Caring for Your Pastor (Part 1)

I have a special place in my heart for Pastors—those men and women who take on the daunting responsibility of  “shepherding” a local community of faith. I’m referring to ministers who quietly and persistently do God’s work in their church, sincerely seeking to impact lives, and in doing so, make changes in their part of the world. They are saints!

Personal Note: I regularly speak out against those who use their pulpit to spread hate and lies in the name of religion. And I’m openly critical of those who financially fleece their congregation in the name of a perverted “prosperity” message that seems to work great for the preacher (who makes more money than some third-world countries), but not so much for the members (listeners, viewers) who give so sacrificially. I see these folks as charlatans, and to use the old KJV term, mere “hirelings.” (cf: John 10:12-13)

The job is of Pastor misrepresented by some, and (I think), misunderstood by most.
It’s not just showing up on Sunday and speaking for 30 minutes!
It's more than homilies, handshakes, and hospital visits.

I was a Pastor for 15+ years, so I know the pressure that accompanies this “calling.” I’ve gotten those frantic calls in the middle of the night. I’ve been with the family as they were told their loved one was gone. I’ve turned off the respirator at the request of an emotionally exhausted wife. I’ve sat with couples as they struggled to hold their marriage together. I’ve received the anonymous notes, challenging something I’d said, something I’d done or something I should be doing. I’ve been in the meetings with disgruntled church members. I’ve cried myself to sleep after listening to harsh criticism, half truths and outright lies spoken publicly, in a congregational meeting. I’ve experienced the sense of failure when half of a congregation suddenly leaves in anger. Trust me, I know the frustration and the fatigue of this job. (I once ended up the hospital from sheer exhausting, and then had church members get upset because I missed church.)

Allow me to share some of what’s involved in this important job in order to give some perspective.

Required to Function in Multiple Roles and Responsibilities
The local church Pastor doesn’t have one primary “job,” but many: preacher, teacher, theologian, intercessor, counselor, confidant, fundraiser, chaplain, administrator, organizer, trainer, encourager, arbiter and uniter. Depending on the size of the congregation, they may also be church secretary, HR recruiter, writer (and publisher) of the church’s materials, financial manager, activities and volunteer coordinator, and custodian. And they are expected to do all of these tasks with joy, humility and without complaining.

The job involves the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, the heart of a warrior, the mind of a scholar, the persuasive skills of an orator, the sensitivity of a psychic, the humility of a saint, and often, the thick skin of a rhinoceros.

Who can adequately be or do all these things with any degree of competence?

Judged by Countless Individual Expectations
While there might be a written job description for the local church Pastor, the expectations can still vary with each person in the pew, sometimes different than what the Pastor thinks is the priority. Members (rightfully) see the person as “my Pastor,” and that sometimes carries a sense of ownership—the right to dictate and/or control. (I once had a church member tell me “Don’t ever forget: I’m your boss.”) Depending on their own church tradition, or understand of the role, they have convictions about what the Pastor should be doing:

The Pastor should spend most of his time visiting the sick.
She should spend most of their time reaching out to the unchurched.
He should attend all church functions.
The Pastor should always deliver interesting, inspiring and informative sermons.
She should spend hours in prayer.
He should spend time studying the Bible.
The Pastor should be involved with community organizations—Rotary, food kitchens, ministerial alliances, etc.
She should stay current with the latest news to bring relevant sermons.

This mean that no matter how much the Pastor is doing in any given week, there will be always someone’s who’s disappointed. Or angry. And they will usually let the Pastor know of their disapproval. It’s discouraging.
And unfortunately, those who are satisfied that the Pastor is “doing the job” seldom compliment or acknowledge.
(e.g., I served one church with a member who adored a well-known Pentecostal televangelist. After almost every service, this member would try to "correct" my theology based on what this preacher taught.)

Operates with Undefined Boundaries and Held to Higher Standard
Being a Pastor is not a Nine-to-Five job. Like many helping professions, there’s always some good that could be done, so taking time off can be perceived as trivial. If a member calls the church with a crisis, they will not be happy to learn “I’m sorry, the Pastor is on vacation.”

Unless the Pastor is home, with doors locked and shades pulled, they are never “off duty.” How they dress, what they drive, where they go...are generally under scrutiny. (“Why is the Pastor seeing that movie?” “Isn’t this restaurant a bit expensive?” “Couldn’t the Pastor be visiting the hospital instead of working out?”)

The Pastor is expected to be eternally optimistic in a job that can be disheartening, and in a role that generally involves people in the worse times of their lives. All too often, the only time people seek out the Pastor is when something is wrong—sickness, death, crisis, doubt. When there’s a joyful event or victory, few think to share it with their minister.

Built-in Isolation
For decades, in most church traditions, there’s the distinct division between “clergy” and “laity.” (i.e., those who are not “called by God” into the ministry, trained, ordained...and paid!) The Pastor is different than the members. This wall of separation can make for loneliness. And the Pastor can’t truly drop their guard around a church member; time spent with church members, even in non-church settings, is still part of the job for the Pastor, so they aren’t actually “off duty.”
(Note: I'm not condoning this structure, merely acknowledging its existence.)

Even the smallest congregation is demanding and time consuming, leaving little time for outside interests or friends outside the church. And while the Pastor can be cordial to church members, it’s not a “friendship” in the traditional sense of the word. The Pastor is supposed to be impartial—everyone’s friend. In fact, most Pastoral training warns against developing friendships within the congregation as such dual relationships as fraught with pitfalls. I've had a couple of times in my ministry where I crossed that line, and there were always difficulties. (e.g., some in the church saw the friendship as favoritism; the "friends" felt they were "entitled" to a special consideration in church business) If there’s a disagreement between the pastor and these close church friends, it could impact the harmony of church. I learned that lesson the hard way as well.


Your Pastor is tasked with caring for spiritual needs of an entire congregation. It’s a job that can be draining—physically, emotionally, mentally...and spiritually.

Do you even wonder: who’s caring for your Pastor?
And how can YOU help?

In Part Two, I want to offer some suggestions.

Of course, I welcome your thoughts and insights.

 

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