10. Pastors are human and more like you than you could ever imagine.
In a panel discussion, several pastors’ wives were talking about the uniqueness of their ministries. One lady, married to a well-known evangelist, said, “I tell my man, ‘Don’t get too uppidity for me. I have seen you without your pants on!”
Some of her hearers were offended by the remark.
I wasn’t. I know the point she was making: He is a flawed, fallible human like the rest of us, and not some saintly somebody unacquainted with temptation and failings.
Here’s a test you will benefit from: Find the journals of some “truly great” man or woman of God from a past generation, and read them. Notice the paradox: at the very time the world is acclaiming him/her for holiness and Christlikeness, they themselves are struggling with inner conflicts of one kind or the other. They appear to have a leg up on intimacy with the Lord to the rest of the world, but to themselves, they are babies in the faith barely able to walk spiritually and completely at the mercy of a benevolent God.
Far from refuting their holiness, the journal affirms it. But not in the way most people expect.
Friend, you do not want as a pastor someone who has never sinned, never messed up, and never known the mercies of God. If you get a preacher who is sinless, you may discover him to be harsh and mean-spirited toward the likes of you; you are a sinner in need of grace, whereas he meets God as an equal.
As Paul said, I speak as a fool.
9. Pastors are called by God to this work, otherwise they never last.
I used to hear of preachers who were “mama-called and daddy-sent.” In time, I met one or two. They didn’t make it. The work was too hard, the expectations too high, the rewards too few.
Pastors sometimes say, almost facetiously, “I’ve sometimes doubted my salvation, but never my call to the ministry.” (I suspect that’s because, as with me, I was saved as a child but called into this work as an adult.)
The work is hard. The expectations are through the roof. And the rewards? To be honest, the pay is a lot better these days (as a rule) than when I started in the early 1960s. The perks tend to be more plentiful, and the resources more abundant.
Even so, frustrations in the Lord’s work abound. Almost daily, I receive a phone call or email from God’s servants pouring out tales of misunderstanding, harassment, strong opposition, and even persecution. Frequently, the man of God will say to me, “If this was coming from the world, I’d expect it. But these are the Lord’s people doing this. It doesn’t make sense.”
Pastors reading this are shaking their heads. They know. Their biggest headaches come not from the tavern owners or casino managers, not from politicians or bigshot business types, and not from drug pushers and drunks. The men and women who sit in the pews and on church committees and boards tend to be the source of most headaches and heartbreaks of pastors.
Only one called by God and who knows he serves the Living God, only he will last.
And some of them, honesty forces me to admit sadly, don’t make it.
8. Pastors are the point men for whatever is taking place in the church.
They receive the blame, they get the credit. Their phone number is on speed dial for most leaders of the church, particularly the ones with a gripe.
Church staff members often forget this aspect of church ministry. In fact, an immature staffer will look at his pastor with a mixture of envy and disgust, noticing how he gets the credit and the bigger paycheck and yet his workload is no bigger than ‘mine.’ Then, when and if that staffer takes a church and becomes the lead pastor, they suddenly come to a new awareness of their own stupidity. (I use the word advisedly; some have said it of themselves.)
Once in a while, as happened last week, a pastor will tell me his church is a dream job, that his people are wonderful, and that this is everything he ever hoped for in a congregation. I rejoice with him. In my spirit, I think, “But wait till you start making changes.”
7. Pastors live in a world of unfinished tasks.
When he lays his head on the pillow at night, the preacher can think of calls he needs to return, a sermon needing planning, and someone requiring a personal visit. The only way he can survive in the ministry is to turn it off and get his rest.
If he is a perfectionist and cannot sleep until “all the children are in bed,” that is, until all the loose ends are tied up, he will not make it.
The problem is far worse when the perfectionist pastor considers leaving town for a vacation. He almost panics at the thought of people needing him and he being unavailable. Unless he gains the right perspective and realizes “these people were here before I came and they will be here when I leave,” he will sacrifice his family and his health for his congregation. And end up losing them all.
6. Pastors learn to function with people angry at them or they do not survive in ministry.
I have walked to the pulpit to deliver a sermon the Sunday after nearly half my deacons tried to get me fired.
I have stood there preaching while leaders met in the foyer to figure how to send me on my way.
I have preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to people sitting with arms folded across their chests and facial scowls signaling they wanted no part of anything I had to share.
And I did it well. In fact, I venture to say my preaching on those occasions was better than normal.
There’s something exalting about knowing you are serving the Lord Jesus Christ and it’s actually costing you something. We in this land have it so easy. Most of our people are so sweet and supportive. It can do us good to experience what Paul called “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).
5. Pastors are not sent to make the church happy.
I submit that the typical pew-dweller thinks that since our congregations vote on whether to call (“hire”) a man as pastor, and since his continued employment is always conditional upon the support of the membership, his number one goal should be to make the people happy.
