The Life of a Pastor

Each week, my office is filled with an assortment of conversations. They can run the gambit from talking about an upcoming ministry to praying for someone who is having a difficult time of life. If anything, ministry has taught me is that you need to be prepared for any conversation that may come your way.

I have to be honest, though. This week a running conversation had caught me unprepared. Not that I didn’t want to talk about the subject, but that it wasn’t something I had ever been really open about with too many people in my ministry before.

It’s that pastors carry more on their shoulders than we will ever admit or are able to share.

Those words came up in several conversations and it has placed me in a reflective mood, which is often dangerous for someone who likes to incorporate writing these weekly reflections as a part of his ministry. Why is it that pastors have a hard time admitting this job is harder, emotionally, than what we often let on? Because let’s be honest and admit that being a pastor can be a lonely life.

One of the reasons we don’t share with our congregations what we deal with is because we are taught not to become too close with the congregants. There are several good reasons for this. You don’t want to build an unhealthy relationship with a member. You want to be able to maintain the proper leadership boundaries and functions. You never know when you might be moving.

All of those are good reasons, and, let me say, pastors must have proper and appropriate boundaries to protect themselves and the congregation. However, boundaries do not prevent healthy and appropriate relationships from taking place. Our congregants need to see us when we are hurting, because they need to know we are human and deal with the same things that they do.

At the same time, sometimes the reason we are reluctant to share with our congregations about the difficulties and loneliness of the pastoral life is because of our own fear. We can carry with us a fear that if we share something we are dealing with, no one will hear us. We also can carry the fear that if we share about a weakness in our leadership, it will hinder our ability to lead or could affect our future appointment.

As a result, we hold our cards too close to our robes. I am just as guilty as any other pastor of doing this, because I have been hurt before when I’ve shared about something I was dealing with or asked someone for an opinion about a problem within the church. The hurts we have experienced in these moments can, like anyone else, lead us to wear a mask in our conversations. We can project that we have it all together when, in reality, we do not.

So, I want to be as honest as I feel I can with you about what the ministry life can be like. While ministry is a fulfilling and powerful life and I would not want to do anything else, it is one of the most emotionally, physically, and spiritually draining jobs I have held. In any one day, you can be in a meeting planning a community outreach, working on a sermon, dealing with an administrative issue, handling complaints about an issue in the church, and offering pastoral care to someone in need. At the same time, you are trying to take care of the financial, physical, and emotional needs of your family and be present within their lives.

There is the old joke that we are forced to laugh at, but is really not that funny. It goes something along the lines of “it must be nice to work only one hour a week.” Worship is the end product of hours of work. A typical “work week” for me is about 60 hours, which includes about 20-25 hours in worship and sermon preparation. It also includes at least one or two nights a week where I am at the church for meetings or other events. What we often see is the end result of hours of work that gets unnoticed in our desire to have a good “show,” which comes at the end of this time.

Ministry is often lonely, because you never feel like you can have true friendships. In my life, at least, I have found that friendships in ministry are for a season, and that deep friendships are hard to find. There are multiple reasons for this, but you can often feel like you are on an island all by yourself in ministry. Pastors who serve in rural contexts can often feel this the most, because you often have to drive longer distances to connect with other leaders.

No profession is without its challenges. No life is without its difficulties. These are just some of the struggles and realities of a pastor’s life. They are some, though not all, of what I’ve experienced. Please pray for your pastors. Pray for the churches and communities they are called to serve. Pray for their families.

We need all the prayer, but also all the community, we can get.

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John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples. We don’t know what was taking place before this scene begins. Perhaps they were talking about the day’s activities. Perhaps they were talking about the baptism that took place the day before, when Jesus of Nazareth was baptized in the Jordan River and a voice was heard proclaiming him as the Son of God.

Who knows what was taking place when we receive this causal reference that Jesus walked past them as they talked. At first glance, this seems like a very innocent interaction. Perhaps Jesus had stayed with John and his disciples after his baptism and was preparing to head out and start on his journey. What may have been a simple gathering would soon become a time of introspection and decision for John’s two disciples. It starts with how John the Baptist responds to this passing interaction. John looks at his disciples and says, “Look! There is the Lamb of God.” He basically tells them, “You see that guy there? He’s the One we’ve been expecting. He is the Messiah.”

