Be honest. There have been days when you have abhorred Facebook and Twitter. You have avoided double-clicking the icon that launches your email account. You have hit the silence button as your phone rings, on more than a few occasions. We (pastors) have all been there. Some of you are there right now. Itʼs okay to admit it. Donʼt fear the reaper of pastors who comes after those who fail to uphold the illusion things are always hunky-dory. Pastors who feel the need to maintain this image are trying harder to convince themselves, instead of describing reality.
I love pastoring, and I hope you do to, but the truth is: pastoring is demanding. Most of us who answered the call to pastoral ministry did not discover how difficult it was until we were knee deep in a conflict resolution or sitting down a member to discuss their inappropriate comments in a small group. Only later did we come to learn these were not the exception to pastoring, but the rule.
We entered ministry driven by a desire to make known the Triune God, to proclaim the excellencies of Christ, and to see peopleʼs lives transformed. We had a call. We couldnʼt shake it or ignore it, so we eventually submitted. Only later did the epiphany come: “wow, this is hard!”
The Difficulty and Its Toll
Why is it so difficult? Because it is often filled with discouragement.
Ponder this for a moment…one group of people you are trying to minister to, the lost, think you are foolish (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). The other group, believers in the church, often act as if you were incompetent, playing armchair quarterback about the decisions you make. Iʼm not suggesting pastors only have critics around them, but if we are looking at the pastorate honestly, at times, it can be a difficult role to occupy.
Recently I was talking with two pastors who were very discouraged. They were not ready to quit or leave the ministry, but both were visibly disheartened.
As I probed to find the causes of their dismay, I discovered it was the normal wears and tears of pastoral labor which had them both lazily kicking the can, faces down, with their hands in their pockets. Truthfully, it was easy to spot, because unfortunately, Iʼve seen that reflection many times looking back at me in the mirror.
Iʼve seen many pastors on the brink of quitting ministry or heading for nervous breakdowns because they had been emotionally beaten down by the constant voice of critics around them. If it is not you, it may be one day. If it is you, or someone you know, I want to serve as the protective arm that comes flying against your chest as mom slams the brakes, and offer a few thoughts which have helped me.
- Donʼt let your critics blind you to the fruit God is producing through your ministry. There will always be critics. It is said that for every ten fans, there will be one critic. For every hundred fans, ten critics, and so on. So it should not surprise us when critics surface. It is okay to listen to your critics. Seek to learn. But it is not okay to let critics blind you from what God is doing through your labor. Yes, kindly receive criticism, but keep your eyes on the fruit God is bearing through your ministry.
- Recognize that the price of leadership is having people constantly evaluating your decisions. One reality of leadership is people often think they know better than you. You have the difficult task of making hard decisions and living with the consequences. Others simply critique the decision without knowing all the variables that led to it. Leadership is hard. You must remember these things come with making decisions. Donʼt let it discourage you. Leaders must have thick skin and soft hearts. We must never let those two reverse.
- Remember your calling and why you do what you do. Most can describe the events that led them into ministry. Most, if not all of you, would describe a call from God. That is my recollection. Considering that fact, listen to Paulʼs charge to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:3-4 HCSB), “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the recruiter.” Paul tells Timothy to suffer as a good soldier of Christ. He reminds him not to get caught up in all the affairs of civilian life, but to have one focus: pleasing his recruiter.
Friends, you donʼt have to please every person. You are a soldier in the ranks of Jesus Christ. Your battle is to push forward His kingdom. Aim to please the One who called you. Keep soldiering forward, pastor.