Pastoral Ministry; Some lessons learned

This thing called “pastoral ministry” is a unique and odd vocation.  There are privileges and honors that come with it that are amazing and humbling to take part in as well as challenges, frustrations, anxieties that can be crushing.

Some things I have learned this year (in no logical order) …

  • One of the privileges of pastoral ministry is getting called into important and significant life situations.  To be called into end of life type moments, weddings, counseling, emergencies, child births is always humbling.  These things also bring some perspective to the other mundane or petty things (and people) that pastors deal with.
  • Unfortunately, rarely do people have the emotional maturity to speak directly to you when they have a problem with something you’ve done, said, or failed to do.  Emotionally immature people simply talk to others about it and harbor resentment which eventually eats them up.
  • Many disappointments with pastors come when they do not meet unspoken expectations that usually have little to do with what pastors are called to do.  Unfortunately, pastors are not mind-readers and will fail to live up to expectations consistently.  Sometimes this disappointment out of ignorance of their own vocation, sometimes out of ignorance of the congregations idea of the pastors calling.
  • The people who complain the most usually give the least (of themselves, of their money, or their time.)  I’ve learned to give less and less time to the complainers and more and more of my time to those who are teachable, desire growth, and can be depended on.  In church many times, the loudest or most needy voice gets the attention but I’ve tried to reverse that as of late.
  • On the occasion that an individual leaves the church (for whatever reason), you can always tell how invested they were depending on the number of people who ask, “Hey, what happened to …”  It’s amazing to see some people leave who have been around for 2 or 3 years and no one says a word.  That speaks loudly and makes me realize they were simply attenders and not participants.
  • I’ve learned lately that I need to do a better job of protecting my family and be more discerning of who I bring into our home to interact with our children.  It’s hard to invest in individuals for a years only to have them vanish or lose their mind and have Gram ask, “Where is….?”  I’m not sure what to say.  “Uh, so and so thought their relationship with us was less important than their consumer preference?”  That may sound snarky, but many times it is true.
  • I better understand why pastors want to soften scripture or make it say something less than what it says.  It’s hard to preach faithfully what scripture teaches week after week.  It’s such a countercultural message that someone is offended almost every week.  What fun!
  • I get a sense that people expect pastors not to have an opinion on anything.  They must remain neutral in regard to every issue in life and can have no personal opinion.  If they do have a personal opinion that they express face to face or on a blog, etc. and it does not match mine, then we’ve got trouble folks. How can I listen to a pastor’s teachings on the Bible on Sundays if he believes the opposite of what I believe about politics, gender, any other issue under the sun?
  • I have also stopped chasing people down who are drifting away.  I can’t help but think of the story when Jesus let the “rich young ruler” walk away.  When people disappear I am always concerned and will usually give a phone call, email, or something.  But when people are not responsive or clearly do not want to talk, I let them go.
  • Some really live with the belief that the pastor should be perfect in all they do.  Pastors/Elders are certainly held to a high standard.  But sometimes we screw up.  Sometimes we lose our cool, sometimes we say something dumb, sometimes we are wrong.  But when people live by this false notion, they are not very quick to or are completely reluctant to show grace.  When that happens and those people leave to go find their next pseudo-savior, it honestly comes as a relief!
  • This year I have also come to recognize the extent of my brokenness.  It doesn’t take too long before you are able to recognize the quality of person you are depending on how you feel about people and how you respond internally to criticism or crazies.  Part of my realization of this has come through the work I’ve done with the Enneagram.  As Richard Rohr said, if you want to be flattered by a personality test, you should look elsewhere.  I’ve started to recognize my driving motivations and patterns of behavior that are unhealthy and repent of those things.  It’s been tough work but incredibly valuable for my marriage, friendships, and vocation.

2 thoughts on “Pastoral Ministry; Some lessons learned

  1. Regarding point #4: I once confronted a pastor on the things I felt were lacking in our church– he casually responded, “well, which one do you want to lead?” Bam. I got called out in a serious way. I spent the next 7 years volunteering (perhaps even over-volunteering) with almost all programs offered by that church…

  2. Hey Dustin,
    Good stuff in this. We had a pastor who once told me that he often did not respond immediately to every minor crisis in the church, as he had found that in most cases things kind of took care of themselves. I suppose that in reality, having the discernment to know when to get involved and when not to is the key. Re those who walk away – I guess that it is hard for you to not go after them, but I have found that when people reach that point, for whatever reason, it really is a waste of effort to try and talk them out of it. I’ve seen this with church attendance, divorce, political affiliation, etc. and it brings to mind the old Franklin saying, “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” Our wills seems to be much stronger than our intellect when it comes to issues such as these. On the other hand – Jesus spoke of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go and bring back the 1 that had gotten lost. Obviously, though, in this case, the sheep did not deliberately choose to get lost. Maybe that’s a good starting point when dealing with the “drifters”?

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