Pastoral Ministry REALLY is Hard!
Many pastors enjoy what they do. Yet, some who felt called to preach, in time, abandon the ministry. It is an unfortunate and tragic loss to the body of Christ.
During Pastor Appreciation month, my blogs will focus on putting pastoral ministry in perspective. Since I remain a pastor, though in the sunset season of that phase of ministry, addressing this topic is not one with which I’m fully comfortable.
My observations could potentially be misunderstood by someone in Springfield. Please don't. Hopefully, you good and kind people will accept that I’m addressing pastoral ministry from an “arms-length” view.
The Pastor's Job Description
Ezekiel’s job description for a shepherd seems simple (Ezekiel 34). A pastor is to feed, lead, seek the wandering, and heal the hurting. Some may need to take note of what is NOT in that job description. Things such as legal advice, a medical opinion or co-signing a loan are not mentioned by Ezekiel.
But, there are complications in each facet of the job description. Consider the complexity of "feeding the flock":
- The dietary needs of lambs differ from those of a mature ewe. Some need milk, while others need meat.
- Some sheep are “picky eaters.”
- A few in the flock seem to intentionally look for weeds to eat.
- The popular “convenience store” availability of pre-packaged “junk food” for the soul.
- Sick sheep won’t eat, no matter how good the grass.
- Some seem allergic to any dietary fiber for their soul.
Later, we will talk about the contemporary complications of leading, seeking and healing.
BTW, Pastoral Ministry REALLY Is Hard
Pastor, you have experienced that being a pastor is difficult. But too often a pastor imagines it is hard because of his lacking. In this, you are wrong. It is usually not your lacking or because you are doing something wrong.
Leadership guru Peter Drucker wrote thirty-nine books about corporate leadership. He made an interesting observation:
Over the years I have made a career out of studying the most challenging management roles out there. After all of that I am now convinced the two most difficult jobs in the world are these—one, to be President of the United States, and two, to be the leader a church.
There you have it: from one of the most studied leadership consultants in history – pastoral leadership is a tough gig. Your job, or more correctly, what God has called you to do, is harder than being the CEO of Ford, the Mayor of New York, or the governor of the state of Missouri.
Realizing this is important, Because, acceptance of the difficulty is the first step toward continually preparing yourself to be effective with whatever difficulties come.
"Continually preparing yourself" is underlined above because anything challenging requires preparation. And the more complex a matter is, and it is always complex if it involves people, the more constant your prep work must be. Effective pastors must:
- Be a life-long learner.
- Pay attention to what principles work for other effective pastors who are ahead of you in age and size congregation. Don't learn from someone who has proven their ability to "shrink or stagnate a church."
- READ! Leaders are readers. Used books often have as much benefit as new books. I love the writings of "long-since dead preachers." On occasion, this website has discounts specifically for pastors. Take advantage of such discounts.
- Accumulate resources. How many sermon ideas are in your Evernote file bearing that name? I just checked mine. It has over 4,000 sermon snippets. More than I'll ever preach. Some are for funerals, most denote which of 20 topics they focus on. The majority are ideas aimed at preaching to the lost.
- Grow yourself. Growing leaders develop growing followers. How many ideas for leading and managing for growth are in your files? Perhaps the question is: where do you get such? By talking with pastors who are currently leading and managing for growth!
- Ask questions. I'm constantly asking pastors, "What is working for you right now?" Call somebody who can guide you through a situation. A pastor recently sent me a note inquiring as to how to respond to someone traveling through who'd called "wanting to share his ventriloquism ministry." My response: I'm protective of our pulpit. If I don't know a visiting preacher I recognize them as being our guest but nothing more. By the way, I learned to be overly protective by getting burned by "stupid" one time and then paying attention to guys like Anthony Mangun and David Bernard. "Whosoever will" applies to the gospel, but not to our pulpit.
- Develop habits and systems that work for you. Then practice them!
A Word to God’s Flock
Let none convince you that pastors sleep late, work two days each week and eat chicken on Sunday. Cut your pastor some slack. He deals with a lot of “moving parts.”
- High level spiritual work will draw high level spiritual warfare. Your pastor gets special attention from Satan and his minions. Constantly build a wall around him with your prayer.
- Each person has their own personality and preferences. Think of all the variations of “wonderful, though strange” you have encountered. Your pastor may lead several who are “wonderful though strange.” Ask God to give your pastor wisdom in dealing with such people. The most dangerous regarding distracting him from a pastoral focus are those who are self-centered or have borderline personality disorders.
- The buck stops there. A good pastor does not throw someone else under the bus when things don’t go well. (This is the case of all true leaders.) In a church of average size, (between 70 – 80 in Sunday attendance) running out of toilet paper in the men’s restroom or not having enough chicken at the Homecoming Lunch is somehow the pastor’s responsibility. Take responsibility for more! Encourage others to do the same. Blame your pastor for less!
- He has a life too. Parents, kids, grandkids, grass to mow, bills to pay, friends with whom to laugh; if bi-vocational, a job or business that takes 40 hours or more of each week. Don’t have unrealistic expectations.
- If you are one of those who hold up the hands of your Moses, then stay near him prepared to do your job. Those who hold up the pastor's hands are rare. In each of our pastorates there was at least one good man who was alongside. Their emotional, mental, physical and spiritual support during times when I battled depression, exhaustion or being overwhelmed helped me be effective. In some of those occasions, I’d have failed had it not been for those men. (Which reminds me that I’ve some notes of appreciation to write to several men who have been more of a help than they will ever know.)
- Give him honor, whether he enjoys it or not.
Because these blogs need to be read without imagining me having ulterior motive I'll not be aggressive with marketing on these blogs. However, do be aware:
There is a 20% Discount on Pastor Appreciation Gift Cards during October.
I'm teaching through the book of Acts online. Those "rough draft" notes are available for free. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can subscribe to my Youtube channel to see these videos here.
Or you may want to buy specific books.
Some books each pastor (and developing preacher) would benefit from:
Questions Pentecostal Preachers Ask (these first editions are almost gone and are a bit expensive).
Masterful Preaching - Learning how to preach to the lost.
The Science of Shepherding - Pastoral Ministry for the 21st Century - A great deal of practical insight about feeding, leading, seeking, and healing God's people.
The Details Matter - Leading and Managing God's Church. Per the directives of the United Pentecostal Church, International this is required reading prior to ordination.
Honey from a Strange Hive - An assortment of funeral sermons, some for difficult occasions such as a funeral.