As Wednesday is my official “weigh-in” day for Take Shape For Life, I thought that I would do a different sort of “weigh-in” on my blog. Wednesdays will provide an opportunity for others to “weigh-in” on topics of faith and ministry. Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear from some folks directly involved in pastoral ministry and the wonderful ways in which God has worked through them and, at times, in spite of them to make a difference in this world.
Today, I’m welcoming someone very near and dear to my heart; my husband, soul mate, life partner, BFF and ordained United Methodist pastor, Chris. Chris’ article is a response to some recent negative posts he’s seen about what it means to be in ministry. Here are his words….
If it was easy …
I hate to start a note with a complaint, but lately I have become more than a little ashamed of some of my clergy colleagues. Over the past couple of weeks and months, I have seen, be it on Facebook or through emails, including from denominational sources, blog posts or other articles about how hard life in ministry is and how misunderstood clergy are. These articles are typically done in list format, such as “Seven Surprises Since Becoming a Pastor,” or, “The Five Things Your Pastor Wishes You Knew But Would Never Tell You,” and “I Love My Job, But …”
These articles are typically written by people of my generation who, while entering into ministry, were told they could change the world. They came in with the idea that, because of their office and education they should be treated a certain way. Many clergy, myself included, enter into congregational ministry with a naïve understanding of what we are getting ourselves into – long hours, lots of criticism, public spotlight, emotional exhaustion, meetings, meetings, meetings, denominational requirements and obligations that don’t always make sense, and generally a lot of work that doesn’t feel a lot like building the Kingdom.
Here’s a secret to my clergy friends who are so quick to write or pass along these articles complaining or just stating the difficulties of pastoral life – every job is hard, that is why it is called work. Teachers, doctors & nurses, emergency personnel, customer service people, waitresses, flight attendants, etc. – all have to work with the general public and deal with the general public and receive very few thank yous. Our culture has become overwhelmed with people who all think they know how to do our job better than us, no matter what industry we are in.
The reality is, we think our congregation members don’t understand us because ministry is so hard, but I think ministry being as difficult as it is helps us to better understand those we are called to minister to. If pastoral ministry was easy, we wouldn’t need to be called to it. We are called to be spiritual leaders, organizational leaders, fundraisers, chaplains, community organizers, teachers, mentors, sounding boards, counselors, custodians and prophets. This isn’t an easy calling, but it shouldn’t be.
Throughout Scripture we are told over and over that Jesus doesn’t call us to an easy life, but it will be rewarding nonetheless. I don’t imagine any of the Old Testament Prophets ever wrote a blog talking about how misunderstood they were and how much they wish the people God had sent them to would just be nice to them. Peter didn’t complain that people always looked to him for leadership, even on his “day off.” Paul seemed to understand that part of his role was to take the criticism of those he was called to lead, even when it hurt.
Clergy friends, we have the greatest job in the world – other than maybe being a professional baseball player. There are so many days where I am in my office or out in the community or preaching a message and the thought goes through my head, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!” I love my job. And yes, I have been in hard roles, places that have made me question my calling and my faith.
I have been called names, lied about and to, criticized for things I’ve done and not done, been accused of things I would never even consider doing or saying, been told I don’t have the right to my own opinion or feelings, and worst of all, I’ve had my family attacked because of a mistake I made. I understand that it is difficult always being on – I’d love to go to a family gathering or a church supper and not be the one always expected to say the meal blessing. I’d love to go to the grocery store and not have people be embarrassed to see me because they have a case of beer or bottle of liquor in their cart. I’d love to have people not change how they behave around me the moment I reveal to them that I am a pastor. But all those things are part of this wonderful life I have been called to. Through it all, in the good days and bad, we have the greatest job in the world!
No other job grants us access to people in their most intimate moments – we get to be there for births, baptisms, confirmations, moments of justification, weddings, and deaths just to name a few. We are welcomed into homes and communities simply because of who we represent. We get to share to wonderful, amazing, life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ for a living, and get paid to do it! (I understand that is would be nice if we got paid enough to pay off our student loan debt from seminary, but again, that is all a part of it.)
Pastors, through it all, we have the best job in the world.
I know pastoral ministry is hard. But would you really want it to be any other way?