The call to minister is a call to suffer. If you minister full-time then suffering will be your daily companion. I don’t expect everyone to fully understand this. I suspect that some will think I am being pessimistic. But in my life as a pastor, pain never goes away. Even when it is not acute it is still there, looking over my shoulder. I hope this doesn’t cause you to worry about me. I am just trying to explain as best I can what goes on in my inner world.
For all of us, I suppose, people are both a supreme source of joy and a crippling source of pain. This is especially true for pastors. We are expected to be always on top of our game – always kind, loving, organized, supportive, visionary, understanding, patient, forgiving, self-less, creative, administrative, tough, tender, and available. People deny that they have these expectations. That is only partly true. No one expects their pastor to always be all those things for everyone…but them. “Todd, you cannot please everyone.” It’s interesting. People only say that to me when I have disappointed someone else.
No one likes to be criticized. But pastors have to field a seemingly endless stream of criticism. How many people can long cope with knowing that they are ALWAYS letting someone down? Even on our best day, pastors know they still have not fully measured up. We preach too long and too short. We use too much Greek and not enough. We exert too much control and not enough. We spend too much time with people and not enough. We are told to let go of things; to delegate. That is a wonderful idea. But we know what it is like to delegate important tasks only to have them neglected by the well meaning volunteer who then leaves us holding the bag.
I cannot adequately describe the pain of having a friend break fellowship. For someone with a shepherd’s heart it is excruciating to lose a member of the flock. The hurt is ocean deep when someone in whom you have invested so much leaves without even a word of explanation. I have come to know this pain well over the past 12 months. I know what it is to have once close friends speak unkindly about me, misrepresent my beliefs, and tarnish my character. The days are many when I honestly do not know how much more my soul can bear. I am learning why so many pastors are abandoning the idea of being shepherds and instead preferring the role of church CEO. They drastically shrink the number of people to whom they give access and they insulate themselves from meaningful involvement in the lives of those they are called to pastor.
If you are tempted to say, “C’mon Todd! We all have to deal with not meeting everyone’s expectations. You can’t please everyone!” But I wonder who, other than a pastor, has to navigate the strange reality of leading an army of volunteers who also pay their salary? How do you treat the people who pay you? How concerned are you about what they think about you? How many people are there to whom you answer? Do you have one boss? Two? Five? Would you like to have over 700? What if they all had differing expectations?
It probably sounds like I am getting cynical. Perhaps I am. I don’t want to be. I want to be positive. I want to be a joyful and happy pastor. But there are days when I am not so sure that is possible. Metro East is filled with great people. I am a blessed man to be called to be their pastor. Perhaps I am just having a hard day.
I know it is risky to write like this. People get insecure when their pastor is struggling. It may even cause frustration. Yet again, I may let someone down with my bluntness. But I know there are other pastors, many of them, who daily battle with the things about which I have written. Perhaps they will be encouraged by knowing they are not alone in their feelings.