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Trying to Grow My Church Drained My Soul

“As a senior pastor I was trying to be someone I was not,” writes Pete Scazzero. “I attended conferences and read books about growing a larger, healthier, more powerful church. If only I would be and do as their leaders, then our church would be equally large and prosperous.”

Probably all of us in some way are tempted to be someone we’re not. Maybe you keep saying yes to what people want from you. Or you’re working a job that doesn’t give you enough time at home with your family.

In Pete’s case, he couldn’t stop the work of his ministry. He was constantly weighed down with the burdens of leading his church. He never felt finished meeting people’s needs. He felt like there was always too much to do and too little time to do it. He had almost no margin or flexibility in his schedule.

Like some of the pastors we talk with, Pete realized, “Pastoring slowly grew into a weight that I longed to shed.” He was living out a script for his life that was not for him; he was trying to be someone he wasn’t meant to be and it was draining his soul and his family.

Till one day his wife put her foot down, “I quit! I’m not attending your church anymore!” She felt she may even have to end their marriage.

That was the turning point for Pete. He went to God broken. He even entered therapy.

“God has not given me the abilities and capacities He had given those other leaders.” He admitted he’d built a church for thousands of people, but God hadn’t actually asked him to do that. It was for another pastor to do.

He came to accept, “I brought other strengths to the task of leading a local church.” He was not a CEO type of pastor. He was a relational leader, a teacher, and a shepherd. He would be happier and his life would be more fruitful if he led a smaller church or ministry.

He came to a startling interpretation of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Luke 19:11-27). Most of us read that and want to be the guy with ten talents. We want to do the greatest work and receive the master’s highest praise, “Well done! I’m so pleased with you! Here are ten more talents for you!”

But Pete accepted, “God has given me two or three, perhaps five talents. He did not give me eight or ten.”

The Lord is just as pleased with the servant who is faithful with two talents. The servants who miss out on happiness, intimacy, and adventure in God’s kingdom are the ones who hide their talents in fear or, as in Pete’s case, try to prove they have more or different talents than they do.

(Pete Scazzero tells his story in his book The Emotionally Healthy Church.)

Even Jesus had limits that he accepted. For 18 years he was a blue-collar worker. He didn’t heal everybody. He didn’t build a great church in Capernaum when everyone begged him to (Mark 1:29-45). He didn’t travel to preach in Greece when asked to do so (John 12:20-24). He didn’t write a book. He didn’t take a leadership position in a church, a company, or the government.

He often withdrew from the crowds wanting him to perform more healings, feed them again, or teach them something new from the Bible. Instead, he’d sit in seclusion by the lake, climb a mountain with friends, rest in a quiet home, or attend a party.

(See “Jesus Set Boundaries in His Helping” in Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke.)

To accept the reality of your God-given limits will disappoint some people. It will also deflate your ideal self. You’ll need empathy from soul friends and time to be alone and quiet in Christ’s presence.

Then you can absorb God’s love more deeply. You’ll be free to be your true self and you’ll become a more loving person!


Listen to this week’s Soul Talks podcast: “Practicing Sabbath RestSabbath rest is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, but it always doesn’t come easy to us. In this episode Bill & Kristi share a powerful and vulnerable soul talk exploring what gets in the way of experiencing Sabbath rest and ways we can learn to be present to Jesus to meet our needs and strengthen us to care for others. Through a combination of solitude and silence and soul friendship that’s rooted in vulnerability and empathy we allow God to truly nourish us and restore our joy for life and ministry.

Listen to a past Soul Talks podcast: Ministry Begins with Rest.

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