“Craig, tell her what you do for a living.” I was walking out of the gym and a guy with his daughter stopped me with this command. “I’m a pastor at Malvern Hill Baptist Church,” I explained. This young woman looked at me confused and replied, “You don’t look like a pastor.” One time a guy in Lowes said, “I would never expect to see YOU in HERE.” I’m not sure why Lowes is the kind of place a pastor is not expected to be.
I’ve gotten these comments and others like them many times over the years. I’m never sure if I should take it as a compliment or an insult, but I usually respond with a question, “What does a pastor look like?” or “Where else would I buy my deck screws?” No one has a specific picture of what a pastor should look like or where he should shop, but apparently a pastor shouldn’t lift heavy weights in a gym or tell jokes or show up at Lowes covered in mud from an irrigation repair.
The struggle with pastoral ministry is not, as a good friend reminds me, that it is the hardest thing in the world, just that it is different from anything else. As a result, people get a little confused as to who you really are. Are you the preacher behind the pulpit on Sundays, the marriage counselor on Mondays, the man in jeans at Lowes on Saturday, the guy coaching the little league team or the dude bench-pressing a Volkswagen? The truth is that as pastors we are sometimes all of those people (except the Volkswagen part for most of you). The struggle for the people in our pews to relate to us is often found in their inability to determine who in the world they are talking to and how they should approach us.
Pastors can be lonely and several times per year this issue gets addressed here on LifeWay Pastors. But, part of the struggle for the people in our pews to relate to us is often found in their inability to determine who in the world they are talking to and how they should approach us. They don’t know if they should approach you as the sage on the stage or the toilet-repair man. We have to help them bridge the gap. We have to help our people know who we really are and help them know how to interact with us.
1. Be real in your preaching.
Even though most books on preaching urge us to avoid personal illustration, I believe that it is best for us to buck the trend and turn back the prevailing wisdom. Use personal illustrations so that the people in your pews get to know a bit about the man behind the pulpit. Preaching is truth through personality, but they need to know a bit about your personality. Use illustrations about repairing your toilet or running or bicycling or coaching tee-ball. The people often need to see that the person behind the pulpit on Sunday is the same person cleaning clogged toilets at home on Tuesday.
2. Be real on social media.
Don’t be a social media superhero. Avoid the trap of pretending to be something on social media that you aren’t in real life. Don’t use words on Instagram or Facebook that you wouldn’t use in regular conversation.
3. Be real in your relationships.
You do no one any favors by pretending to be something you are not. You cannot build friendships on lies and half-truths. Be real. Let people see the real you behind the shirt and tie. You’ll still have to be the pastor, but you will discover that as people find you to be a “real” person you can have richer, incarnational kind of ministry.
4. Be real in your marriage.
Your wife deserves the best part of you. Be the man she married, not the preacher she has to be seen with. Make the time for her—you won’t regret it.
5. Be real to your kids.
Be real and be present. They need a dad more than they need a pastor. The pastor’s kids sacrifice a lot of things to be the pastor’s kids. Don’t always put them on the back burner. Be real and be present. Skip a Wednesday night every once in a while, and go get ice cream. Some of the people in your church might wrinkle their nose at you, but most of those people did something similar in the last month anyway. Be a real dad, not just a pastor dad. Throw the ball, wrestle, love them in tangible ways as often as possible.
6. Be real in your prayer life.
A broken and contrite heart is one that the Lord will not despise. We often hide behind the masks we have created, and none is more tempting than to wear the “pastor” mask in prayer. We can try to convince God that we have it all figured out because we wear the “pastor” mask. God answers fervent and righteous prayers—honest, real prayers. Be real with the Lord. He already knows you completely and he loves you anyway.
Pastors are real people too and the most effective pastors seem to find a way to balance their very real ordinariness with their very real extraordinary calling. That is, they find a way to be real to the world around them while carefully handling God’s word and God’s call. You can do this too. God has not called you into ministry to leave you alone, he walks with you each step of the way. So, be real with the world around you, and be real with your God—I promise, the real you won’t scare him away.