What would these disciples do? So, Andrew and the other disciple, who we believe might have been the Apostle John, ran off to meet Jesus. When they catch up with him, Jesus asks, “What do you want?” It is a question intended to allow them to search their hearts and respond accordingly. They take a moment and respond by saying, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Andrew and the other disciple weren’t interested in Jesus’ lodging arrangements. They were asking if they could become one of Jesus’ disciples and follow him. They wanted to join with him and learn from the Lord.

Jesus responds to their request with an invitation. He says, “Come and see.” He invites these two disciples of John to come with him and see what was about to take place. To see the life changing things Jesus would do and to hear the words he would teach. To see what it truly means for Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of all. Jesus invites them to follow him. They respond by going with him and following him on his itinerant journey.

In some way, each of us have responded to Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.” Jesus has invited us to come and see what he is doing and, in some way, we have responded. The way we have responded to Jesus’ invitation can be found by taking a deep look within our hearts and examining how we feel about Christ and the Lord’s love. When we do we might see that there are two basic ways we have responded. We have responded either as a “Jesus fan” or as a “Jesus follower.” Continue reading

Generosity as a Way of Life

This week, I went back to school and began an online course. It has nothing to do with faith or leadership and everything to do with one of my favorite hobbies. That hobby is presidential history and leadership.

I admit I am fascinated with studying presidential history and what we can learn from the 43 men who have served as president. This particular course examines the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination and the legacy of his three-year administration.

So far, I am enjoying the course, but, to be honest, I would have been engaged in the course even if it wasn’t engaging. Kennedy was one of the presidents who inspired my fascination with presidential history. I remember doing social studies projects on Kennedy’s administration in grade school. You didn’t realize your pastor was a geek, did you?

What interests me about Kennedy was his visionary leadership. This came through in many of his speeches. Reading and listening to Kennedy’s words can be very informative, especially for someone like myself who likes to dream big and think about our possibilities. Kennedy’s best words came about during his 1961 Inaugural Address, where he expressed a vision of peace, justice, and hope.

It  was a sentiment best expressed through the speech’s most quoted line. After expressing his vision and dreams, Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” The quote asks each person to commit to the project of advancing peace, justice, and hope in the country and around the world.

Those are big words, but I wonder what they may say to us today? I wonder if we could bring it into a context appropriate for us gathered here. I think we can rewrite so that it connects us to what it means to serve Christ and the church. I believe we can rewrite it like this: “Ask not what your church can do for you; ask what you are willing to do for the mission of your church.”

Think about what this statement does. It changes our focus. So often, we focus only on what the church can do for us. By this we say that the church only exists to fulfill our needs and desires. I believe this new statement helps us to connect to something more important about church. The church does not exist to meet our needs. The church exists for the sole purpose of being the ongoing witness of Jesus Christ in our community. The mission of the church, then, is to go and “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We do this by how we share Christ’s love in Latonia, Covington, and throughout Northern Kentucky. The mission is about dying to ourself, so that the Risen Lord can live in and through us.

Each of us are called to commit ourselves to this deeper focus of the church. Our commitment is how we live into these words from Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:24 of showing a “proof our love” of Christ. To commit to the mission calls us to make a public act of showing our love of Christ by seeking to participate in the kingdom of God through the mission of the church. We commitment ourselves to allow God’s love to become realized in our hearts and through the life of the church.

But, how? How do we live out this commitment as a “proof of our love” of Christ? To best understand this, we need to first think about what commitment is not. When we understand actions that are detrimental to deep commitment, then we can think about what actions make up a true commitment to the Lord and the church.

Commitment is not about seeking our own agenda. Sometimes our actions within the life of the church can be similar to those of the Pharisees. We can become so committed to our own agenda and desires that we drown out anything that fights for space for our desires or might seek to bring us into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Commitment is not about complaining about others for their apparent lack of commitment. It is not about saying that we are better than others, because we do more and are more involved when others “clearly” are not. It is not about looking down on others who do not show up for our favorite events. By this, commitment does not look like the disciples who were so often more interested in their own position than hearing Christ’s desires for them.

