10 random order difficult things I didn’t know would be difficult when I became a pastor

  1. Watching people walk away from Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people pray and pray and pray for some blessing from God (often someone of the opposite gender, sometimes an opportunity or some silly material thing) and then, when God gives them their desires, it is revealed that God was not their desire but merely a means to their desire. Every single time I watch someone walk away from Jesus (in disobedience) it makes my stomach physically hurt. It sucks. It is always happening.
  2. Having normal conversations. If you are a man, you know the opener question in any conversation is going to be about your job. Try telling someone you are a pastor and see if they suddenly have to exit the conversation. It’s nutty, but I get it. People are suddenly replaying the conversation in their head to see if they cussed. What ends up happening is I avoid asking what they do for a living, so that they don’t ask me. Instead I lead with questions like, “Dang, isn’t quantum mechanics complicated?!?” or “Can you believe the number of birds being killed by the vacuums created directly behind those electrical power generating wind turbines?” or I just yell “Pinko &%#$ Commie!”. They all have the same effect.
  3. Relaxing. For real, I have serve the craziest, bravest, boldest church I’ve ever known. There are people in our church who are just amazing and lives that are being completely transformed. I love every day of my life, and I get so much energy out of leading people who serve our church and our community that I would do this 24/7 if my body could handle it. I do rest though, (and I do sleep!) because I know that it will hurt people if I burn out. So by resting, I’m actually helping. How strange is that!
  4. Not doing everything. Since I basically love everything about our church I would do everything, but (as we have learned, sometimes the hard way) then nothing gets done. If I try to do everything and make every decision I become a bottle neck for The Grove. I limit the Grove if I greedily try to be involved everywhere. When I give the Grove away, it is so much better! There’s also a weird expectation that some people have that the pastor knows everything about what is going on in the church. I think it might be because in the average sized church, that can be true. In larger organizations, though, there’s no way senior leaders can know everything . It’s through trust (not control) that the organization is able to grow and move quickly. For pastors this means trust in God and trust in people.
  5. When people leave. Some people have left the Grove because of my preaching, without having the stones to have a conversation with me. That only bothers me because, as their pastor, I haven’t taught them to have stones. The real people leaving that bothers me is when people leave because they “fit somewhere else better” or “this just isn’t home for us”. The actual reason this hurts is because they are right (for whatever reason) and so I have to choose to either think they are stupid, or admit that The Grove isn’t God’s gift to all humanity. It’s pretty easy to see which of those is more Christlike, but dang if it ain’t the more difficult way!
  6. Complexity. I like when theology fits into pretty categories and I can make fancy blog posts about it. Life is so easy when we ignore reality. In real life though, it’s hard to know where people are at and what people are thinking. It’s hard to know what is a doctrinal preference and what is biblical and what to do in a specific situation. It’s even harder when there are vocal people in your ear on both sides. It’s hard when you can make a decision that will blow up (in a positive way) on area of the the church, but the primary cost will be borne by another ministry area in the church. Life is so much more complex when you try to live in the way of Jesus without settling for a legalistic set of rules and doctrines that provide more safety than effectiveness.
  7. Pressure to rush. I move really, really slow on important stuff. Which means our church moves slow on important stuff – even though we move quickly in general. I would rather make the right decision than 4 wrong decisions to reveal the right one. For light stuff, I move quick; when it’s a no-brainer, I don’t think a lot. This makes the larger challenge identifying what’s important and what’s not. Nevertheless, there’s often a lot of pressure to make decisions. Sometimes this pressure is real and affects people, so it’s actually difficult to move slowly and still demonstrate care.
  8. When friends leave the ministry. Being a pastor involves a weird set of experiences and reality that many people just don’t get to experience. The same sort of camaraderie that you see among cops, firefighters and soldiers you can often find among pastors (except the pastors are more often overweight, wearing sweater vests and penny loafers). So pastors often develop unique friendships with other pastors who work alongside them which makes it incredibly difficult to see friends end up leaving vocational ministry. In just a moment’s thought I can identify almost 10 friends who were pastors and aren’t now. Most of the time, it’s a choice, not a scandal. It’s often just a wearing down that eventually breaks and they walk away. Whenever I hear about another friend getting out, it’s harder on me than I think it should be. I look for blame, I look for solutions, I even look to see if I know a spot where they could have a great experience and not walk away. It’s a weird feeling and it affects me in a unique way.
  9. When I make the wrong decision. More than once since we’ve started The Grove, I’ve had to go to people and apologize for decisions that I made that were wrong. I didn’t know they were the wrong choice when I made them and I had no malice, but I was wrong. For a high intensity, driven leader type of person that is so hard. My sinful nature wants to just ignore it, or justify myself with self-righteousness. It’s ugly. I do admit that there is an amazing amount of freedom in sitting in a friends’ living room and apologizing and being forgiven – for honest and poor decisions. It completely takes away my fake awesomeness that I parade around and lets people know who I am honestly. However, that freedom comes at a deep price because I have made a bad call and need to humble myself. For me, that’s difficult because even though other people make mistakes, I don’t. Surely I wouldn’t have taken that apple from Eve, right! Right…… This is a difficult lie my sinful nature tells me. The truth is in Jesus though, and Jesus is all about redemption, restoration, renewal and revival!
  10. Terror. It is terrifying to me that adults – grown, mature, smart adults – listen to what I say and then live in the way of Jesus accordingly. I recently had a friend send me a message about how a sermon I preached in 1999 was so helpful in her life. That is so amazing. To think that God could use someone like me to do such incredible stuff is just trippy – I wonder if God is sure about this part of his plan? I know that this could be easily a silly thing, like a fake humility, but it’s real. I have friends who listen to my preaching online during the week. People in our church get together and talk about the sermons I give on Sunday. People are trusting me to help them understand life and follow Jesus. For real, if I screw this up and they get to heaven and Jesus questions them, people are going to say, “Our pastor told us…” – and then Jesus is going to have some really big questions for me! The Bible talks about how teachers will be judged more severely, and I take that to heart. God, who says he knows what he is doing, has decided to work through my life and my teachings into this small band of people in this generation and because I fear God that is the most serious decision that affects my life and my prayers.
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2 thoughts on “10 random order difficult things I didn’t know would be difficult when I became a pastor

  1. James, this is great reflective stuff and I greatly appreciate your willingness to be honest in sharing it (BTW, much of what you share applies to the role of community college president as well!).

    Of course, your “job” is not to tell us what we want to hear but, instead, to tell us the Truth (one of my all-time favorite books is Frederick Buechner’s “Telling the Truth” – written specifically to pastors for all the reasons you have shared). If you are only making me comfortable, then you’re probably not helping me to grow….

    Finally, don’t ever worry about my thinking something is true just because my pastor says it is…. I respect you too much to do that.

    Greg

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  2. Number 8 is the hardest of your list on my list for sure. I, too, have seen entirely too many walk away. I have a friend who had lunch with a bible school professor doing research on this very subject. Somthing like 85% of doctors retire as doctors. Something like 85% of pastors don’t. So I guess we will see a lot of those friends walk away. But it sure is difficult.

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