Financial experts talk about spending money in terms of “opportunity costs.” When we choose to spend money on one item, we are essentially saying “no” to buying something else.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a reality. We can’t spend the same dollar in two different places.
Leadership follows the same principle, according to author and speaker Michael Hyatt. Leaders only have so much time in the day and using that time effectively requires tough choices.
“The more successful you become in leadership, the more demand it’s going to place on you,” Hyatt explains. “The truth is, your time doesn’t scale. You’ve got 168 hours if you’re unemployed, and you’ve got 168 hours if you’re the president of the United States. It’s a zero-sum game.”
Pastors feel the tension of that zero-sum game more than many leaders. They recognize the need to protect their time by setting boundaries, but their hearts are driven by a passion to meet people’s needs. As a result, the demand for personal access can feel overwhelming.
“It’s important for pastors to understand that from the perspective of the person making the request, it seems reasonable,” says Hyatt. “They see you. They’re listening to you. They’re the beneficiaries of your ministry. That creates a sense of intimacy where they feel like they know you and should have access to you.”
The danger of granting unlimited access can be devastating, though. Pastors can begin stealing time from their families to “serve” their congregations. The stress also can take a toll on their physical health, leading to a lack of energy and eventually burnout.
In the end, no one wins—not the pastor, his family, or his flock.
The answer, says Hyatt, rests in establishing healthy limits and defining realistic expectations.
“To the extent that you can, you have to provide the rationale for people and explain the situation in language they can understand,” he explains. “You need to help them see how ultimately this benefits them and benefits the whole ministry. If you don’t help them with it, people will fill in the blanks and create the narrative.”
Hyatt also advises pastors to help themselves by building a solid team around them. That team includes an inner circle—a small group of family members, assistants, and staff who will provide a buffer. They also can mentor individuals who can fill the gap and share the ministry load.
“Jesus didn’t appoint pastors to do all the ministry,” Hyatt says. “Ephesians 4 says that He appointed some as pastors to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. And when you jump over to 2 Timothy 2:2, you find leaders who are faithful to pass things on to other leaders. The only way to scale is with a team.”
Jesus also provided a great team-building model during His ministry on earth. Hyatt points out that Jesus used a four-pronged leadership strategy that defined the boundaries on His time and empowered others to share the ministry workload.
“He did teach multitudes, and that was one component,” Hyatt says. “He also mobilized the 70, which is another component. He trained 12, and He confided in three. Pastors need to have some kind of framework like that. You need to pour yourself into a few people, but you also have to delegate.”
Hyatt admits that not everyone will understand a pastor’s decision to limit accessibility. Even when pastors do all they can to share their hearts and provide competent alternatives, some members of the congregation will refuse to embrace the change.
“Not everybody is going to appreciate it,” he says. “Some people will be offended. Some people will leave. But what’s the alternative? These are things that will derail your ministry if you don’t get a handle on it.”