I have so many friends in the ministry all over the world, and they all seem to be dealing with the same issues. So I thought it best to do a post about the reality of ministry in our western culture. Here is a list of things that are common.
We deal with people, and that discourages us.
This may sound like odd wording, but it’s not. As pastors, we have goals. It may be to get to a certain attendance, launch a new ministry, see that a certain person accepts Christ, etc. We work constantly for these, too. We have them in mind, so everything we do seems to revolve around them. But then, reality sets in. You will get notes with no name attached, angry e-mails or calls. Bad board meetings. Arguments with church members or staff. All these things will get in the way. You will say to yourself and to trusted loved ones, “Can’t these people see I am only trying to help?” but it won’t matter. The fact will remain that people will be people, and you can’t change that. You will only remain sane when you realize we live in an imperfect and fallen world, and people will always be an example of that.
It is a lonely life.
It really can be. Being in church leadership at times feels like being in the mafia. There are so many secrets to keep about church issues and people’s lives that you feel as though you are bearing your burdens all alone. You can try to confess these things to a spouse or another loved one, but at times, it only makes it worse. When you tell them that a person has wronged you, it breeds bitterness in them as well. When you tell them even positive things, they are weighed down with the problem of secrecy as well. Also, you feel as though at times you have no real friends. It’s true. Your non-Christian friends won’t be themselves around you, and your Christian friends will either only see you as “Pastor” and want to voice spiritual things all day. They will at times feel that you are constantly wanting something from them, whether to volunteer for something, or for them to let you “fix” them. And in addition, being buddies with staff members can be difficult because you just want a break from your 70 hour a week job (on a light week) and the last thing you want to do is hang out with the people you were with all week, even in a fun setting.
You want respect.
Even if you don’t deserve it, you desperately want it. I have known guys who constantly work to please people. They will write sermons that are just funny and sad enough to make people happy. Or they will try and make as many statements that will prompt “Amen’s” as possible. This respect thing really exists with some pastors living to please the elders. I see guys who work so hard all week, and are great ministers of the gospel belittle themselves to writing up these reports that list all the awesome stuff they are doing, only to get the “well that’s nice” look from the elders.
The danger with the respect issue is that we begin to, as Paul says, “serve men rather than God.” You don’t look for what is effective. You just hope for what will please folks and get them off your back for awhile.
You feel entitled.
This isn’t uncommon among Americans, and certainly not uncommon among pastors. Deep down we feel that we are owed things. A good salary, nice house, decent material things, and, once again, respect. We are the people who are rude to the waitress who messed up our order. We are the ones who refuse to wait in lines of any sort, or believe our kids should star in everything. The problem with this is, you aren’t entitled. The early Christians were just entitled enough to die for their faith, as are many around the world today. We are lucky enough to be where we are.
You aren’t patient enough.
I am 100 percent guilty of this one. I have those goals for making an impact at South Side that I just want to happen, TODAY. You want to make this huge, holy impact for the Kingdom, but you just can’t seem to wait on it to take affect. Experts say that it takes no less that three years for your new programs to be effective, four years to gain people’s trust and five years to get your nitch and fully understand what you are dealing with. Anything less is impatient. I have had friends end church plants prematurely because of this one.
We get hurt like anybody else does.
When you hear gossip about yourself, you fail at something, get a bad note, comment or e-mail, it hurts. You take every bit of it personally. People don’t seem to realize this. Most people I have known who quit the ministry did so because of a combination of these reasons, but this one seemed to be the most common. Folks seem to think we aren’t human, but, we are. If we give a 30 minute sermon, chances are we spent 20 plus hours on it. So when we hear that you didn’t care for it, our human side takes it personally. The same goes for unfair character slander or anything else. Where we can be wrong with this issue though, is that we can dismiss our critics instead of making them our coaches. The process for me usually goes:
Step 1: Hurt Feelings
Step 2: Outright denial
Step 3: Finding reasons they are wrong and I am right
Step 4: Praying about it.
Step 5: Realizing that there is a lot of truth in those statements.
I know, steps four and five should be the only steps, but with me, they usually aren’t.
Thinking that this is a normal job.
It isn’t. I am a firm believer that no matter what your profession is, you can be called there by God. We need witnesses for Jesus in our post offices, factories, office buildings, grocery stores, hospitals, etc. What I am talking about is ministers who seem to stay and go from ministries because of what THEY want. You want better pay. You want to be treated better. You want better co-workers. You want a higher budget. You want to work for a hipper or trendier church. All these things make sense to us, but to God they are selfish and the opposite of your purpose. You are nothing more than a tool. You are a tool that Jesus is using to reach His followers and the lost. That is it. It isn’t in any way, shape or form about you. If you are thinking of leaving a job for personal reasons like the ones listed above, don’t. Pray and see what God needs out of you. Whether it is leaving or staying, make it God’s will, not yours.