The Secret Life of a Pastor – Part 1

PastorBeing a pastor is an interesting job. Sometimes it’s rewarding, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you want to quit, sometimes you revel in the joy. Sometimes you see spiritual progress in the lives of people, many times you don’t. Some days you wonder if God really knew what He was doing when He led you into ministry, sometimes you’re confident that He has a plan.

It’s complicated.

Recently an article was published on churchleaders.com with the title These Are Your Pastor’s Secrets: Read Slowly. Written by a former pastor it detailed many of the frustrations that pastors struggle with.

And why so many pastors leave the ministry.

The dangers in republishing an article like this are many:

-everyone will think that there are problems in my church

-someone in my church will take it personally and become angry

-people will think that I’m fishing for compliments

-it will embarrass my wife or children

I realize that I can’t totally avoid these dangers. And that even if I give a disclaimer some people will read more into this than they should. But this is much bigger than me or my church and many people outside my church read this blog. In fact there are more people outside my church who read this than there are inside.

So this is for all of us.

I also know some people think that they know everything about their pastor – what he’s thinking; why he responds to you the way he does; how he feels. Trust me, you have no idea. After reading this I hope that you’ll have a little better idea.

So much more could have been said by the author and I’ll try to resist the urge to expand too much on what he has written. However at the end of each point I’ll add some of my own thoughts in italics. I’ll mark it clearly so you’ll be able to tell what is the author’s and what is mine.

Because of the length of this article I’ll split it into two blogs, one this week and the second one next week.

So for those of you who are either curious or brave enough, here’s Part 1 of These Are Your Pastor’s Secrets: Read Slowly

“My dad was a minister in a church. My uncles were ministers. My cousin’s a minister. About 30 of my best friends are, or were, ministers.

I was a minister, until I quit seven years ago. Probably forever.

It’s difficult being a minister. In the hard times, I always felt like many of the people in the church didn’t really understand us. Where our hearts were, how we were feeling, what our intentions were, how best to help us help the church. Which often felt dysfunctional.

And I spent a lot of my down time thinking about a list of things I wish the church understood.

But while I was in the position, saying them would have sounded only like whining. Or it would have been uncomfortably vulnerable.

Now that I’m seven years removed from ministry, with no chance of returning, I want to offer some of these things to you who attend church regularly, hoping that they might be received in a different, more constructive spirit. I’ve really got nothing invested here any more, except love and respect for my brothers and sisters who do this for a living. And a hope that I can make someone’s life just a little better.

A disclaimer is in order. I ran these by a large handful of ministers this week, and most of them said something akin to ‘Yes, exactly!’ But there were one or two who responded saying that they’ve had a different, better experience with ministry, and that most of these don’t apply to them. But I think it’s fair to say that about nine out of 10 ministers relate strongly to most of what’s here.

It might also be weird that I’ve written them in the first person, as though I’m currently a minister. I’m not. But since I was born and bred and trained for it, and since I did it for so many years, I’m placing myself back into the fold for this post. Most of it comes from my own personal experience anyway.

So here’s what your minister wishes you understood. Give it a read, give it some thought and give him or her a bigger hug than usual tomorrow morning.

1. Our greatest fear is irrelevance.

It’s not losing our jobs, hurting your feelings or accidentally saying the F word during a sermon.

Those fears are there. But they are nothing compared to the nagging fear that what we say and do is making zero difference in your life.

That you are only showing up to church because of habit, or obligation or mental illness. That we are laying ourselves bare to write and deliver a sermon every week that nobody is hearing.

If your pastor has made an actual difference in your life ever, by word or deed or example or friendship, take some time this week to let him or her know, in as much detail as you can. You cannot imagine how far that will go.

My thoughts

I can relate to this. Pastors are pastors because they want to make a real difference in people’s lives. It’s not for the money (God knows!). It’s not for the fame. It’s not to live a comfortable life. It’s because we believe that teaching the Word of God can make a real difference in people’s lives. Yet we rarely see the difference. And we won’t know unless you share it with us.

I’m not fishing for compliments. I would just like to know that what I spend my life doing actually makes a difference in someone’s life. Anyone’s life.

And I take it very seriously when God says that I will give an account to Him for the people in my church (Hebrews 13:17). Frankly that terrifies me.

2. We are mama’s boys. 

Apologies to the female pastors, this one’s just about the guys. I’ve read studies that higher than 80 percent of male pastors say they are much closer to their mothers than their fathers.

This has a lot of implications, and it explains why we’re more likely to play an instrument than fire a gun, have coffee with a friend than watch a game, read a book than restore an old Mustang. It also means that nobody in the church gets our attention as much as the old ladies, who can make or break our day with a kind word or a disapproving scowl.

When you’re dealing with your male pastor, keep in mind that he’s more likely to speak the language of nurture over discipline, collaboration over competition, forgiveness over punishment. These aren’t things he learned in seminary, these are things he learned in diapers.

My thoughts

OK, anyone who knows me, knows that I’d rather fire the gun, watch a football game and restore the Mustang (although I do like to read a good history). So even I don’t relate to this point very well – sorry.

3. She or he sees you when you’re sleeping.

Some people in the pews think there’s a two way mirror between them and the pulpit, that they can see the pastor but the pastor can’t see them.

Wrong. We see you yawn, look at your phone, whisper something into your wife’s ear. Sleep.

Which is fine. If we’re boring, it’s not your fault, it’s ours.

But just be aware that we see you, and that if you can manage to at least look like you’re a little more interested, it might actually feed some energy back to us and give us more zing. Energy goes two ways.

My thoughts

I’ve been blessed in both my churches to have most people at least look like they’re interested in what I have to say. There is the occasional sleeper, but most people listen.

All I can say is thank you!

4. We think about quitting a lot.

Behind closed doors, most ministers talk about moving on with regularity.

The job is hard in a way that people who’ve never done it cannot understand. Not physically, or even mentally. But emotionally, it can wreck you. I don’t fully understand why, although I have theories.

But just know, when you’re choosing how to interact with her or him, that your pastor is probably hurting and tired and wishing she or he could quit. And that, in most cases, the only thing keeping him or her there is a sense of love and obligation to you. Be gentle, sensitive and grateful for that.

My thoughts

Thankfully this has not been my experience – at least not most days. While I don’t think a lot about quitting, I do think a lot about why I’m not more effective; why I can’t motivate people to be more godly; why our church isn’t making more of an impact for Christ.

5. We envy people who can be themselves. 

We wish we could cuss or mess up without it making headlines. We wish we could be enthusiastic about a hobby without people raising their eyebrows about how much time and money we’re spending on it. We wish we could make angry political remarks on Facebook.

You know, all the things that you feel free to do all the time.

You want us to be human, but not too human. Believe me, we know. And it’s probably for the best that we are charged with setting a good example, it makes sense. But just know, we sometimes envy your freedom to just be yourself.”

My thoughts

This is not only true of the pastor but of the pastor’s wife and children. Everyone has certain expectations of the pastor’s family. Expectations that no one has of your wife or family.

Even if you can’t let the pastor just be human, please don’t put expectations on his wife or children that you don’t want someone putting on your wife or children. Remember, you didn’t hire my wife or children. Whatever they do in the church they are volunteers just like you. Please give them space. Don’t impose your expectations for me onto them.

OK, back to me. I hope this was enlightening. It has been my experience that most people in the churches that I’ve been privileged to serve are kind and supportive. However, I think that this is still helpful, even if it’s just to give you an insight into the life and mind of a pastor.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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