Tuesday, December 9, 2014

10 Secrets Your Pastors Wish You Knew About Them

It's Christmastime, and us pastors are enjoying getting to spend that season with you and with lots of other folks who find this to be a time to reconnect with a church community after months or even years away.  It is a busy time for us, but often an enriching one as well.

To take a bit of advantage with that renewed focus, I want to share with y'all several secrets about pastors everywhere--not every pastor may have all 10 of these apply to them, but I'm willing to bet at least a few apply to almost all of us.  And as a disclaimer--not all of these apply to me, either.  These are based on both myself and on what has been confided to me by different colleagues at different times.  Nor are these necessarily a reflection of the church I serve, either.  But they are, I think, a reflection of the experiences of many pastors, and my hope is that you would take them to heart as you pray for your pastor(s) this Christmas season!  (You are praying for your pastor, right?  Even if it is for them to get a modicum of theological sense?)

1-We care about you, often more than you know..so much that sometimes, it hurts.

The tears I shed with you are real.  The hugs I give you are genuine.  I've lost sleep at times praying over and worrying over the crises happening in your life and how best I can help you and be there for you.  I'm not your pastor simply because I am paid to do it--I'm your pastor because I love doing it and I love you.  And I always will.  For as long as God continues to work in me, my prayer is that my love for the people I serve will be unchangeable.
2-Just because you stopped attending does not mean that we have forgotten about you.

Intellectually, I understand if/when a family stops attending--they move away, or a major life change has happened--but that doesn't mean it doesn't cause pain.  I sometimes find myself terribly missing people who have drifted away.  I stay in contact with them if I am able to, and I reassure them that I and the church continue to be there for them, but it's like seeing a loved one go, because, well, I love them too (see #1).  I wish I didn't have to see them go, but I have had to do exactly that.  And so, like the prophets of old, we lament and we mourn those whom we have lost.

3-Much of our work is invisible to most of the church.

Honestly, close to a majority of my work time is spent alone--my preparation for the Bible studies I teach, the writing of my sermons, my own personal prayer and study time, the returning of emails/phone calls/etc., all of those are tasks that I fly solo on, and they probably constitute half of my full-time workweek.  And as an introvert, this suits me fine, because those are periods when I can recharge after, say, an emotional hospital visit or an intense pastoral counseling session or a particularly energetic outreach day.  But those are also demanding, draining tasks in other ways as well, even if you aren't there to see them being done, which leads me to...

4-We work for God.

Our call to ministry came from God, and it is God to whom our lives are pledged in sacred service.  Everyone else--regional ministers, denominational staffers, boards of directors, personnel committees, whoever--is middle management.  That isn't to say we aren't accountable to those who manage us, because we are, and we ought to be.  It is to say, though, that our ultimate boss is, well, everyone else's ultimate boss as well, and we take guidance from God first.  Or at least we try to.  It does not mean your input is always valued, it simply means that God may have, in our prayer practices and study of Scripture and our partnerships of accountability, revealed a different direction for us to take.

5-We’re terrified that our impact in your life is limited to Sundays.

Most of your life is lived away from the confines of the church and its community presences—in your homes and workplaces, your gyms and favorite haunts, and I don’t see any of that.  Not that I want to—I’m a pastor, not a government agent—but it means that I have no way of knowing if what I am saying to you and teaching to you on Sundays is making any difference, or if you’re just going through the motions the other six days a week.  We have radar for when something might be off in someone’s life, but we’re not psychics.  If we’re making a difference in your life, let us know.  And if we’re not, conversely, let us know, and tell us (gently, please) how we might be able to.

6-We wish our churches wouldn’t sweat the small stuff.

To borrow from Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, pastors can cook up all sorts of cockamamie theories about God or Jesus or Scripture, and nobody bats an eye, but then the pastor suggests changing the color of the carpet, and everybody loses their minds!  Which is to say...we desperately want you to care about the soul-sized stuff we care about: bringing people into a right relationship with God, seeking God's will and justice and mercy in a hurting world, and about doing these things with more enthusiasm than engaging in yet another debate about which dishes do or do not qualify as 'casseroles.'

7-We have our own ministerial bete noires.

I get that we're all on the same team here, trying to offer the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.  But that doesn't mean I am necessarily on board with how every other minister does it, because I have seen how the teaching and behavior of many pastors have wounded their followers.  So whenever I see anyone sharing a quote from, say, Joel Osteen or Paula White, I have to suppress my gag reflex, because what many famous pastors teach sadly is not always a healthy form of Christianity (like Osteen's and White's prosperity gospel theology).  I know that can sound like jealousy, and for some of us, it may well be, but for others of us, it's a form of protectiveness.  (And to be honest, I am sure there are pastors who would not want to see their parishioners reading the screeds of a miscreant like me.  Probably a lot of pastors.)

8-We're learning as we go along.

I cannot begin to emphasize how much of what we do as parish pastors was not taught to us in seminary, because how seminary education works (in my experience) is to get you to think like a minister, not how to actually do ministry.  And so instead of taking classes on people management, business administration, and abnormal psychology, we can elucidate the finer points of the eschatology of asparagus during the papacy of Adrian IV.  For much of our work as pastors, there is no real instruction manual (not that it doesn't stop the pastors of megachurches from trying by writing their many, many books about how much they rock), and we have to figure out what we're doing one day at a time, which means that we are bound to make mistakes (see below).  Please forgive us when we inevitably do.

9-We're not perfect.

We're not fragile little playthings who faint or get offended the moment some utters a swear word around us--in fact, many of us got into ministry precisely because we are aware of just how dark our dark sides really are, and we know just how much we have to rely on God's love and grace to prevent ourselves from indulging in those darker parts of our personalities.  In fact, we'd just as soon rather you not edit yourselves around us--we crave authenticity, it is what we do our best work with.  So let it be one of your gifts to us.

10-We're not invulnerable.

On the contrary, we are incredibly vulnerable.  We have to be in order to put our beliefs and hopes about God on display in worship week in and week out.  We don't always show you when we're hurting, but we hurt.  Sometimes, a lot.  For the world around us, for you, and for ourselves.  For all the amazing compliments we might get from an appreciative church, it is the one nasty comment or the one passive-aggressive text message that derails us emotionally.  We can't help it.  Maybe we should.  But we can't.  Having a thick skin helps, but even the thickest of skins can be pierced by the right words.

Pastors, what do you wish your churches knew about you?  Non-pastors, what do you wish your pastor could talk to you about?  What am I leaving out on this (admittedly non-exhaustive) list?

Yours in Christ,