The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize a correlation between pastors and doctors. It’s no mistake that Jesus said, I have come for the sick, not the healthy. I mean, Jesus didn’t say anything by mistake, but my point is that he knew and still knows the struggle is real. It’s real when people know there is something wrong with their bodies but refuse to seek professional help. It’s real when someone watches a loved one refuse to do what the professional help tells them to once they have actually sucked it up and gone to see the doctor. It’s real when you sit in the middle of a room filled with people who refuse to admit the dying Body in front of them and say, Nope. Not dying.
I’ve gotten a close up and personal look at what it’s like to be a pastor. I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to it before being married to one. I mean, they’re paid to preach, to pray, to visit people, to counsel those who need it. But if we’re being honest, they are also paid to be second-guessed, gossiped about, yelled at, ignored, disregarded, fought with and against, and generally rejected on a weekly basis. Not to mention watch people actually sleep during their sermons.
Sanctification sucks. It really does. Being a Christian is easy. It’s maturing as a Christian that’s the hard part. And that’s why more of us don’t do it. We’re good here, thanks. No need to walk on any further. We saw what we came to see.
But there IS a need. There is a deeply rooted need and the longer I live, the more I see just how deep the need goes. The need to GROW. The need to MATURE. The need to blossom, to be fruitful.
Enter Pastor. Stage center. Audience hisses.
Sometimes it feels that way, doesn’t it, pastors? People want you to come visit them, but keep it light and sweet. Like our coffee. (Actually, hold the coffee. Make sweet tea.) The Pastor is all up in your grill, asking tough questions, playing hard core, praying for the Holy Spirit. That’s just sneaky. You just take that back, son.
Kidding aside, this is serious. It is serious when the congregation cannot admit their need for a shepherd. We can be Christians without a pastor, can’t we? And I don’t really need someone to lead me or pray for me. Don’t all believers do that? Can’t I just be my own priest, you know, priesthood of all believers?
Sure. But we aren’t called to be Me and Jesus. We are called to be the Body, the Bride. Not just you, all of us. And we DO need someone to lead and to serve us through example, through gained experience, through careful, thorough, pouring over and study of Scripture, committed to prayer and maturity of the saints with whom God has entrusted them. Our pastors are uniquely designed and fitted to be something significant and life-forming for us. Not having and supporting and aligning yourself with your pastor is saying God made a mistake in His design for the church.
[Now a quick sidebar: some pastors are absolutely out of their league. Maaaaaybe this is your pastor. Knowing what I know about humanity and ego, I can say that the man who is willing to admit “This is too hard for me and not within my gifting and abilities” is few and far between. There IS a difference between the man who is humble saying that wherever I am I will follow Jesus and do what I know to be right and good, while relying 100% on the Spirit to do the real work and the man who is arrogantly stubborn about “his” ministry and “his” people and crosses the line into spiritual abuse and manipulation because, generally speaking, he is not capable of doing the tasks a true shepherd is called to. Or he just doesn’t put the effort in – studying, reading, seeking God’s will and ways for His kingdom. If your pastor falls into this category and you know it, you absolutely have my permission to look for another church. But keep reading because this all still applies no matter how bad your pastor is.]
Here are some general indicators that you really aren’t looking for a PASTOR:
- Church for you is primarily a social club.Your primary goal in going to church is to worship – that’s another topic that is essential, but kinda tangential to this one. What happens though is that people will largely base their decision on where to worship on the people there. Worship styles and preaching aside, most people walk into a new church and make a decision within a few minutes from the start. Do these people look the way I want them to? It’s harsh but true. Let’s all be honest. We mostly want people in our social circle who have similar values and interests, generally within our socio-economic demographic. All things being equal (and I realize this cannot really ever be but hear me out) if you had to decide between two churches you would pick the one with more of your peers, age/stage of life people.
- You change churches because this church isn’t meeting your needs.You think, now wait a sec! I have nothing against the pastor. “I love the pastor, but…” Your pastor understands this. Of course he does. But don’t think he isn’t going to take it personally. He absolutely is. And in some ways, he should. Know why? What is the ONE THING the other church does not have that his church does? HIM. So essentially you are saying, all the other things – kids programs, service opportunities, worship styles, etc. – add up to more than that one guy who so carefully has prayed for you and met with you and poured his heart into your life.If that sounds bitter, wellllll…. think of it for a minute from a pastor’s shoes. Most pastors understand that people – particularly young families (and I’ll say more about that next) – are looking for an experience that is already happening. Most people are not capable and willing to create these experiences. Most people don’t have the creativity or know-how to start something that isn’t there and to grow it. It takes entrepreneurial types and most congregations just don’t have those. Or the few that are there are tapped out.So when someone leaves to take part in something already established, it confirms they aren’t that type. And that’s ok. Just don’t be upset if the pastor exhorts you to reconsider.
