Early in my first pastorate I was advised to avoid favoritism by treating all of my church members exactly the same. It took me several years to root this ministry myth out of my system.
Like any myth, there is a seed of truth within it. The dark side of favoritism is when injustice or prejudice stains a relationship. God’s children are forbidden to play favorites based on wealth, power, or appearance (Exodus 23:3; James 2). God does not show favoritism when he rewards or punishes us (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Galatians 2:6).
There is another side of favoritism that pastors must come to terms with, or risk finishing their race poorly, if at all. We are called to prioritize some relationships by investing ourselves more intentionally into them than others. This is how I see God’s clear pecking-order for my ministry.
For a season, you will be the pastor to both your spouse and your children. I also pastored my wife’s parents for a decade. Your family members are your most important church members and should never have to wonder where they stand with you. While the rest of the world tries to figure out their work/life balance, we are not left with an option to fail here.
If your pastors and ministry staff are not next in line behind your family, you are committing ministry malpractice. Wash their feet, kick their pants, but don’t ignore or neglect them. I have made that mistake many times. It makes as much sense as neglecting your marriage for your kids’ sake.
Jesus often sequestered his disciples from the crowds to eat, worship, teach, encourage, or send them on specific ministry assignments.
Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach. (Mark 3:13-14)
When the first twelve disciples were overwhelmed with their first ministry success at Pentecost, God sent a Special Ops unit of laymen who successfully helped history’s first Christian church avoid a split. They became known as deacons.
Pastor, deacons and other lay-leaders are our friends, not our foes.
That widow war was just their first assignment, and I am certain they dropped a few balls along the way, just like the pastors did. I know there are rogue deacons in your church, but does that give you grounds to ignore the leaders God has called and your church has confirmed? Deacons, elders, teachers, and some committee/team leaders are part of God’s personal growth strategy for the pastor who still needs to devote himself to prayer and the ministry of the word.
Pastors who are enslaved by the expectations of their members will eventually regret it. There is a chance your family already does.
Nobody likes to wait for their turn, but not all ministry is equally important. You and I are called to be a slave of Jesus and a servant of his beautiful bride, not the other way around. Practice favoritism when you get home by taking your cape off and turning your phone off for a few hours. If there is a real emergency, someone can call your wife’s phone.
Love every member genuinely and without the bias of prejudicial favoritism. But be intentional about who God surrounded you with so that you won’t marginalize those whom God has called us to prioritize.