6. Your pastor probably views you differently than you view him.
Being someone’s pastor is actually a very intimate experience. If your pastor is a good one, he loves you. He’s been there during some of your most difficult moments. He’s caught tears, perhaps had to be the one to tell you difficult news, has seen you at your best and at your worst. You may have confided some personal things in him that are known only to you, him and God as you work through the consequences of sin, personal tragedies and other pains. He has invested his heart and soul in you by praying for you, weeping with you, perhaps even putting your needs ahead of his or his family’s at times.
Then a church down the street calls a new pastor, builds a new building or offers a service style that you find a bit more appealing and you switch as if you were changing from Wal-Mart to Target or finding a new chiropractor. And of course, people are going to ask “why” and often excuses like “We’re just not being fed” or “Our needs aren’t being met” or “We just need a change” are offered. For you, it’s a new adventure. For him, it feels painfully like rejection.
That’s not to say that there are no good reasons for changing churches. It doesn’t justify those renegade pastors who then grow angry and defensive and say unkind things. It doesn’t mean that you are leaving God’s will for your life necessarily and are making the first step on a trek toward leaving the faith. But it does hurt. Pastors are human too. And while you may see him as a distant leader or provider of services, if he knows you personally, he probably sees you more like family or a friend. It’s simply a difference in roles and perspective and you might never understand that. Sometimes where you stand on things depends on where you sit. But I think you should know—pastors usually see their church members differently than they are viewed by their church members.
7. Pastors sometimes find it difficult to have friendships.
For better or for worse, there is a celebrity element to being a pastor. If you don’t believe that then check out the New Testament account of those who were “Paul fans” versus those who liked Apollos. A wise pastor resists being viewed as “special,” but this tendency is why humility in leadership is so necessary. Any celebrity, politician or person of wealth will tell you that one of the greatest frustrations is that one never knows which friendships are genuine. There is always the difficulty in knowing who is genuinely a friend or who is simply there to exploit their position or fame or influence. Pastors struggle with this on several levels. Some pastors purposefully choose not to be friends with people in their congregation—it’s too risky in their opinion. Some pastors refuse to have friendships with their staff—they are afraid it will hurt objectivity, communicate favoritism or just simply be too complicated. Some pastors have been burned by past friendships and thus become almost reclusive and over-guarded. Some pastors naturally migrate toward friendships exclusively with peers—fellow pastors who can relate to the unique role and scrutiny being a pastor encompasses.
Several years ago, a pastor of a large and prestigious church in the same city where I was a pastor had a very close friend as a church member. A local seeker-sensitive church in town “caught fire” and all of us were experiencing mass migrations out of our pews to the new “cool/hip” church. His church was among those hardest hit. But then his very best friend, the person who had introduced him to the church before he was pastor, his closest confidant, took him to lunch and let him know that he was leaving for the new “fellowship.” The pastor said all the perfunctory things about following the Lord, etc.—and then went to his already scheduled staff meeting. After he opened with prayer, he looked at his team of pastors—broke down in wracking sobs, explained what had just happened, apologized and excused himself. I wish that wasn’t the only story I had, but I’ve heard scores more—people meeting privately for the “dismissal” of their pastor, people trying to arrange financial gain/business with the church, people who expected their sins to be covered and not dealt with—all while claiming “friendship.”
I don’t have any solutions to this. I’ve experienced it personally. I don’t know of many pastors who haven’t. It is what it is. But maybe it will give you some insight into your pastor’s world.
8. Your pastor may well be different out of the pulpit than when he’s in the pulpit, and that doesn’t necessarily make him a hypocrite.
I’ve laughed over the years at how people often describe me—outgoing, super confident, “people person,” extrovert. I can understand why they would say that, but they don’t know the “real me.” The “real me” is actually rather shy, mostly an introvert, hopes that the people in the seat next to him in the airplane go to sleep and don’t want to talk, is a veritable potpourri of insecurities and often would rather have a quiet evening at home with his family or a book than be with a large group of people. So why do I suddenly go “electric” when I walk behind the lectern? It’s a God thing. It’s His gift, His calling, His anointing—whatever you want to call it. Moses experienced it. Coarse Peter overcame his own proclivities. Odd John the Baptist certainly overcame his idiosyncrasies enough that he was heard. The delivery of the gospel is never about the man, but always about the message—so don’t get too enamored or distracted by the amplification system.
