The danger of overextending your reach

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A friend of mine recently lamented the blessing and curse of podcasts. The blessing is obvious, and the danger is equally so: podcasts can “ruin” us for ordinary pastors. There’s a dangerous temptation to treat podcasts as our pastors, and to forsake biblical community for a hyper-individualized spirituality.

But there’s another danger we don’t talk about quite as much: the danger to the pastors who are extending their reach beyond their local church.

You might be reading this and thinking, what on earth could be dangerous? After all, many pastors write books every year, podcast their sermons, and write blogs. Some even find themselves speaking at conferences, of whom the majority of attendees are undoubtedly not members of their congregations.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, certainly. So why do I have a concern? Because there’s a question we always should be asking: is trying to extend our reach taking away from our primary ministry? 

Now, I absolutely believe pastors should write books (at least, those who can write). I’d go as far to say as pastors are obligated to share the wisdom and insights they’ve gained with the larger body of Christ, and more specifically, with younger pastors and leaders.

But many pastors who are asked to write books aren’t asked because they’ve demonstrated they can write, or they have the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime of ministry. They just have a lot of people showing up on Sunday.

Whether or not a pastor has the chops to write a book, start a blog or start a podcast, the temptation to pursue these things is enormous. But in the pursuit of these things, it’s easy to start cutting corners, even unintentionally. Research gets reduced or outsourced. Sermon prep is virtually non-existent. Counselling and community are sidelined. The result? Once-excellent communicators become unconsciously incompetent (which inevitably leads to becoming dangerously stupid). Congregation members begin to feel neglected. Frustration builds, and eventually something’s going to give.

In the attempt to extend their reach, I fear many church and ministry leaders are in danger of destroying their ministries, and may not even realize it.

When I was working on my books, one of the challenges I faced was securing endorsements. I tried to get Kevin DeYoung to endorse Awaiting a Savior. I didn’t succeed, obviously (although I suspect it would have sold more if I had). But you know what? I am so thankful I didn’t. Why? Because his church has set up accountability structures to prevent outside activities from negatively affecting his ministry to his congregation. 

This is the kind of self-aware church leader we need more of—the kind who understands the danger of overextending his reach. Leaders who know they can’t really trust themselves to know how much is too much, and who surround themselves with men who will tell them what they don’t always want to hear.

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  • Jesvin

    Thanks Aaron for that thought. Very true and I agree. Our primary ministries must be guarded both by ourselves and our local church. Though not a pastor, I understand the demands on a pastor and this is indeed a legitimate thought. I have been following your blog for a while now. Thanks for some very insightful articles.

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  • doughibbard

    This has been a challenge for me, although I think I’m dealing better with it in terms of podcasting my sermons. I remind myself as I write and prepare sermons that I am preaching to *my* (and I know, that’s loaded:it’s Jesus’ church) congregation. If anyone streams it, watches it, or benefits from the sermon from outside, then that’s fine. But I do not preach to them as a primary audience.

    For example, I pastor a rural church, made up of farmers. I have no problems using half-explained farm stories because they get it–and you might not as just a listener. Further, I am looking at their needs, their understanding, their problems–so a sermon from my archive may not meet another’s needs.

    I started off doing blogging and podcasting because I wanted to be well-known, but now I’m trying to do it as an extension of my service to the local body. Anything else is ancillary.

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