Posts Tagged ‘what pastors love about ministry’

It’s been five-and-a-half years since I retired … or was retired … as a pastor.

There are aspects of being a pastor that I miss … and aspects that I don’t miss at all.

For example:

First, I miss studying for sermons.

I loved choosing a text or a topic, and then scouring my library until I had a stack of 25-30 books that dealt with that passage or issue.

And I loved finding an operational outline for my message.

And I loved writing the message, searching for the optimal words … creative illustrations … and practical applications.

When I was in the “study zone,” nothing else seemed to matter … and I often didn’t want the time to end.

I miss that.

Second, I miss teaching a class.

While preaching almost always consists of delivering a monologue, teaching a class can be much more of a dialogue with the students.

I loved preparing handouts … fielding questions … occasional debates … staying after class to interact … and going home feeling, “Wow, we all learned something important tonight.”

Since the senior pastor tends to be the only teacher in most evangelical churches these days … I trend I will never understand … I may never have the opportunity to teach an ongoing class for Christians in my lifetime.

I miss that.

Third, I miss counseling.

If someone came up to me after a worship service, and asked, “Pastor, do you have a few minutes?”, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to that person, encouraging their heart, and interceding for them in prayer.

If someone came to see me in my office for counseling, I considered it a great privilege, and did all I could to help the counselee feel heard and understood.

Most of us who are called to pastoral ministry just want to help people.  I do that now whenever someone emails me for counsel (usually involving pastor-church conflicts) or calls me on the phone, but it’s not the same as when people came to see me as their pastor.

I miss that.

Fourth, I miss planning for worship services.

For years, I attended a meeting – usually on a Monday evening – with people who helped me plan upcoming services.

It was fun to choose the right songs … to ask someone to share a testimony … or to select a crazy video we might show before or after the message.

And it was exciting to put together the service so it would flow well and lead people toward the preaching of God’s Word.

I don’t know how many churches have a team that plans worship anymore … much of this seems delegated to the paid worship director/pastor now … but I enjoyed the camaraderie and strategy involved in such meetings.

I miss that.

Finally, I miss taking risks to reach people for Christ.

Last week, I presented a workshop at a Christian leadership convention on “Instituting Change in Your Church.”

During my 36-year pastoral tenure, I’ve been involved in a church merger … a church rebirth … serving as an associate pastor and succeeding a senior pastor … and overseeing all aspects of the construction of a worship center, among others.

Thankfully, with each mega change, I learned a little bit more about how to cast a vision … communicate it effectively …  and bring people along to do something great for Jesus.

I miss that.

But there are things about church ministry that I will never miss … and some of them may surprise you.

First, I don’t miss weddings.

I once met a pastor who conducted 130 weddings a year on average.

That would drive me to the funny farm.

Weddings were difficult for me because I often didn’t know the couple I was marrying … so I didn’t know if they were telling me the truth about themselves during premarital counseling.

I married one couple on a Northern California beach … at least a quarter mile from the parking lot.  He dressed up like Sir Lancelot, and she appeared as Maid Marian.  The wedding guests – all 15 of them – sat on driftwood, and I think a horse was involved somewhere along the line.  I had to wait an hour after the pronouncement for my honorarium, and even then, it was like pulling teeth.

God help me.

The last wedding I conducted was at a resort on another Northern California beach.  The resort was 130 miles from my home, and my wife and I were gone 32 hours … mostly killing time until the ceremony.  The DJ was paid … the caterer was paid … the resort was paid … the wedding hostess was paid … and the pastor was stiffed.

I don’t miss that at all.

Second, I don’t miss board meetings.

For most of my ministry, I liked board meetings.  Various members didn’t always agree about everything, but we were usually able to talk matters out, come to consensus agreements … and leave as friends.

But toward the end of my ministry, I sensed that I was becoming irrelevant at those meetings.  The board had an agenda … which they did not explicitly share with me as their pastor … and the meetings became full of tension.

Then the board started making decisions outside of meetings … announcing them inside the meetings … and ignoring whatever concerns or objections I had.

My mentor says that he used to tell his staff when he was a pastor, “Our entire ministry could fall apart overnight.”

I think more ministries are destroyed inside board meetings than anywhere else.

I do not miss them at all.

Third, I don’t miss correcting staff members.

When a pastor hires a staff member, he often does a sales job … telling the potential staffer how great the church is and how much he/she is needed.

But when a staff member messes up … and they all do … many of them are not very receptive to correction.

I never yelled at anybody.  I never swore at anybody.  I treated staff members the way I would want to be treated … and often much better than the way I was treated when I was a staff member.

But in case after case, staff members turned against me after I corrected them.

What’s the alternative?  Lettings things slide?

Failing to address certain issues could have led to loss of credibility … damaged relationships … lawsuits … and even fatal accidents.

And if I as staff supervisor didn’t address those issues, I could ultimately be held responsible for staff failures.

I worked as a staff member for five pastors, and the first one corrected me more than the other four combined … and I ended up marrying his daughter!

But I don’t think I was ever as overly sensitive toward him as many staff members were toward me.

I don’t miss it at all.

Fourth, I don’t miss backstabbers.

When someone criticizes your ministry directly … using a response card, phone call, email, or a scheduled appointment … their observations might sting, but you can usually handle it, especially if you can engage them in a dialogue.

But churches … maybe more than most venues … have people who smile to your face … and stab you in the back.

I’m thinking of one woman in particular.  One day at church, she walked up and kissed me on the cheek … told my wife that she was lucky to be married to me … and then did her best to destroy me behind the scenes.

They give you the impression that they care about you … that you mean a lot to them … and then they turn around and denigrate you when you’re out of earshot.

Yes, I will let God take care of them.

But I don’t miss them at all.

Finally, I don’t miss being a spiritual target.

And believe me, Satan is in the business of targeting pastors.

In many ways, a local church pastor is the key person in advancing Christ’s kingdom.

He functions as a prophet … bringing God’s message to His people … and as a priest … representing the people before God.

Denominational leaders … parachurch presidents … seminary professors … special speakers … all must go through the pastor to communicate with a congregation.

The enemy knows that if he can take out a pastor, the ripple effect will soon become a torrent.

So the devil attacks a pastor in a variety of ways, using weapons like discouragement … betrayal … depression … temptation … and burnout.

Now that I’m not a pastor, my emotions are more stable, my friendships more solid, and my health more favorable.

I no longer sense I’m a spiritual target.

And I don’t miss it at all.

I do miss the romance of Sunday mornings … especially those last few moments before preaching … when you have no idea how God is going to use you.

But I enjoy having nights and weekends free … leaving early on a Saturday to visit my grandsons … and hardly ever hearing the phone ring at night.

I’m glad I was a pastor for many years … and I’m glad I’m doing a different ministry now.

Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9 have gotten me through many a discouraging time:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Do I hear an “Amen?”

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