May 1, 2010
Telling the Truth
Pastors must be the unhappiest collection of people I’ve ever met. At least that is the feeling I came away with from a recent gathering of dedicated servants. Pastors from all over the country poured into a sun soaked California location to find encouragement and rest from their hectic schedules—taking time to reconnect with old friends, make new connections or just recline by the pool. And when pastors get together, away from their parishioners, they can actually tell the truth about their feelings toward ministry. We are overworked, underpaid, overfed and underappreciated—each of us struggling to balance our low self-esteem and our messiah complex. Most of us hold to the idea that being a pastor is not a job, it’s a calling—and all to often, a call to suffer. This calling defines us and can quickly dominate our lives and subvert all other responsibilities.
It really isn’t all that bad, is it? Pastoral burnout is on the rise (but experts have been telling us that for forty years), and infidelity and sexual addiction are no longer rare occurrences. The average tenure for a pastor is about eighteen months (depending on the denomination), and now those pastors who have survived burnout and parishioner abuse struggle to “compete” with the latest multisite McChurch now residing in the junior high gymnasium.
These are but a few tidbits I picked up at the latest gathering of my brothers and sisters proclaiming the good news, but this isn’t what scares me most. A few weeks ago I was talking with some of our youth about colleges and possible career choices, and I asked if any of the students were contemplating a call to ministry. (There’s that word call again.) No one answered. They just stared at me as if I had asked them to give up the password to their Facebook account. Not only were none of the students considering ministry, but they were also outraged that I had the audacity to even suggest it. When I asked them why, each of them gave me the same answers about the low pay, high stress, low prestige of ministry. In my fairly affluent community, low pay ranked as the first reason (which is a topic for another day).
These students did not attend a ministerial gathering and hear pastors being honest about church life. They had absorbed this attitude from my preaching, teaching and interaction. I won’t take full credit for their feelings—there are other members of the staff to blame too. I would wager that your students feel the same (or at least have similar leanings).
I absolutely understand the need to have opportunities to vent about our frustrations—my wife understands that need too. But we must also celebrate the joy that comes from serving our Lord and his church—from holding a newborn to celebrating the resurrection at a dear friend’s funeral. We must remember the smiles we bring when we visit those shut-ins who rarely see anyone or when holding our friend’s hand while she awaits the results of a biopsy. We have the best job in the world; we get paid to help make our friends’ lives better. We get paid to love people.
I often complain about my job, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything—I hope the kids in my youth group read this. (I hope yours do too.)
“Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).