- You’ve never listened to a sermon twice.Ok, OUCH. I’m gonna go ahead and guess that this is a lot of people. I’ll tell you something. I have watched several movies and tv shows several times. I know some movies almost verbatim. They are quoted often in daily, casual conversation. The littlest things will trigger a quote. It’s amusing. To me. And it helps sort out who are my people, if you know what I mean. Wink wink nudge nudge.Point being that we learn things from repetition. We notice things on second viewings that we didn’t before. Concepts work their way into our hearts and minds by repeated uses. Like baking, you don’t pour the salt or sugar or yeast in and just pop it in the oven. You kneed it over and over, mushing it around, making sure it gets into every section of the dough and really gets worked in.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE my husband’s preaching. I still hang on every word. I’m his wife and I’m crazy about him. But even *I* get distracted. Even I forget what the point was of an illustration he used. I, of course, have the benefit of just asking him at all hours of the day and night, but you don’t. (You don’t btw.) So that’s why we record the sermons.
It used to be that churches had a tape ministry for shut-ins and for those who are out of town or otherwise and will miss church. If the pastor was in the middle of a sermon series, they didn’t want to miss out and be confused next week. Truth is you could BE there and still be confused next week. Or maybe you were thinking about whether you left the oven on. Or if your child is doing ok in the nursery. Or if your child is doing ok at college. Whatever. And wait, what did the pastor just say about gay people? (He didn’t. You weren’t paying attention.)
All that kidding aside, most of us just simply don’t learn from hearing something once. If you want to learn, if you want to grow, if you want to study the word of God and know His heart, there are commitments that need to be made. Re-listening to your pastor’s sermon each week is one of those that is just there for the taking.
Don’t want to listen to the sermon and would rather read it? Me too! Ask your church to consider paying me to transcribe your pastor’s sermons 🙂 Quick, shameless plug for my side business!!
- You haven’t prayed for your pastor all week.Maybe you haven’t even thought of him! I promise you, if your pastor is serious about his job and calling, if he is committed to the study and preaching of God’s word, if He is listening and heeding the Holy Spirit’s voice daily, then your pastor has spent a great deal of time praying for you. I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty or obliged to your pastor. Your pastor certainly will not dole out retribution to those who haven’t prayed for him. He won’t even ask probably ever. (Well, unless he happens to preaching on being an elder and what that means.) But let’s be honest again. We forget about the kinds of struggles pastors have, their needs, their families, their work. We actually don’t think much about them unless there is some kind of crisis that we know about.A word to pastors: how much do your congregations even know about you? Do they know what to pray for? Are you honest with people? Do you answer questions with “It’s fine.” “All good.” Are you willing to use the same transparency and vulnerability you hope for from your church family? Do you talk about struggles, as appropriate and sensitive to your family’s needs? Perhaps your congregation just assumes you have it “all together” because you just never talk publicly about anything going on personally. You don’t have to dump all the dirty laundry, but your greatest witness will be your experience with the grace of God personally and through great difficulties.
- You haven’t met with your pastor or done anything your pastor has told you to.Most of us have thought of the pastor as that nice man on Sundays and the person you *might* call in a real crisis, but it has to be, like, a red level crisis. Your pastor has spent many hours bedside in hospitals. But what about that doctor example at the beginning of this post? What about the hospital of your soul? Whoa, dude. The hospital of your SOUL, man.Seriously, your heart and mind and soul are often in crisis. I contend that if you learn to deal with the little crises, you will both curb big crises, making them more manageable, and avoid them altogether – long range your coping mechanisms will last only so long. But much like check-ups for your body, check-ups on your soul can help put in place the kinds of life altering changes you so desperately need.
But after the check-up, you may say, that all sounds good, but I don’t have the time or energy to do any of that. I recently went for a check-up and was told I need to exercise. Well, no duh! Has anyone ever been told to NOT exercise? I mean all things considered, I think that I want to be told you’re doing great. Keep it up. Even if “great” entails eating ice cream every night for the rest of my life.
Are you willing to do what you know your soul needs to do? It’s impossible. We know what we should do and we don’t. It’s a lifelong struggle.
Our pastors are there to help. Our pastor and our church body has been placed there to keep us living out the Kingdom of God on earth. It is hard. It is tiring. It is heart-breaking at times. It is back-breaking at times. But it is the only way. It is the way of Jesus. And he has promised to be our Good and Perfect Shepherd. His burden is light. His ways are higher. He cares for his sheep. He is so good. And he has given us a representative of flesh and blood at our sides to walk with us. Not perfect and not always good. But our pastors are called and held to their calling, a high calling indeed.