Friday, October 7, 2011

Repenting of Ministry

A story from Reuters records the following sad words concerning Steve Jobs' decision to authorize a biography on his life:

Steve Jobs, in pain and too weak to climb stairs a few weeks before his death, wanted his children to understand why he wasn’t always there for them, according to the author of his highly anticipated biography.

“I wanted my kids to know me,” Jobs was quoted as saying by Pulitzer Prize nominee Walter Isaacson, when he asked the Apple Inc co-founder why he authorized a tell-all biography after living a private, almost ascetic life.

“I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did,” Jobs told Isaacson in their final interview at Jobs’ home in Palo Alto, California.
I was not shocked by Jobs' acknowledgement that his vision for Apple took priority over his children. This does not, after all, seem to be the exception but the rule for many corporate leaders and visionaries. What struck me is that he seems to lack remorse for this reality. Clearly, I do not know what was going through Jobs' mind. I certainly am not his judge. But taking his words at face value it seems that he is justifying the fact that his children do not really know him but that once they read his biography perhaps they will understand why. I wonder what solace that will provide his children?

Of course, I'm no better than Jobs. I've never invented anything, although I was pretty creative with Legos as a child. I'll never be wealthy unless there is something about my family that I do not yet know. People will never hail me as a game changer or genius. No, really, they won't. And yet this I have in common with Jobs: my tendency to sacrifice my children (and my wife, for that matter) to my calling.

A few nights ago my wife had, what we like to call down south, "a come to Jesus meeting" with me. For not one moment did I like the things she said to me. For what seemed like an agonizingly long time I heard that I was not available or responsive. I heard that I was not encouraging or even loving. This was no run-of-the-mill, "honey could you do a little better" talk. All this one needed was a woodshed and willow switch. I resisted what she said. I denied it. It seemed so unfair. It was a Sunday. It was late. I was exhausted. Didn't she know the kinds of pressures I have been under the last several months? But she was absolutely right.

It has become increasingly clear that my commitments to pastoring a church have cost my wife and children far too much. Don't panic. We are not falling apart. My children do not hate me and my wife, by God's grace, is long suffering. But if I keep doing things the way I have been doing things, then a day will come when I will be looking for a biographer to tell my story so my children will know who I was.

It is sad, but my experience is not unique. Even worse, the experience of my wife and children is not unique. Pastoral ministry is a beautiful calling and I am grateful beyond words to be among those whom God has called into such a noble task. But being a pastor is often about as pleasant as having a molar with an exposed nerve. It can even land one in an emergency room.

I hope I don't sound like I'm whining. Self-pity is one of the ugly side effects of trying to be a martyr for the ministry. But there is something desperately wrong with American church culture. There is something desperately wrong with the way pastors are pastoring. And it is our fault; all of us. Parishoners have expectations that cannot possibly be met. Pastors have made promises they cannot possibly keep. Any man in that position will end up in divorce court, the loony bin, the emergency room, or all three.

Therefore, I repent of ministry. I repent of trying to be the pastor I cannot be. I repent of bringing sadness and stress into my home. I repent of laughing too little and worrying too much. I repent of saying "yes" too often to ministry commitments and "no" too often to family responsibilities. I repent of allowing the way I pastor to rob me of the joy of being a pastor.


lauren said...

Todd I appreciate your candor and honestly in this stirring confession. We are praying for you - and all of your family! Bringing this to light will no doubt lift a burden of your own heart.

Dave M. said...

Thanks for being so honest. I've heard Chas. Stanley talk about his battle with working too hard in his younger days, and how he was led to dial it back, with wonderful results as God dialed it up. Hope you find that encouraging.

janefisch said...

And I repent of not praying diligently, scriptually, and consistently for the leadership of our Church. For this reason we [the COS body] bow our knees before you, Father that You may grant [our pastors, elders, and their families]to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in their inner being....that they may KNOW the love of Christ that surpasses You, Jesus Christ, be glory in our church body...throughout all generations forever & ever...Amen. (Eph. 4:14,21)

Lynn Kraihanzel said...

Todd, Thanks for sharing this. I pray you find the personal accountability you need and that COS supports you in this and that you would find great joy in all of it; your family, your ministry and the amazing suffiency of our Father.
Lynn Kraihanzel