Yesterday morning I started writing a post and suddenly I looked at the word counter at the bottom of the screen and it registered just over 3000 words. Brent Hobbs gave me a hard time about my tome, so I’m going to add in a short one today. Just one main point.
On February 1, 1982, I went to work full-time as a pastor and I have been employed every single day since. I’ve had some great moments as a pastor and I’ve sat with a newspaper reading the classifieds trying to find a job to feed my family so I could resign and run away. I’ve overflowed with joy and I’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death.
But there has been one constant in my three and a half decades of work as a pastor. It has been the greatest source of stress and guilt and pressure during those years.
Not once – not one single time in all those years, not even for a millisecond – have I ever finished my work!
Every single day when I lay my head on the pillow, there was more I could have done.
- One more person I could have – and should – prayed for, or written a note to.
- There was paperwork at the office.
- There was another commentary I could have consulted on my sermon.
- There was one more person I could have – and perhaps should have – visited or called or contacted.
- There was a project left undone.
- There was a person at the church who wanted some of my time who didn’t get it.
- There was someone I disappointed, someone whose expectations I did not meet.
- There are items unchecked on my to-do list.
One of the keys to perseverance in ministry is learning to live with failure, with messiness, with the knowledge that you’ve failed to meet the expectations of members or disappointed someone. If you can’t deal with that, you won’t last.
Here are some realities.
1) Pastor is not a job, but an identity. It is not something I do, but something I am.
That’s why the Bible says almost nothing about the talents and abilities of the pastor/elder in the church and devotes almost all the ink to the character of man.
2) Therefore, I am “on the job” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year!
Oh, no, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take a day off. I’m religious about my day off and I think vacations are sacred! But no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I am who I am. I am a pastor.
Years ago in Cedar Rapids I fell on some ice, cut my head open and gave myself a concussion. After the ER sowed me up, I went to the eye doctor to fix my glasses. Their words had been “If a steam roller crushes them, bring in the pieces and we’ll fix them.” When I went in that morning, concussed and miserable, they told me that this was not covered. I was furious. I sat in the waiting room and loudly (and obnoxiously) complained to my wife about the kind of lying cheats these people were. (In my defense, I had a head injury!).
Finally, the sweet little lady, whom I didn’t know, called to me and said, “Reverend Miller, it’s okay, we are going to take care of it.”
I felt like a big steaming cowpie . Never has the word “Reverend” cut so deep.
You see, concussed, stitched, injured, with broken glasses and a headache, I was still “on the job.”
3) Though I’m always on the job, I’m not SuperDave, Pastor Extraordinaire!
Like Popeye, the Sailor Man, “I yam what I yam.” I am a sinner, saved by grace in the process of transformation to be like Christ. Sometimes, in the eyeglass store, I make big messes.
Fortunately, I make fewer now than I used to. It’s called growth. I don’t understand the fascination of churches with young pastors. Honestly folks, if you could choose between young Dave or older Dave, choose older Dave – EVERY time! He’s a better pastor – less prone to fits of anger, to doing stupid things, to foolhardy choices. I may not have the energy I once had, but I also don’t have the massive amounts of cocksure self-absorption I used to have. Thank God.
It still bothers me that some people don’t like me. But I’ve just realized that there are people that don’t like chocolate ice cream. If there are people who don’t like chocolate ice cream, there will be people who don’t like me. I can’t please everyone and shouldn’t try.
4) Ultimately, I am only supposed to please the Boss.
I am accountable to my church, but ultimately, I am only responsible to please one Lord. If I please him, and my church doesn’t like me for it, tough cookies.
The biggest mistake pastors make is living to please their people. It is sin. You can be very popular with your people and not be pleasing the Father. The amen of heaven does not always come for the same things as the amen of men.
Managing human expectations and divine demands in ministry is a constant balancing act.
Ultimately, though, a pastor has to learn to live in the “messy undone.” My job is never finished. In 33 years I’ve never gotten it all complete. A perfectionistic pastor is going to come unglued eventually. We must always challenge ourselves to do more, to do better, to walk closer, to serve more faithfully, while also accepting our frailties and understanding that Christ accepts us “Just as I am.”
Find that balance pastor. Strive for excellence. Realize you aren’t perfect. And tonight, when you put your head on the pillow and start thinking about those things you didn’t do, just realize that it will be that way every day for as long as you live. That’s life. That’s ministry.
Tomorrow, I’ll get it done!