It happened again several weeks ago, and it made me want to punch a hole in my computer screen. Thankfully, I had the restraint not to do so. Computers aren’t cheap. I was perusing my Facebook feed, and there it was—that link staring me in the face: An article at some blog talking about how pastoring is the most difficult thing you can do.
Let me just state now to all you nurses, farmers, overnight factory workers, underpaid school teachers, etc., I apologize that such blogs exist. (I’m married to a nurse, I’ve pastored farmers and heard their stories, I know overnight blue-collar workers—including my dad before he retired, and am good friends with some underpaid school teachers. Believe me when I say that as a pastor: I have very little to complain about.)
Now pastor-brothers, some of you might say: Well good for you, but you don’t know my situation. No, I’m not in your shoes, but I’ve walked some hard roads alongside you. I’ve done the bi-vocational thing, and frankly as a full-timer now, I have mad respect for faithful, hardworking bi-vo guys. You put a lot into all that you do. I’ve also had to put up with surly deacons whose salvation I question, had my character ripped to shreds, and was given a choice: “Resign and we’ll give you a severance, or be fired and we’ll give you nothing.” Horror story churches like that do exist, but in my experience they’re the exception and not the rule.
Does the job of the pastor have some difficult moments? Of course. There are time, family, and emotional tolls that you pay. It is an investment to sit with a hurting family who lost a loved one, or to help them bury their newborn daughter (an experience I pray to never repeat). There are occasions where you find out the dark secrets of someone’s life and you’re thrust into the middle of dealing with them. Those occasions often make you long for the ignorance you had of such matters before you became a pastor.
And any pastor worth his weight in fried chicken knows (which for me would be about $1300 in Buffalo Wild Wings traditional wings, don’t ask me how I know this): There is that verse in Hebrews 13 about having to give an account for the people we lead. With some church-people that’s a wonderful verse and for others that should scare us a bit, or a lot.
Yet, still, there are many good things about being a pastor that make it far from the hardest job you could ever have. Here’s a few:
First, you get paid to spend time with Jesus. My wife and I had this discussion. It’s a struggle for her (and for many other hard working people I know) to set aside all the time she would like to spend reading her Bible, praying, and reading other helpful books on the Christian life. Yet for a pastor, that’s our main job. We get paid (and 1 Timothy 5:17-18 say that it is good for a church to pay her pastors) to spend time with Jesus (following the example of the apostles, the first pastors of the Jerusalem church, we’re to “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” – Acts 6:4) and to take what we learn and feed and train the souls of others (Ephesians 4:11-12, 2 Timothy 4:1-2).
Now, of course, to balance this we’re not to do what we do with the sole motivation of getting paid. We’re not to be hirelings. So for this to be a good thing, we have to be faithful and seek to shepherd well, but if we (and especially us full time guys) are struggling with time in the word and prayer, then we need to reevaluate the hours of our work days.
Second, you have the privilege of leading eternal investments in people’s lives. I’m a firm believer that the Great Commission is for every Christian. All of us are to take part in being discipled and making disciples, however this looks on a personal level for us. But, as Ephesian 4:11-12 says, we pastors are to be leaders in this. We’re to be on the frontlines of discipleship, heading the charge as we train others for the task. When a person dies, only one thing will matter: That person’s relationship with Jesus. Our job is all about Jesus, so our focus needs to be all about these eternal investments.
My college pastor and one of my main mentors in pastoring, Ronnie, taught me that people in the church fall into four categories: VIPs, VTPs, VNPs, and VDPs. The VNPs, or Very Nice People, are the ones that will frustrate you with kindness. They’re nice, they’ll never say a bad word about you or your sermons or your families, and they’ll even have you over for dinner and do it all with a smile, but that’s about it. They’re probably saved, but they don’t have a penny’s worth of interest in growing in their salvation. You can encourage them all you want, and they’ll just keep on in the comfort zone of being nice. You’re responsible for their souls, so you keep pressing on, keep praying for them, and keep being thankful for their niceness; but you don’t plan on them becoming pillars of the church.
VDPs, or Very Draining People, are the ones who sap your energy. Maybe it is through criticism. Maybe it’s because they think they need a pastoral visit for a hangnail. Maybe it’s because they think midnight is an appropriate time to call to challenge you on a theological issue. Maybe… okay, you get the picture. These are the few people whose presence are like fingernails on a chalkboard in your life. They often seem larger in number than they really are because of how loud they can get. If you let them, they’ll demand 80% or more of your time. So, you have to be disciplined and bold, and make sure that collectively they don’t get more than 20% of your available people-time. Sometimes we question their salvation, but we need to remember that infants and toddlers throw loud fits. You’re still their pastor, so you need to shepherd them, but you can’t let them drain you.
Then there’s the VIPs and VTPs—the Very Important People and the Very Trainable People. These are the pastor’s dream people. The VIPs are the ones who get it. They love Jesus, they love his word, and they love serving others. Sometimes their zeal needs properly channeled, but for the most part you can point them to resources, encourage their lives, and free them to serve, and they’ll do it well. The VTPs are the ones who have potential to be VIPs but need a little more engagement, focus, and teaching to get there. These are excited about their faith, eager to grow, but still young in it. It is these two groups that should get the majority of the pastor’s people-time. After all, not only are you making eternal investments in their lives, but they are going to make investments in your life and in the lives of many others out there.
Third, you get to play a major role in important life-events. This past Saturday I had the privilege of officiating a wedding. If we’re being honest, all of us pastors have some weddings we perform out of duty; but this one was a joy. Over the past seven years, I have had an investment in the life of the groom, including discipling him one-on-one for part of that time. When he and his bride asked if I would lead it, there was zero hesitation. My prayer is that they both live long, full lives together as a couple. That would produce 60+ years of marriage, and I am the guy who signed the papers, counseled with them, and preached the sermon to kick it off.
Then there are funerals. Every person who is born only gets one funeral (well, except Lazarus). With weddings, I prefer to officiate only if I know either the bride or the groom. So, I have said no quite a bit. With funerals, it is rare for me to ever turn one down. Now, again, some funerals are easier to do than others. When a faithful, Jesus-loving church member passes on, it is a great honor to be able to stand up and talk about Jesus and his or her life. When the funeral is for someone you know never knew Jesus or someone who is a stranger to you, they’re harder to do, but it is still an opportunity to speak to the hearts of hurting people. In both the weddings and the funerals that I officiate, Jesus is center.
I’ve never been asked to do one and to not mention or just briefly skirt by Jesus and the gospel. If I ever am, I will say, “Sorry, but I’m not able to do your service.” I’m a pastor, after all, not a motivational speaker.
Weddings and funerals, and even things like Baccalaureate, are important life events that you get asked as a pastor to be a part of. Even better, at these events, you typically get to speak about Jesus to a crowd of people from different life and faith backgrounds. What a mighty opportunity! And let’s also not forget the chance to hold a newborn and pray with his or her parents—that one is just awesomely sweet.
In conclusion… I started this post expressing that I’m tired of the “pastoring is the hardest thing you’ll ever do” posts. I stand by that. It has its difficult moments, and some are very difficult indeed. But the good things of pastoring, like these three that I’ve listed and more if space allowed, by far make up for the difficult things. As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:1, “If anyone spires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” It’s a high calling, brothers, and one that has more ups than downs.
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