Sitting around with a group of friends this morning on our collective ‘day off’,
Sipping Macca’s coffees and whiling away a few hours together.
We are all pastors and our conversations soon turn to the meetings over the weekend,
What the Lord is saying and doing,
How He moved in our lives and the lives of those in our congregations.
It’s the language of our vocation,
It’s the code of our calling.
It’s a sacred space and one that I have grown to value more and more.
These are the small huddles that set a precedent for future success.
It’s so much about who you do life with and how you are able to share authentically together.
Pastoring is unlike any other profession I know.
Being a second generation pastor, I feel I’ve learnt some stuff.
I’ve seen it from the inside.
I’ve known the beauty and the beast of the job.
That’s why you need to know you are called to it.
You see the underbelly and heartaches of lives that many don’t see on the surface and you have to continue through everyday life,
Somehow trying to share the burden with them whilst keeping your own heart strong.
You don’t expect the level of complexity in terms of conflict, complications, people issues, discouragement and sadness that you encounter when starting out in ministry.
You try to reconcile that you serve a God who promises joy and success and victory and love,
Yet many pastors’ everyday is filled with the very real trials of financial strain, losing ‘sheep’, sorting conflicts and navigating people’s heartaches, constantly looking for solutions.
Add to that the pressure to have your own family the model of perfection and your own marriage a picture of bliss and a Cinderella like fairytale.
It’s a tough gig and that’s why I have the utmost respect for any and every pastor on the planet.
Pastors, even though human, are expected to live like they are superhuman,
And at a level that is more moral, more perfect and more Christ like.
And yes, we strive to because we are driven that way.
We have Jesus, but we are not superstars.
We are in need of the same God that gives grace and that heals and extends mercy as much as anyone in our congregations.
Pastoring is the only vocation where many people measure your success by how big your congregation is.
I personally don’t espouse to this rating, but I know many do.
A year ago, I went from having a congregation of around 50 to taking on a church of nearly 500,
I know what it feels like to be the pastor looking at the doorway, wishing more people would come in,
To having to get more chairs out because you have too many people.
The problem with measuring your success on how big your church is,
Is that people can change their minds.
Only 15% of congregations consider themselves core members,
That means the other 85% can pretty much determine where and when they want to spend their Sundays,
And if it’s not with you then it will be with some other church down the road,
Or at the park enjoying a picnic.
But Pastors are expected to be there for everyone when they need someone,
Because that’s their job.
Pillar of faith in the autumn, summer, winter and spring seasons of others’ lives.
I love what Sam Chand says:
‘Pastors are present in the three most critical events of a person’s life: hatch, match and dispatch.’
They celebrate births, mourn deaths and marry people.
They rejoice, grieve, weep with, celebrate with the ones they call their sheep.
But at the drop of a hat,
Their role can change as those they shepherd make decisions to move on.
And that’s ok too.
It’s ok to move churches as people transition into new spaces and new seasons.
‘Pastors are exposed to the dreams and dreads of people at every stage of life. In the span of an hour, a pastor may receive several glowing reports and as many messages about tragedies. This role in the lives of families is an incredible honour, but it produces tremendous pressure and often excruciating pain. If they aren’t careful, the cumulative pain can crush the life out of them – figuratively and literally.’
It makes for a high pressure life,
And definitely one streaked with uncertainty.
No wonder 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry,
And that 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
The average size of an Australian church is 70 people.
What happens when you hit that number and don’t move forward,
Which is a very likely possibility.
What do your measures of success then become?
That’s why you have to be rooted and grounded in who you are in Christ as a determiner of your success.
You get that right, it all changes.
The questions you ask yourself change.
They become more like:
‘Do I measure my worth by the size of my church or by the depth of my relationship with Jesus?’
‘Are the external expectations of people pleasing and numbers growing wearing me down,
Or do I find my security in the harbour of His presence and His finished work?’
‘Can I equally engage and detach with those I am pastoring, or do I feel I am responsible for them 24 hours?’
A healthy inner life of a pastor needs to be able to move in and out of these complexities of leadership,
Knowing when to push in and when to let go,
Knowing when to confront and when to ignore,
Knowing when to preserve and when to sacrifice,
Knowing when a problem needs to be solved or when a tension needs to be managed (my husband’s latest amazing phrase).
It’s critical for pastors to have others in their ‘profession’ who they can talk and share candidly with,
Without fearing judgement or criticism,
But who they can exchange stories of good and bad and have a laugh with,
To help each other courageously move forward when they’ve taken another hit,
And to share one another’s victories.
I celebrate pastors.
I am honoured to call them my brothers and sisters.
Especially on Mondays.