DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Mother Load

Written by: on May 30, 2019

If I had a dollar for every time I have had the conversation “what does our ministry staff even do all day?”…I would have at least $65. Ok, that is not as much as I thought when I first started that sentence, but you get the point. Very few of these conversations have been with congregants; the great majority have been with executive church leaders.

I understand the stewardship question and have noticed my growing tension with it over the years.

My response is typically that if we believe a pastor is not carrying a full load or working hard, there is a different kind of issue going on – an ethical or character issue. But if we are hiring good, godly leaders in to positions we approved to then spend inordinate amounts of senior leadership time wondering if they are doing enough, then perhaps that has more to do with our leadership than the staff’s capacity? How clear have we been on expectations? And are we trying to account for 100% of a pastor’s time when it just is not possible or wise?

I have this intuitive sense that most have a strong work ethic and the pastoral staff’s hearts and days are full. Many have told me as much. But I also know that is not concrete enough for some of the leaders I have served with. What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing has aided me tremendously going forward with these kinds of conversations because of one word:


Percy provides language and imagery for my intuition. Mothering is a difficult thing to quantify. It is a brilliant insight and my personal life season confirms it. How do I measure the outcomes of my time spent mothering?

Do some staff need to improve productivity? Yes. Are job descriptions helpful in order to justify positions and hold people accountable? Yes. Should staff be given complete autonomy to direct their working hours? Probably not. Have there been times when the person in question was not pulling their appropriate weight and needed to be removed through due process? Yes.

But my premise is that the great majority of ministry leaders in fast-paced organizations are motivated to work hard and please their many stakeholders. All need development and training but they are motivated. To question that is to ultimately and unknowingly demotivate them.

In a large church setting filled with good and necessary measurements, could we make room for spiritual mothering? Could we agree that there will be a part of a pastor’s role that we may not be able to account for? That may very well be the part that produces the most fruit that will last as Percy shares:

Yet central to ministry is the building up of the relationships, the quality of incidental encounters, the time spent in praying for people, the care given in walking with people through difficult circumstances and the witness that all of this is connected to the love of God known through Jesus Christ. Such things are hard to quantify, and often the outcomes of such encounters are not obvious in the short term, and may never be recognized this side of heaven.[1]

In my context, what if we loaded pastoral plates to about 80% full with tasks, responsibilities and services we can account for? And what if we left 20% of their time open for all the real, but hard to quantify, responsibilities of pastoring as Percy describes above? This would require a great deal of trust and would also engender it.

I am grateful to Dr. Swenson’s work in Margin for this thought. He asserts that scheduling ourselves to 100% will inevitably push us into overload. Life will happen (have we heard that before in this program?) and unexpected crisis will occur and it is best to reserve space accordingly, like we would with our personal finances. Swenson believes that going the second mile with others and true service to others occurs in the margin.[2]

All of the work I have done over the years to have teams track their time and report on outputs have had mixed results. We all wish for less ambiguity in leadership. To Percy’s and Dr. Clark’s[3] point, measuring is important but traditional organizational measures will never be able to tell the full ministry story. And our attempts to account for 100% of ministry staff hours may have unwelcomed outcomes. Suspicion can breed an unease and overly competitive workplace. We know that culture “seeps” – what is privately discussed repeatedly at the highest levels works its way through the culture. It just does.

I appreciate Percy’s humility in acknowledging that the mothering language and imagery will not work for everyone.[4]It has been greatly beneficial to me. And I think it could unshackle some time and energy of senior leadership teams if adopted.



[1]Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing(London: SPCK, 2014), 20.

[2]Richard A. Swenson, Margin: How to Create the Emotional, Physical, Financial & Time Reserves You Need(Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992).


[4]Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing(London: SPCK, 2014), 159.

About the Author

Andrea Lathrop

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, mom and student. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida and I have been an executive pastor for the last 8+ years. I drink more coffee than I probably should every day.

