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.


Being a Dad Has Made Me a Better Pastor

For almost four months, Abbi and I have been on that great joyride known as parenthood. Through sleep deprivation and an increase amount of caffeine in our my daily diet, we have been blessed with the greatest blessing we could ever imagine in being Noah’s parents. No other joy we have had in our lives compares to the joy of hearing his coos, seeing his smiles, or watching him kick his toys.

We’re enjoying parenthood.

I, especially, am enjoying being a father. With my office in an area of the parsonage, I have the rare opportunity of being able to stay home and care for Noah during the day. I’ve learned a lot by being a work-at-home dad and, to be honest, I think it has made me a better pastor.

One such way is that I appreciate God’s unconditional love a little more deeply. In my soul, I’ve always known that God loves me for who I am, but I don’t believe it truly sunk in until I held Noah for the first time and every day since. There is nothing Noah can do that would make me stop loving him. No matter how many times he kicks the arch off his play mat or how loud he screams, I will still love him and be there for him. The love we share to our children is akin to the very love God has for us. It is unconditional and always available.

It’s a love, I hope, I have been able to share with my congregations and the entire church. For me, phrase “love them where they are” has taken on new importance. As a pastor my role is to love our people and be a guide for them. It is not to love them only if they reach a certain place in their spiritual journey with Christ. It is to love them for who they are, unconditionally, and walk with them as we grow together in Christ’s love. This is an unconditional love that is shared with the churches I serve and the entire global church. Even when the church gets it wrong, God still pours his love out upon it and us. I hope I am doing the same, each day, as a pastor.

Finally, the love of being a dad has shown me how to better serve the entire world. Unconditional love means to love a world that is full of brokenness and failed dreams. We live in a world filled with violence, hurts, pains, bad decisions, misguided agendas, and unforgiven pasts. God loves us through all of this. No matter what we do … God still loves his world and creation, which includes each of us. Sometimes we forget to share with the world the same love God shares with us. God hurts for the world when it hurts, just like a parent hurts for their child when they hurt. Whatever I am able to do for the kingdom, I hope the one thing I can do is share this unconditional love with all.

There is so much more I need to learn about being a dad. I am thankful, right now, that what I have learned has made me a better servant and a better pastor.