Commitment is not about placing conditions on what we are willing to do. It is not about saying we will commit only when the activity is up to our standards. It is not about saying everything must go our way for it to happen. This is similar to the actions of the Rich Man. When challenged by Jesus to give up everything to follow him, the Rich Man refused to commit himself to what Jesus asked and walked away.

All of these deficient forms of commitment have defined each of us in some ways. We’ve all have been and done these things. When we are defined by these forms of commitment we end up doing more harm than good. It hinders our growth in our relationship with the Lord and prevents the church’s mission from being truly fulfilled.

True commitment as a “proof of our love” is must deeper and holier. It is a commitment that recognizes that the mission of the church is not about us, but about seeing lives transformed, hope shared, justice advocated, and peace proclaimed. True commitment connects us with Christ and brings us closer to each other in love and mission.

All of us have a desire for this true and deep commitment. I say this, because each of us have made vows to do just that. We have made vows to be deeply commitment to the body of Christ through our prayers, presence, service, gifts, and witness. These were not empty words said to fulfill membership requirements. Indeed, these are words said before God and each other that call us to a way of living that is dedicated to sharing the love of Christ through our words, actions, and deeds.

So how do we live out this true commitment as a proof of our love? First, we must pray for each other. We must be a people who are committed to praying for each other, the church, and our mission. The work of the church is too difficult for us to ignore Jesus’ call for us to pray without ceasing and to seek God’s kingdom in all things.

We must be committed to being present in the life of the church. This means we commit ourselves to fully being here and supporting the church in all things. We commit ourselves to not just being here physically, but being actively engaged in the life of the church through worship, discipleship, and mission. It is a commitment that says we are here and desire to see the church grow and be vital in our community.

We vow to be committed through our service. During this campaign, we have been reminded that we each have talents and gifts that can be used to share God’s love with others. Our gifts and talents go beyond the financial. These are things that God has specially created us to do. We are called to use these talents to serve Christ and love others through the church’s mission.

Each of us are called to witness, through words and actions, to what God has done in us through the grace of Jesus Christ. This is a call to share the message of Jesus Christ by the example of our love. Each of us can do this, even though it seems like one of the most difficult things to do. But hear me: If we can tell someone about why we root for the Reds or the University of Kentucky, then we can tell someone, through words and actions, why we love Jesus.

Finally, we are called to commit ourselves through our giving. We are called to support the mission of the church by giving back to the Lord what is truly God’s. Everything we have has been given to us by God. It is only right that we give so that the mission of sharing God’s love can continue.

Let me say this, because I believe it is very important for us on this Commitment Sunday. We do not give in order to pay for salaries. We do not give in order to turn the lights on or to maintain the building. The reason for our giving is the hope of lives being transformed by what God is doing here and through us. We give so that a child may be inspired to grow in their relationship with the Lord and love what happens here. We give so that the poor may be loved, missions expanded, and hope shared. We give so that all may know Christ.

Each of us have committed ourselves to these very things as the proof of our love of Christ. Today, we make that commitment more visible through our pledges and our visible acts of commitment. In your bulletin, you will see a gray insert. This insert is a symbol of your commitment. During the closing hymn, if you have turned in your pledge card you are asked to bring this card forward and lay this card at the altar. Take a moment to pray and ask God to strengthen you in this holy commitment. Maybe you still have not turned in your pledge and would like to do so, there is still time. You can bring it to the altar with you or place in the basket in the back.

We are all in this together. Each of us as have a part in sharing Christ’s love in Latonia. All of us are called to make a commitment to not just this church, but to God to be used to share the message of hope throughout our community and the world.

Today is your day to take that big step. To take a risk and say God, “I am willing to commit myself again as a proof of my love.” If you are willing to do so, I promise you God will be with you in this commitment. You will never be alone as you seek to participate in the church through your prayers, your gifts, your presence, your service, and your witness.

President Kennedy said something else in that address. He said, “Let us begin.” Truly, my friends, “Let us begin.” Let us begin to take that big step. Let us begin to take risks and to take chances. Let us begin, today, to way of life that is totally committed to the Lord, to our church, and to the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Let us begin and let us begin today!