Ok, I can't sleep. I talked to a pastor today who was very discouraged in his church (no it is not someone from our church and no I'm not funneling my frustrations with ministry through a made up illustration - although....). I listened to him for a while and then gave my two cents and prayed for him. Later, my pastor (who hears from the Lord in an freakish timely way when I need just what he is saying) talked about fellowship and encouragement at our Life Group leader's meeting. My heart beat fast as I thought about all the pastors out there who never feel fulfilled in their ministries. They wonder if they are making a difference and if anyone cares about what they are doing for the Lord. They feel useless, used, beat up and friendless. No one, it seems, understands their frustrations, feelings or failures.
All pastors, whether they want to admit it or not, deal with this. Some say they don't to appear more spritual than others but deep down EVERYONE wants to know if they are being effective. Every Timothy needs a Paul (every Paul needs to remember he is still a Timothy). Someone who will speak the truth but will also listen, pray and cry with you.
Most of the time pastors don't have people they can really talk with about the things they deal with. People turn to pastors for their greatest crisis', failures and tragedies but who do pastors turn to? I know, I know. Pastors are supposed to be unshakeable, monumental, and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. Nothing, not even kryptonite, shakes a pastor - right? Most pastors don't have any accountability. Most don't feel like they can truly share life with their staff. Most pastors don't have a true friend. Even most pastor's wives don't understand what their husbands are going through because they aren't involved in it like he is.
What do most pastors do then? They pretend, hide and/or become numb to what they are facing. Most pastors don't feel like they can talk with their pastor or overseers/board because they assume they'll be looked at with a boss mentality instead a commrade. One thing though that every pastor needs is another pastor to talk to - to vent with, to pour out your heart to. Only another pastor can understand better than anyone else. They've been there.
All pastors receive criticism. How do you deal with it? All criticism needs to be looked at to see if it is true and, if so, corrections need to be made. The truth is that whatever the motive is, criticism hurts. Some hurts are good (that's weird to say) but without criticism, we wouldn't grow. The thing I've noticed is that it always hurts though. I've been criticized for the house I live in, how I preach, how much time I spend with my kids and how much time I spend without my kids. I get some that say good job on decisions and others that seem mad with the same decisions. You name it, I've seen the criticism. But, when criticism comes from those who know me and love me I try to always receive it and see what the Lord would have to say to me through it. The Proverb is true that wounds from a friend can be trusted, but real pain is experienced when those who don’t know or those who think they know your intentions in ministry attack you - most of the time in a conversation with someone else (never to your face), through an email, etc. Probalby the criticism that hurts the worst is that which comes after I've labored, prayed and sought the Lord about something.
Real pain occurs when people take a segment of what you said in a sermon or in a conversation and base an entire opinion about you on that. One thing I've learned in ministry - you will be misquoted and misrepresented (mostly by Christians). It's easier for those not mature in the Lord to talk about you than come to you and ask for clarity. Why is it the only time some people talk to you is when you've done something they don't agree with? Why is it they don't tell you about the 9,999 things you've done right?
What do you do though? The feelings come: "If I get remotely upset then I'll be seen as out of control. If I just ignore it then they feel like they were in the right. If I defend myself then I'll be viewed as insecure." If someone is attacking you though, you should search yourself by much prayer, time in the Word and counsel. If you need to repent, then do it. If you were in the wrong, then take care of it. If you are right - be humble about it but do confront and use the Word as your basis for being right.
Pastors, I also know that sometimes you "can never do anything right" in some people's eyes. Your hospital visits are either too long or not long enough. Your sermons are either too shallow or too deep. You're never in the office enough for some and for others, you're in there too much and never get with people. Your decisions are gold for some and ludicrous for others. You are expected to be the expert on all topics - everybody's Bible's dictionary. You must also be available for every phone call, e-mail and every random person that happens to drop by at all hours - even if it means missing your kids ballgames or dinner with your family. When we walk through the crowd we spend too much time with some people and not enough time with others. It seems as lose-lose situation. Because of the nature of the calling, a pastor's every move is being watched and, by many, scrutinized. You don't have 9-5 working hours. The nature of your job is you need to be available 24 hours a day, but who can do that? People will place expectations on a pastor that they would never be willing to live up to themselves. If he asks for help or says he is going under, some pastors are met with, “We pay your salary, get it done!"
This is why many pastors families simply fall apart. This is why many leave the pastorate frustrated and hurt. They sheepishly give in to every expectation placed on them. They never say no and do everything for selfish people who never lift a finger to help (ever notice that those who are negative never have answers or solutions?) So, the pastor spends all his time at every church function, ignores his family, and when his kids mess up a little, they are labeled as "the pastor's kids" and gossiped about instead of prayed for.
Ok, some of this I know is exaggerated. Sometimes, these feelings we have as pastors are vain imaginations. Sometimes it is one negative or critical thing that was actually said and we interprete that to mean we've failed at everything. Let me clarify - I'm fortunate to serve at Family Church. I feel like, for the most part, I can talk with my leadership about the issues of life and the pastorate. But EVERY pastor, including me, faces times of needing another pastor who won't judge, fire, preach at, etc. (even if these feelings are unjustifable). We just need a time to vent. We DO want and should expect our pastor/overseers to hold us accountable, reign us in with scripture, correct us, confront us and tell us things no one else will. A true pastor understands another pastor and knows how and when to tell them the truth (even if they don't want to hear it or ask for it).
Some realities you need to know as a pastor are - 1)things won't always go as planned, 2) no staff or church is perfect, (nothing on the otherside is greener. if it is, is only because they have more manure) 3) your pastor and congregation probably really do care for you, 4) you are not always right and need correction, wisdom and other's opinions, 5) people will let you down, 6) people need time to process your ideas/vision, (you didn't fully understand this thing that is so big inside of you the first time, how can they?), 7) don't let everything get under your skin, and 8) pick your battles.
The biggest reality is this: If you are a pastor who is struggling DON'T GIVE UP! Jesus faced what we do in ministry and identifies with you. What you have surrendered your life to - making disciples and seeing souls saved - is worth any headache, heartache, and pain you may face.
Let me finish by saying this - I love being a pastor. What a calling! What an honor! What an adventure! I've thought about and struggled with every thought I've mentioned above. I've overcome most of them but some reoccur. I've learned to take all these thought captive unto the obedience of Christ. I've learned to talk with my leaders/pastor when they arise. I don't have it all figured out. I'm not the perfect pastor - just ask those who serve under me(on second thought, don't do that). Seriously, if you are a pastor and need an ear to bend or a shoulder to cry on, I'll do my best. I promise, like I hope all pastors would, not to agree with you in your negativity or pity party (that's not what most of us want or are doing anyway). I promise to show you the Word and not just "be on your side". Most of us desire a friend - a fellow pastor who will pray with us, challenge us and listen to us. If I can be that to you, I'll do my best. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org