Big mistake. A common one, to be sure.
To be sure, there are preachers who live by that dictate, that they will always have job security if they placate all disgruntled members and never do anything to rock the boat.
They are a blight on the ministry and make things worse for the faithful.
The Lord’s servant is not sent to make the congregation happy. You will not find one single verse or even part of one saying otherwise. Instead, he is sent to make the people holy and healthy.
Yesterday, as I write, the endodontist up the street performed a root canal on one of my molars. I sat in his chair for 90 minutes, completely uncomfortable the entire time. At the end, my jaw numb, I handed his receptionist my debit card and watched as she withdrew from my checking account over a thousand dollars.
This professional man and his staff are not there to make me happy. If they were, they’d be giving me the money instead of taking it from me. Instead, they exist to make me healthy.
If your pastor does not make people unhappy from time to time–if he does not push and probe and provoke you, if he does not disturb and unsettle you occasionally–he is not being obedient to the One who sent him.
4. Pastors are sent to make the Lord happy.
“He serves at the congregation’s pleasure.” I’ve heard that applied to preachers.
The man of God exists to please only one Person, the Living God who sent Him. “To his own master he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4).
Paul said, “Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Our single prayer ought to be the one Paul offered up just outside Damascus when he first encountered the Living Christ: “What will you have me to do?” (Acts 22:10)
Now, common sense says that when we please the Lord, the people around us who love the Lord and want His will above all else will likewise rejoice. But we must not confuse the two and think the pleasure of the people is the barometer of anything.
3. Pastors tend to be loners; they shouldn’t be.
When the Lord sent forth His disciples, He sent them by twos or in even larger numbers. When the Holy Spirit called the first missionaries, He fingered Barnabas and Saul. Later, it was Paul and Silas, while Barnabas and John Mark went forth with the gospel. No one was sent alone.
I cannot say whether the lone-ranger syndrome in preachers is evidence of pride or sin or a lack of faith. All I know is that I’ve seen it in myself (especially when I was young) and encountered it in a sizeable portion of ministers through the years. During the five years I served the SBC churches of metro New Orleans as leader, pulling the pastors together to encourage one another was my heartbeat.
Last week, addressing a group of pastors and wives at a retreat in lower Alabama, I encouraged the younger men in particular to find a mentor. When asked what I would do differently if I had my half-century of ministry to do over, I answered, “I would have knocked at the door of some preacher and asked his help in figuring out how to prepare a sermon. I reinvented the wheel every week.” (That was my pre-seminary period.)
I suggest that the young pastor, in calling a veteran for help, not ask for an hour of his time, which can sound burdensome. Ask if you can buy him a cup of coffee, or ask for “Ten minutes.” If he sits longer with you, it will be his choice. Toss out an issue you need help with. I would have said to such a veteran preacher, “Pastor, how do you find a sermon? And how can I turn a text into a sermon?” I would have picked his brain for as long as he would have allowed.
Do this with several ministers, young preacher, and eventually you will find someone whom the Holy Spirit announces in your spirit as “the one.” Ease into the relationship. Call again in a few weeks to run something by him or for another cuppa joe. Let the Spirit prepare him for the longterm relationship, too.
2. Pastors are as varied as the sands on the shore. No two are alike.
Why is that important? Because your search committee is trying at this very moment to find someone just like “Old Brother Hampton who served our church when I was a child” or someone “who meets all the requirements our church voted on.”
Throw away your expectations and ask the Father whom He wishes to send to the flock of which you are a member. After all, Acts 20:28 says the Holy Spirit appoints them, not you.
By the way, Old Brother Hampton no longer preaches the way he did when you were a child. If he is still active in the ministry, he has grown and that means he has changed. (If he hasn’t, avoid him like the plague!)
1. Pastors live by prayer the way the earth depends on sunlight, the grass counts on the rain, the baby needs its mother.
Even the great apostle said, “Pray for me” (Romans 15:30-32; Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:2-3; I Thessalonians 5:25; Philemon 22. See also Hebrews 13:18.)
If Paul needed prayer, and he did, how much more you and I require that God’s people intercede for us.
So, why is it then, preacher, that we almost apologetically ask our people to pray for us?
Remember this line and teach it to your people: “Poor preaching is God’s judgment on a prayerless congregation.”
Father, it is to our everlasting shame that we pray for everything in the world before thinking to lift our pastors to Thee. Forgive us. We direct so many expectations toward them and hold them accountable when everything in church does not go to suit us. Forgive us for such foolishness, O Lord.
Our Lord, make us intercessors for Thy servants who proclaim Thy word. And free both us and them from our expectations and demands. Remind us repeatedly that a faithful preacher will often disturb us and provoke us, because his primary responsibility is to Thee and not to us.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”