In my last blog I began a review of an article from churchleaders.com titled These Are Your Pastor’s Secrets: Read Slowly. The article shared the thoughts of a former pastor and the struggles and frustrations he faced in the ministry. I added a few personal comments to each of his points.
After reading the first blog a pastor friend sent me an email with the question, Have you gotten any hate mail yet? I have to honestly say that I have received a number of comments and they were all positive and encouraging!
Here’s part two.
6. We are often spiritually starving.
Probably the most closely guarded secret among pastors is how spiritually empty many of us are.
Like a worker at the chocolate factory who no longer likes the taste of chocolate, or the prostitute who gets no pleasure from sex, we deal with spiritual matters so much that they often no longer have much meaning for us.
Worship, for us, is a program that must be organized and executed. It’s work. It’s not for us. It’s for you.
And then, when we’re not ‘on,’ often the last thing we want to do is something spiritual. Because it reminds us of work.
We can’t read the Bible without thinking of sermon ideas. We can’t pray without thinking of leading prayers. We can’t meet with other church people without talking shop. So we’d rather play golf, or watch TV, or anything else.
Which ultimately leaves us empty. Not everyone, not always. But often.
This can certainly be true and probably is often true of most pastors. However, it doesn’t have to be. Pastor’s have to guard themselves in the spiritual realm just like everyone else.
They also have to guard themselves in the physical realm. In the early years of my ministry I always felt guilty when I took a day off, or escaped for a couple of hours from the pressure. I’ve learned, however, that much of my spiritual emptiness came about as a result of my physical emptiness. Few men can grow spiritually when they are exhausted physically. So I’ve tried to maintain a balance. Sometimes that means that I don’t do everything everyone thinks I should do at exactly the time they think I should do it. I understand that. I also understand what I need to do to be the most effective. It’s a delicate balance.
7. We are sinful, no different than you.
We don’t just think about sinning. We aren’t just tempted to sin. We commit sins.
The same kind you do. Believe it.
But also understand that this doesn’t make us less qualified to talk to you about sins, but more.
If you’ve ever sat in the pew and heard a pastor rambling on about temptations and sin and thought, “Whatever, there’s no way she understands what I’m dealing with,” think again. It’s very likely that she does, first hand. And that what she’s saying comes from her own life, not just from a book.
Yes pastors are human and struggle with everything you struggle with. All I can say is pray for your pastor.
8. We are lonely, because it’s hard to trust.
Pastors often have trust issues.
As well they should. All pastors have heard stories about Reverend so-and-so who confided in someone in his church about his addiction to whatever, only to have that person tell the elders about it, which ultimately got him fired.
It happens. We know it does.
So every time we interact with you, even if it’s in a prayer group or some very intimate setting, we’re not 100 percent open. We can’t afford to be.
It’s not your fault, it’s not our fault, it’s just a bad system that doesn’t allow pastors to be as human as it should. You can’t fix that, but you can have understanding and compassion for the man or woman who loves and serves you week after week, who counsels you and hears your confessions, and yet often has nowhere to go to get the same healing and relief.
I agree with the first part of this point but not necessarily the second part. It’s not always about trust. Yes, there is a lonely side to the pastorate. Some of it is self-imposed; some of it is the nature of the job; some of it is, as the writer said, trust issues; some of it is fear (for a number of different reasons); some of it is our personality. Different pastors handle it in different ways – each one has to figure out what works for him.
9. Ministry is a hard job.
Sometimes it’s said as a joke, sometimes it’s said in anger, that ministers don’t work very hard. That it’s a cushy gig.
If that were true, I doubt I’d know so many ministers who have quit, swearing never to return, including myself.
The best way I can think to explain why ministry is hard is to compare it to being the parent of a young child. From the outside, it might not look like a lot of ‘work,’ but from the inside, it’s the most exhausting thing you’ll ever do.
Because it’s not just about the amount of things you do, it’s the total emotional drain of it. It’s worrying all day every day about the people and programs you’re in charge of, being on call and not ever feeling really free to be away, feeling like you live in a fishbowl with hundreds of eyes watching you all the time and never really knowing what they are all thinking of you (unless they complain, which some of them do with regularity).
It’s caring for people to the point that you have nothing left for your own family when you get home, yet expecting that they show a certain spiritually-put-together face to the church (because the church expects that). It’s often feeling empty, yet pretending to feel full. It’s presenting yourself and your work to hundreds of people, several times a week, for evaluation, and often getting no feedback except ‘constructive’ criticism.
And after all of this, after years of this, it’s looking out at the people in your church and seeing little or no change. Ministry is very hard, albeit perhaps in a different way than your job is hard.
This is one of the writer’s observations that is true of every pastor I know. I don’t need to add anything except to ask you to read it again.
10. We are more sensitive than you probably think.
Most ministers I know have one or two people in their congregations who send them stinky emails weekly, and another 10 or 15 who can be counted on to complain about things about once a month.
Then, of course, there are a handful of the angels, who hug and love and say encouraging things every week.
But guess what. The people who complain are far more thorough and specific and persistent than those who encourage, and they are the voices that keep us up at night feeling bad about ourselves, wondering if we suck at this.
Most ministers have skin that is way thinner than their congregants think it is. We have to be open and sensitive to you, because it’s you we are charged with caring for. This means that the things you say to us can reach far deeper inside than they could otherwise.
If you need to criticize your minister for something, please just be aware of this. Tread carefully, and with a lot of love and appreciation for her vulnerability. We are not above correction. Nobody is. But please make the extra effort to wrap it in as much care as you can.
It’s true. Pastor’s have feelings just like everyone else. We want to be loved and appreciated. We don’t like being criticized. It’s been my experience that the criticizers are the minority. The vast majority of people in the churches that I’ve been privileged to serve have been supportive.
There are, however, people in every church who feel at liberty to criticize and complain about the pastor. As if it is their right. They are not the spiritual people in the church. Pastors need to surround themselves with the godly people and pray for the others. But don’t let the others determine your value as a pastor.
11. We care about you more than you can imagine.
The best moments of being a pastor for me, by far, were the times the ministers would gather for staff meetings and talk about the week ahead.
Did we discuss worship and youth outings and air conditioning and budgets? Sure, for maybe 20 minutes.
And then for three hours we’d talk about the people we were serving, what’s going on in their lives, and how we might help them.
I always wished the whole church could be in those meetings and just see how much these people care, how much their hearts break for them, how much time and emotional energy they spend wanting to help them.
Those meetings are my most sacred memories of church, because those were the moments when I saw men and women who had every reason not to care, to phone it in, to even be resentful. And yet, in spite of all of it, at the end of every day, they still cared, sometimes to the point of tears.
You might have no idea how much.
It’s interesting that the writer put these last two points together. Because it is the people he described in #10 that are the hardest to care about (#11). It’s easy to care about most people in the church. It’s really difficult to care about some. This may be the hardest part of the ministry. When you pray for your pastor you can add this to your list.
I hope that these thoughts – both his and mine – have been helpful to you. Every Christian has a relationship with their pastor. A good relationship is built on understanding. The writer has tried to help all of us get a better understanding of the stress and pressure a pastor faces which should help to strengthen the relationship.
Stay in the Word