9 responses to “The Mother Load”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Love this Andrea, such a great post. Like most pastors, I carry multiple titles and have the drive to produce but as I journey through school, I’m learning more and more than being with the people is more valuable than producing. Have we created models of church that demand we produce, which then, in turn, leads to burnout and we blame God when scriptures show us God’s ministry (activity) is always towards people, not production?

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      OoOoO, Mario, you’re preaching now! This is a good point: Are we producing churches that have unrealistic expectations of what being a pastor really looks like and then express persistent disappointment in failure to meet a goal that was never attainable in the first place? What do we see in Jesus’ ministry? People! What is the Church actually made up of? People! It seems to me that if Jesus was centered on ministry of the people and for the people, shouldn’t we also be?

  2. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You state, “Percy provides language and imagery for my intuition. Mothering is a difficult thing to quantify.” Your comments so succinctly describe the take-away for many of us, even those who are not biological mothers. I understand you have served in several large church settings while my current church of some 400 weekend attenders is the largest local church I have ever served. Your reflection, “All need development and training but they are motivated. To question that is to ultimately and unknowingly demotivate them.” is so spot on. Ultimately it comes down to trusting your people to carry out their respective parts of the mission. My former senior pastor was myopic about equating office work ethic with productivity and personnel value. He didn’t trust the staff and therefore constantly was suspicious of their activities. My current lead pastor had to tell me about six times he trusted me before I believed him. The difference in the two leadership philosophies is not merely a paradigm shift but an interdimensional shift! Team energy, work ethic, and esprit de corps is now over the moon! Your “mothering” motif coupled with your 80/20 parameter work well together. I totally agree, “This would require a great deal of trust and would also engender it.” I wonder how might this source might fit into your research? I look forward to reading it, H

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Andrea. You bring an important perspective from a large church setting. My question would be, have our churches deeply considered scriptural descriptions of giftings and roles or have we structured more around corporate ideas? For instance, a pastor in the scriptural sense is heavily relationship based, it’s a shepherd. An evangelist also is heavily relationship based, a storyteller. As we ponder the gifts given and purposes intended can we consider a more fluid way of thinking about staff and their roles and outputs? What is it we truly want produced at the end of the day?

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Thanks for that Tammy. I agree that it is a real challenge in my setting – the emphasis on concrete measurables seem to get louder the bigger the church. I know the heart isn’t ‘corporate’ but the function often feels that way. Most of the pastors, shepherds, really struggle with this. They want to be with people and follow up with them. It’s hard.

  4. mm Sean Dean says:

    This is really great Andrea. Thanks for your insights.

  5. mm Mary Mims says:

    Andrea, it is good that we have different situations in our cohort because the idea of a pastor on a time clock is foreign to the way my small church operates. Since we have so many retired members, they love to drop by the church and “chat” with our pastor or bring him a piece of cake they baked while asking for prayer. Maybe Baptist eat and fellowship a lot, but there is more of an expectation of pastoral care in our church which can also burn out a pastor if they have not found balance. I think it is important to have a balance between pastoral care and productivity. We just have to remember not to neglect the very people we are charged with.

  6. Digby Wilkinson says:

    I was reflecting on the tension you face in a large church, Andrea. It’s a tension I have faced in working with multiple staff over the years. If one takes a parenting model of ministry, then the values change from a professional commodified model. Parenting is busy, parenting is structured, parenting is tiring, parenting requires our very best efforts even when we are tired. Parenting doesn’t stop for illness, loss of income, or lack of interest or excitement. The reason? Because parents give themselves in totality to the wellbeing of a child out of sheer love and commitment. It’s not about the grades, or the skills or the outcomes, it’s about the wellbeing of the child – even a child that lives as if you don’t exist. Goals, milestones, expectations and hopes do not define love. So I wonder what ministry might look like if we attacked it with the ferocity of mothering? It’s not about the deadlines, or the outcomes, or the goals, or the kpi’s – it’s about total engagement with the people we have been given as mothers of the flock – just as God is our fully committed, all giving, all engaging, creating and life-giving mother. You should have a think about how your ministry would change and your demeanour grow if you dug deep into your mother nature in your ministry space. If could be quite exciting. The best part is you already know what mom feels and looks like.

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