The Lord said to me, “I knew you before you were formed within your mother’s womb; before you were born I sanctified you and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.” Jeremiah 1:4,5 TLB
Over the years, I’ve received a variety of reactions to my husband’s occupation. One, I will never forget. I was curling. It’s the custom in curling, the winners buy for the losers and you sit together at a table and chat, after the game. I curled once a week in a women’s league. Occasionally people asked what my husband did. This particular evening, I was having a great conversation with a young lawyer and a couple of other women. Suddenly the question came up and I replied, “He’s a pastor.” The young lawyer turned her back to me and didn’t speak to me the rest of the evening! I wasn’t offended mostly surprised. I was used to different responses, just not that strong of one!
After that, I’d cringe when asked what my husband did for a living. Besides people who have been wounded by churches and therefore don’t want anything to do with people who work in them, there is a perception in the secular population of “what does he do all day?” There’s a misunderstanding of what pastors really do and what it takes to accept this unique calling.
Let’s start off by saying it’s not a job, it’s a calling. By calling, I mean it goes way beyond a career. It’s a life that is dedicated to following God at all costs, despite many trials. There is no nine to five, it’s twenty-four seven. Because death, sickness, accidents and other life crises don’t conveniently wait to fit into work week hours.
If a person is not truly called to ministry, chances are they will eventually leave it. That’s not to say that all pastors who leave ministry aren’t called. There are a host of other reasons pastors leave ministry.
The fact I’m even mentioning pastors leave ministry, should suggest to you that this is not a job for wimps. Or the spineless. If that is your idea of a pastor, minister or priest, you had better readjust your lenses.
Just as in any organization, there is conflict. Yes, churches can be one of the worst places, mainly because people don’t expect it. This is wrong. It is a myth that churches are filled with nice people. Churches are hopefully filled with Jesus followers who model His example of love, grace and self-control. It is not always the case. So you should not be surprised that churches have disagreements, some heated. How conflict is handled is the real tell-tale sign of who is in that church. I digress.
All you need to do is look at all the people who grew up in the church and have never set foot in the door again, including pastors and their families, to know there is some serious stuff going on. It happens and the wounds are deep and real. There are many places to point the finger. I’m not excusing leadership either. However a blame game is never helpful or the answer. What are we, twelve years old? Let’s get real. Churches are made up of people and the last time I checked, no one is perfect. We all, including pastors, make mistakes.
However the lack of grace given by some churches is appalling, as I hinted at above. Sometimes it’s the leadership, other times its the members. Whatever, it is wrong. The response to disagreements is the key because there is always going to be conflict. And that response should be grace and love filled.
Now that’s not to say, the church can’t gracefully and lovingly stand for what they believe in. If we don’t, how are we any different from the rest of the world? We are to be different from the rest of the world. God’s covenant with the Israelites, was in part, to let the rest of the world know that they stood apart. Just read the Old Testament! The church (I’m not talking building here) is to stand apart. Both in words and actions. The pastor is to lead and model the charge.
A good pastor needs a backbone that is lined with grace and love. As you know, this is a rare combination. It has been our personal experience that God schools the ones he has called, in his unique ministry academy called Trial, Chaos and Hate. Contrary to popular belief, He didn’t promise his called ones, lives of ease. (Think disciples. Mostly murdered for Who they believed and preached. In some places today, it’s still happening.) He knew it was going to be hard.
Schooling begins so the shepherd will turn to the Good Shepherd. It’s in crisis, that we learn to lean into and trust God. We learn our own limits and turn to the Holy Spirit to fill us up in abundance so we are able to do the work God has called us to do.
And work it is. Just like any job, there is much paperwork and administration. There are many years at university and/or college involved in becoming a pastor. Most hold their Masters and some their PhD’s.
Shepherding people into transforming lives for Jesus, takes a lot of sweat! That’s only part of the job description. There is the sermon, if they preach, which equals a major twenty-thirty minute presentation every week. If they are youth or music pastors, that means planning for those ministries. It takes many hours to prepare, as anyone in any kind of teaching profession is aware.
There is discipling of staff and a whole host of meetings, both day and evening. Most senior or lead pastors are responsible for the vision of the church. What it’s going to look like in five, ten years. What ministries it’s going to be involved in. What programs it’s going to run. That is just a small snippet of what a pastor does.
On top of that is balancing family. Unfortunately, sometimes families take a back seat to the church. This would be one major reason, a pastor would leave the ministry. (His spouse gave him an ultimatum.) It takes an incredible amount of humility for a pastor to pull back from ministry, (which can be powerful, heady stuff) and put their family first. To delegate a meeting to another staff and go home and change diapers and give baths instead. To trade lunch with Chair of the Board for lunch with their spouse.
Just because God calls a pastor to ministry, doesn’t give him or her a bye on taking care of their family. Spouse and children are still number two and three in priorities, respectively. Church would fall four. I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult this is. As with any career, balancing job and family is not for the faint of heart. It’s gets a little trickier when you are dealing with major life crises, however!
Finally, a good pastor is tight with the Good Shepherd. He or she is in constant conversation with Him. As I said earlier, usually the pastor has a say in the direction of the church. He or she is the one teaching the masses. If the pastor isn’t following God, then it’s just a man or woman’s vision and it will fail. It may not today but one day it will.
This isn’t just a lot of talk. If a pastor takes his or her calling seriously, then one day they know they will have to answer to the Good Shepherd Himself about the ministry they were given to care for. (James 3:1) This is a very frightening thought for those of us in ministry. And so it should be! With awe and reverence, a good pastor will handle the church because he or she knows it’s not theirs. It is only in their care for the time being. It is instead, God’s holy bride. Believe me, we better know how to care for it!
This is just a small insight into a pastor’s life. Of course I’m biased a smidgen, but after twenty years of ministry I am also realistic. This calling is not for the faint hearted. It is for men and women who gave their hearts to the Lord when they heard Him call, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” Matt 4:19
In following that call, they surrendered their hearts, their dreams and laid down their nets of security and plans for their lives and ran head first into an adventure they never could have imagined.