04 January 2012

it's the job

Listen to any surgeon complain about the odd hours of his job and you probably aren't going to have much sympathy for his plight.  The same could be said for a professional athlete who laments the long hours of traveling, or perhaps the CEO who whines over the headaches of flying coach.  There are certain jobs which the majority of folks believe to be better-than-most, and therefore (after the consideration that everybody has bad days) above the grumbling.

This is also the context in which most people consider the pastor.  In many ways this is not too far off, since there are many privileges of the pastoral vocation, even though there is a case to be made for regarding the weight of the task of leading within the church.  It is a bit of both/and here, and my thought here is that not enough is given to the heavier end because most people think that working in a church is a pretty sweet deal in which no one would have a bad day.  And yet most pastors are having more bad days than good . . . the stats should direct us to a different perception of reality.

As a pastor I know that the struggles that take place in the office will always follow me in my other areas of ministry, on vacation, through my 'distractions' and hobbies, and (worst of all) to my home.  There are many of us who fight the tendency to covet those with punch-in-punch-out jobs that stay in the workplace, in a quiet contempt of God's calling.  (These are not those who should never have been pastors in the first place, this happens among those who truly value God's church and their role in it.)

And so, it becomes lonely.  And sacrificial.  For many pastor's homes there is (of necessity) the working out of the weight of conflict and uncertainty that has trailed back from the very church that was supposed to make families stronger.  Herein lies the enemy's greatest foothold against those who would choose to lead within the church.

What I have discovered is that there are, basically, two types of people within the church that catalyze this difficult reality.  First, there are those who pour on the conflict and crises in an effort to make the pastoral ministry in a church become a nightmare.  This is an all-out-attack driven by personal issues - sometimes disagreement, sometimes spiritual oppression, sometimes bitterness, etc - toward the pastor.  And an attack on the pastor is an attack on his family and the church he leads.  Typically, there is no regard for this in the mind of the antagonist, for they effectively segment their own actions and motives to fit their own self-serving rational.  It is no use complaining here, because this is part of the job and if you can't find a way to work things out (even with unreasonable people) then you're probably not suited to be a pastor in the first place.

Second, there are those who have an opportunity to help minister to the pastor (there's an outrageous idea for you!), but choose not to do so.  Why not?  Because it's part of the job, and if you can't handle a little conflict then you're probably not suited to be a pastor in the first place.  I remember sometime about a year ago when someone in a church board meeting was making the case that I was being a lousy pastor - that I didn't care and wasn't trying because we as a staff had taken a couple of days off following the extra days of working around Easter (yes, I'm serious).  My response outlined all of the work we had done and how much we had sacrificed those few weeks from family, personal time, along with the 'overtime' that could be considered.  I gave up trying to convince the room when I was met with apathetic looks that conveyed one simple message: it's the job, and you should be used to it.

My point here is that it is wrong for Christians to enter church with a consumerist mindset that only uses and discards the gifts, ministries and lives of those within it.  And the way many churches treat their pastors as though they were as disposable and replaceable as a crappy Dell computer is morally reprehensible.  It is an utter failure to live out love for God and others.  There are so many places where such activity is commonplace enough not to be considered as abnormal or unChristian.  So, we have yet one more layer of why so many thousands of pastors jump ship and find entirely different vocations every month.  Once again, our ability to love will transform our lives and the lives around us.  Failure to love only conforms us to the pattern of this world.

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