Some of my most important spiritual moments have regularly been before I preached on a topic that God had led me to address, but on which I was still struggling. Your pastor probably doesn’t sleep in a suit, sing praise choruses before every meal and memorizes Spurgeon and the Reformers in lieu of watching reality TV. He has morning breath, he sometimes fusses with his wife, he yells at the kids when they forget to take the dog out and he steps in a wet spot on the carpet, gets frustrated in heavy traffic and might have a secret affinity for roller coasters or deer hunting or restoring old cars. In other words—he’s just a regular guy. He certainly isn’t perfect. But if he’s a good pastor, he’s earnest and sincere and also man enough to admit his faults and make them right when he needs to do so.
Take time to get to know your pastor as a person before you make huge assumptions about him as a “professional.” You might be shocked at how much like you he really is even though your callings are different.
9. Your pastor has bills, too.
This area is touchy. There’s nothing like a conversation about money to get people stirred up. Let me just say this. Scripture is very clear that spiritual leaders should be supported by the tithes and offerings of the people who benefit from and need their ministry. It’s God’s plan. Paul referenced it as the “double honor.” Someday, your pastor will need a home to live in that isn’t owned by the church. There will come a day when, because of age or infirmity, he will need to transition out of being a full-time pastor; so he needs a retirement strategy. (There are few things sadder than a pastor who has faithfully served a congregation for years and years who can’t “afford” to retire and thus inflicts himself on a poor church or has to beg for “meetings” because he has no income. Many pastors foolishly opt out of social security, and funding for their 403b retirement plans gets cut because of tight budgets. Your pastor’s kids need to go to college. There are weddings that need to be paid for, children that need braces, cars that need repairs.
Please don’t demean him by noting every purchase he makes, every vacation he takes or every gift he receives with “It must be nice to be in the ministry and be able to afford that!” or “I guess that explains that special offering last month!” or some other witty little cutting remark that puts him on the defensive. It’s unkind and petty. Stop it. Instead, show some maturity and say something like, “Wow… I’m so pleased that God has blessed you and provided that for you. If anyone deserves it—you do!” and then notice how you are blessed for rejoicing with those who are rejoicing as well as how he is blessed in receiving your kind words.
If you think your pastor is a crook, given to filthy lucre, too wealthy—then confront him biblically or shut up. If you are a church leader and wonder what is appropriate compensation, may I recommend a study that is produced each year called the “Church Compensation Handbook” (available here).
Finally, I want to state for the record that all three of the churches where I have ministered have been a genuine blessing to me and my family in this regard. They very generously honored us with a living wage, they gave me freedom to write, teach and speak which allowed me to squirrel away money for life’s unexpected or bigger expenses as they came and provided me with the necessary tools for ministry. I wish every pastor was treated as I have been treated in the matter of financial support.
10. Your pastor loves the work of the ministry.
You might say, “duh”—but I would ask, how many people do you know who really, deep down inside, would like to be doing something else as a vocation? If you are like me—a ton. Preaching the gospel, seeing people accept Christ, watching lives transformed by truth, seeing healing and reconciliation occur in families—wow … that’s just the best.
Over the years, I have wearied over the administrative load of ministry. I do not get excited about trying to get budgets to balance, dealing with maintenance issues, making sure that risk-management is taken into consideration every time we start a new initiative and dealing with governmental and even church bureaucracy and politics. But that’s simply the price a pastor pays for being able to stand up, open the Word of God and share what the Holy Spirit has laid on his heart for that day. I can be absolutely exhausted, frustrated, depressed or overwhelmed, but the moment I crack open my Bible before a group of people ready to hear—I realize once again that I’m doing what I was created to do. Whether you pastor a mega-church, lead a Sunday School class, host a home Bible study or simply lead your family in devotions—when you are called to the ministry of the Word, everything is as it should be. It simply doesn’t get much better than that!
I’m going to stop here. I know I have not exhausted the list, but I’ve probably exhausted you. I would invite pastors to add additional points if you’d like to do so. You may forward, link, print, copy or otherwise use these articles as they would bless you or others. The purpose in writing this has not been to complain, but to explain. Pray for your pastor today—or even right now. I’m guessing he’s already been praying for you.