I could not have published what you’re about to read when I was a pastor.
Over 36 years in church ministry, there were things I did that I hated doing … and things I loved doing.
If I hated an activity, it took me a while to start and finish it … and I’d count the minutes until it was done.
If I loved an activity, I’d clear my calendar, focus like a laser beam … and pay no attention to the clock.
My guess is that the longer a pastor is in ministry, the more things there are that he can’t stand doing.
When I was a kid, the great Bible teacher Wilbur J. Smith came to our church to preach. My parents invited him over for dinner, but he declined, stating that he no longer accepted invitations for meals.
He loved preaching … and hated dinners.
I can relate!
Here are five things I hated doing as a pastor:
First, I hated editing church publications.
It’s my belief that everything that a church publishes for public consumption has to be perfect.
Just one misspelled word or a phrase with garbled syntax can lessen a church’s image in the eyes of some people.
Many years ago, the church I served as pastor spent $5000 on a full color brochure that we gave to our guests.
I was on the marketing team that designed the brochure and had reviewed it repeatedly for errors.
A prominent evangelical leader was so impressed with the brochure that he wanted to include it in a book he was writing.
I was thrilled … until I noticed that the word “activities” was spelled “activites” instead!
And that sunk our chance to have the brochure included in anybody’s book.
After that misstep, I was doubly conscious of only putting out perfect publications.
So every week, I reviewed the bulletin/program.
And every month, I proofread the church newsletter.
As a perfectionist, I’m a good proofreader. I edited and proofread my book Church Coup and have discovered only two errors in the 289 pages of the paperback version.
I don’t mind proofreading my own writing, but I hate proofreading other people’s writing. (One staff member had dyslexia and couldn’t write a decent sentence. I had to rewrite everything he gave me, which ticked him off.)
Why didn’t I farm things out?
Because publications have to be read both for grammar and for content … and I could do both quicker than anyone else.
But after years of proofreading, I dreaded it more and more.
Second, I hated performing weddings.
I created four criteria for marrying a couple: they both had to be Christians; they had to attend our church while undergoing counseling; they had to agree to four to six counseling sessions with me; and they had to agree not to sleep together until their wedding day.
After reading those conditions, the majority of couples found someone else.
But if a couple met my conditions, I’d marry them even if I thought they were a mismatch.
The worst wedding I ever did involved a couple I can’t adequately describe.
They wanted to get married on a beach in Northern California.
I dressed up in my suit one summer day and drove 90 minutes to this small parking lot … then had to walk about a half mile over sand to the site of their wedding.
The guests sat on driftwood … all 15 of them. The groom dressed like Sir Lancelot, and the bride dressed like Maid Marion.
I kept asking myself, “What am I doing here?”
After the ceremony, I waited a solid hour for my honorarium of $100, which didn’t come close to paying for my humiliation.
Another time, I married a couple at the chapel at The Presidio in San Francisco. Before leaving home, my wife agreed to be in charge of my clothes.
When we arrived at The Presidio for the wedding, my wife had left my suit coat at home.
I had to borrow one from the chauffeur!
But those stories don’t reflect why I didn’t like weddings.
If the wedding was held inside our church, then I was in charge, and my anxiety lessened considerably.
But if the wedding was held away from church … and most were … then others were in charge … and my anxiety could go through the roof.
More times than not, I represented the spiritual part of things … and the rest of the festivities seemed to contradict the spiritual.
In addition, a wedding usually involved a rehearsal and dinner the day before, with the wedding itself the following day … which meant I’d invest anywhere from ten hours to more than a day … and sometimes, I’d never see the couple again.
The last wedding I did involved 32 hours on my part … and the couple stiffed me on the honorarium.
Just another reason why I came to hate most weddings.
Third, I hated the logistics of getting to a hospital.
Rather, I hated driving to hospitals and finding a parking place.
Once I found a patient’s room, I loved talking with them, and reading God’s Word, and praying with them.
But getting to the hospital was often another matter.
During my last ministry, the area hospitals I visited lacked reserved parking for clergy.
Whenever I had to go to Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, for example, I’d have to fight through all the signals and traffic, search ten or fifteen minutes for a parking space near the hospital, walk at least a quarter mile, ascend crammed elevators, and hunt for a patient’s room.
Once I got there, I was in my element.
But getting there could be maddening, and the entire round trip could take two hours.
In addition, most medical emergencies happened either on Thursdays (when I studied at home) or on Fridays (my day off) … and that time was precious.
And as pastors know, one emergency situation can throw your entire week’s schedule off kilter.
I loved being a pastor to people in the hospital.
I just wish I’d had a chauffeur.
Fourth, I hated board meetings.
Early in my ministry, board meetings made me anxious.
I never knew who was going to surprise me with criticism or a dumb suggestion or information about someone I didn’t care to know.
In my middle years, I loved board meetings, because that’s where I received approval for the agenda items that God had given me.
When I knew the board members personally, and I knew they stood behind me no matter what, I enjoyed attending them and found them productive.
But when I didn’t know the board members well, and they collapsed on me when I needed them most, those meetings became chores … and bores.
I once heard Bill Hybels say that the elders in his church held their meetings in homes. They’d have dinner together, let him give a report, and then sometimes dismiss him and carry on without him.
You can do that if you trust the board. You can’t if you don’t.
My last few months in ministry, I didn’t trust the board, and had to endure meetings long into the night … and wished I was home instead.
Finally, I hated staff confrontations.
I once spent several hours with a nationally-known church consultant.
He asked me some questions about my staff at the time, and then queried:
“Jim, are you a highly responsible person?”
I replied, “Yes.”
He continued, “Do you only have to be told to do something once?”
I replied, “Yes.”
He concluded, “But Jim, not everyone is like you.”
He was right.
I couldn’t understand staff members that came in late … left early … didn’t show up for events … left their offices a mess … were always disorganized … and never got their work done.
I couldn’t live with myself if I acted like that.
I was never a “helicopter pastor.” If we hired someone, I expected them to do the job without constant reminders or warnings.
But if they weren’t doing the job, I had to intercept entropy and confront them … and I hate confrontation.
This is why I always liked Steve McGarrett on the original Hawaii Five-O TV show. McGarrett had no problem confronting anybody, whether it was a two-bit thief, a local gangster, or an international agent like Wo Fat.
Chuck Swindoll once said that half the time he confronted someone, it worked out well, and half the time it didn’t.
Most of my confrontations seemed to fall in the latter category.
If I had to confront you about something, things had gotten really bad.
I always did it … I just hated doing it.
Pastors are all different.
Some hate administrative work … others hate social events.
Some hate preparing their sermon … others hate making small talk.
As time goes by, pastors are often able to rewrite their job descriptions so they’re doing what they love and avoiding what they hate.
If they can negotiate such changes, they can last many years in ministry.
If they can’t make such changes, they may burn out prematurely.
Because burnout isn’t about doing too much work … it’s about doing work that’s unpleasant and unproductive.
In one of my doctoral courses at Fuller, our professor told us that pastors should spend at least 70% of their time doing things they love and 30% doing things they don’t.
But if you’re spending 30% of your time doing what you love, and 70% doing what you hate, that’s a recipe for failure.
The problem many pastors have is that (a) we either view ourselves as indispensable, meaning we have to do everything and be everywhere, or (b) we believe that people expect us to do everything and be everywhere.
Both are common … but are recipes for disaster.
If you’re a pastor, which areas of ministry do you despise doing the most?
If you’re not a pastor, which areas of ministry do you think he dislikes the most?