I’m the only member of my immediate who has never worked in full-time ministry. My little sister, her husband, my dad and my older sister’s husband have all been in or are in full-time ministry. By default, my older sister and mom have also practically been on the church staff full time, as ministers’ wives will understand.
Because of this, I’ve observed a lot about pastors and their jobs and their lives. Part of the reason I’m not in full-time church work is because I know it is very very hard and, honestly, I don’t think I’m cut out for it.
In ministry, the line between work and personal life is almost invisible. That means, you are always on. Responding to a text from a distressed teen after 10pm, going to a graduation party, attending a wedding for a couple in your congregation—these are all good things and normal to the average eye, but in many ways, they are also your work. Going to stuff and having intentional conversations, it’s your job, so you have to be extra good at it. You have to be on.
My job is easy. I work during the day; I shut it off at night. I go to a party if I want to and I don’t go if I don’t want to. And if I go and don’t want to be there, I’m lame and talk to one person and leave. I’m allowed to do this, to make my social life what I want it to be. But for pastors? That’s not really a luxury.
I’ve heard crazy stories about pastors being asked to lunch by members of his congregation only to be berated for his last sermon. I’ve seen people saying mean things about pastors on the internet, shaming them for their mistakes. Getting mad at them for being human and broken, like the rest of us. (To that, all I have to say is, he probably has a daughter, and she could go without seeing and hearing cruel things about her father online.) I’ve seen hints of defeat and tiredness in so many pastors’, youth leaders’ and ministers’ lives. I’ve talked to friends who have felt burned out and depressed. The call to ministry is truly a unique call, and the work of pastors takes more from them than regular types of work.
I sat down with my dad recently to interview him for a story in a magazine. It was fun and weird to really ask my dad about his job. We don’t do this often as children, ask our parents about their day-to-day work, how they got to where they are in their careers. We care more about their job as our parents than we do about their jobs out in the world. My dad has been in full-time ministry for about 37 years. That’s a long time, but there is nowhere he would rather be. He had funny and positive stories to share. It made me think about other kind, humble pastors I’ve come across. For them to still have a positive attitude so many years into the ministry, I’m finally starting to feel blown away by that.
Everyone wants everything from his or her pastor. The single people in the church want to feel included. The married people want to feel included. The children want to feel included. The teens want to feel included. We all want our pastors to give us this special place, just for us. I’ve seen my family members get pulled in different directions and I’ve seen this happen to my friends. Rather than seeking out a place to serve on our own, we want our church leaders to do it for us. When they could really use a note of encouragement, we send them an email criticizing how that weekend’s youth retreat went. They rarely receive encouragement from the people they need it from the most: us, their congregation.
So right now, I’d like to say something to the pastors I know and to the pastors I don’t. You’re going a great job. Truly, you are. You made ten people happy last week and that left two people grumbling in the corner and that’s ok. Don’t worry about them. Don’t about us. We’re grumblers and we’re good at it. I consider your job sacred. Really. I couldn’t do it. Most of us couldn’t do it. Thank you for doing it. For listening to us and reading all the emails and creating lessons and sermons that impacted our lives. Thank you for studying scripture and reading the theology books that I don’t understand. Thank you for being at our stuff and being there for us, our friends, and our kids. Thank you for going to the bedsides of the dying and the baptisms of the living. I don’t know all that you do when you step off the pulpit, how much your job continues throughout the week, but know that your job as a spiritual leader is considered great, and you are doing a great job at it.