the limits of our ability and the limits of our responsibility. Without it we tend to lose our focus and waste effort that we can’t afford to lose. We can’t abandon people, but we can refer people and we can pray with people all without losing our focus and energy.