This is the first of a three part series on pastors—part 1 called “In Praise of Pastors,” part 2 called “What does a pastor do?” and part 3 entitled, “How to Bless Your Pastor.” Now that I am no longer a senior pastor, I can post this without self interest.
The call to be a pastor is a high and holy privilege; but the actual job is no piece of cake. It is one of the greatest callings in the world. Yet it is also one of the most challenging callings in the world.
Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, once said that the four hardest jobs in America are—(and these are not necessarily in order), the president of the United States, a university president, the CEO of a hospital and the pastor of a large church. When I read that, I felt some degree of comfort—i.e. I’m glad someone else understands, even if few in the church do.
It’s been said that to be a pastor you must have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros! Why? Because you will never please everybody. Sooner or later you will be criticized for falling short in some way. And if you do what is right, Jesus said you will be opposed. So you need thick skin for this job!
Not only that, the expectations these days for being a pastor are enormous. Consider what one pastor wrote about the job description of the average pastor: “I’m to be a strong administrator, a charismatic leader, an inspiring preacher, an effective teacher, a wise and empathetic counselor, a person of vision and a public presence. I reach out, welcome, visit, marry, baptize, and bury. I’m to affirm, encourage, exude holiness and sensitivity, chair committees, keep up on my reading, stay relevant, use humor, thrive on “constructive” criticism, prepare tow sermons a week, work when everybody else is celebrating, and be available 24.7. Oh, and be a model spouse and parent to show what a prize family looks like.”
These days, pastoral work is more complex than ever. You have to wear many hats–to oversee worship, to preach and teach, to administer or supervise pastoral care, to counsel those in need, to bring an entire church to spiritual maturity, to lead the charge in evangelism and outreach, to ably oversee the ministries of the church, to promote stewardship, to represent the church to the community, and to promote the overall health of the church. In all this, hours are long (you are never off duty). If you are a teaching pastor, the pace is relentless. When the holidays come, your job does not slow down, but actually picks up. And if you happen to be the solo pastor of a small church without any staff, you most likely fix toilets, furnaces, and leaky roofs, you are your own secretary, the one and only fundraiser, and run the food pantry.
The world does not value the role of the pastor as it once did. And these days it often seems like the church does not appreciate the important role of the pastor. Is it any wonder that pastors regularly question their callings and the dropout rate of pastors is so high. One study by Lifeway Ministries said that for every 20 people who go into the pastorate, only one retires from the ministry. The reason so many do not make it to retirement is because they are either burned out, fired, have some kind of breakdown or just plain quit.
During this Pastor Appreciation Month (October, in case you forgot), I’d like to affirm the role of the pastor. I happen to think it is one of the most important jobs and one of the highest callings anyone could ever have. In saying this, I am not belittling other callings. I am just reminding you that so much depends on the influence of the pastor.
Think of it—churches are kingdom outposts. Pastors are called to lead the charge as they proclaim the gospel and advance the kingdom in their communities.
Or think of it this way. We may worry about the direction of the nation’s politics. But politics is a reflection of culture. Culture is determined, to a great extent by its moral fabric. But that moral fabric is affected by the faith of the people. In other words, faith is the bedrock foundation for a society. It is churches which shape that faith. And it is pastors which shape the church. It was the Puritan writer Richard Baxter who said, “all church rise and fall as the ministry (the pastorate) doth rise or fall…” In other words, as the pastor goes, so goes the flock.
God has two armies. He ordains the state to bear the sword to keep order and restrain evil. But God also ordains the church as a spiritual army. It engages in a conflict that is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. It goes forward by those who wield the sword of the Spirit—which is the Word of God. Its greatest asset is the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. What other institution is entrusted with such a call and with such a treasure?
In his timeless classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan (an imprisoned pastor at the time) portrays the pastor with great esteem. Before the wayfaring pilgrim named Graceless comes to the cross, he enters Interpreter’s House. There the Spirit shows him what will be profitable to him. He sees the picture of a person—it is a pastor –whose eyes are lifted up to heaven, the best of books is in his hands, the law of truth is written on his lips, the world is behind his back. He stood as if he pleaded with men and a crown of gold did hang over his head. Bunyan says, this man can beget children (!) and nurse them when born. He is the only one the Lord has authorized to be his guide in all the difficult places on the way.
Because of the role of the pastor is so critical, I believe that pastors are regularly in the scope of sniper fire from Hell. They have, as it were, a great big target on their backs. The one named Diabolos, who throws himself against the cause of Christ would like nothing more than to sift and destroy its leaders, (as he did Peter) because he knows of their strategic importance for kingdom work.
That’s why I think Pastor Appreciation month is so important. Friends, we’ve got to double our efforts to bless and affirm our pastors. In the next two posts, I will tell you a little more about the role of a pastor, and how we might affirm them.