October is Pastor Appreciation Month, that magical of time of year when we briefly stop and realize the craziness that we put pastors through. Pastors have some of the most unrealistic and impossible expectations placed upon them. One church magazine put it like this:
He preaches exactly 20 minutes and then sits down. He condemns sins but never hurts anyone. He makes $60.00 a week, wears good clothes, buys books regularly, has a nice family, drives a good car and gives $30.00 a week to the church. He is 26 years old and has been preaching for 30 years. He is tall and short, thin and heavyset, and handsome . . . He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all his time with older folk. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls a day on the church members, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, and is never out of his office. ("The Sawdust Trail," Pillar Monthly, November 1997, vol 98, no 11).
Many pastors - and church directors, ministers, or preachers - do their best to serve their congregations - even if it hurts them personally. 90% pastors work over 55 to 75 hours a week; over 50% feel that ministry is a detriment to a healthy family and marriage. Yet the large majority of pastors report that ministry is their one true calling, that they can't imagine doing anything else.
As I explore the life of Jesus, I've realized that he would have made a terrible pastor. That is, if we applied our modern assumptions of what a pastor "has to be" onto Jesus. Here are just three examples from the first chapter of Mark:
HE EXPECTED TOO MUCH OF PEOPLE (MARK 1:17)
Professional fishermen Simon and Andrew were just minding their own business when Jesus comes along and asks them to quit their jobs and be with Him instead. Same thing with James and John. They are in the boat with their father, tending to the family fishing business, and then - boom. Jesus says, "Hey leave the family business and come be with me instead."
Who does He think he is? These guys had reliable incomes, family expectations, settled lives. How dare Jesus ask of people so much!
Now don't get me wrong, some churches and pastors do in fact ask way too much of their congregations. Like Pharisees, they will "load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them" (Luke 11:46).
But when a pastor is asking you to leave a life of sin, to become more self-reflective, to participate in Christian community for the sake of growth, we shouldn't resent that pastor for asking too much of us. The rhythms of Christian life, properly calibrated, can and ought to feel like sacrifices. They can feel like giving up our very lives; like dying to ourselves. But Jesus' high calling - often spoken through the lips of trembling, nervous pastors - is worth everything.
HE WASN'T AVAILABLE WHEN PEOPLE WANTED HIM TO BE (1:35-38)
Jesus had just had a very successful ministry day. People were getting healed, demons were being cast out, people were being amazed. So you can understand the disciples' confusion when they wake up the next day and Jesus is nowhere to be found.
"Everyone is looking for you!" they exclaim, after the find Jesus - of all things - in a solitary place praying.
But at least the disciples had found Jesus and He was going to get back to work, right?
Instead, Jesus says, "Let's go somewhere else."
Jesus was not a slave to people's expectations. Jesus knew - and pastors quickly discover - that becoming a slave to people's expectations is a quick sprint to disaster. Jesus was passionate for and said yes to only One Thing: being with the Father and doing what the Father did.
That sometimes - oftentimes! - meant disappointing people. Not showing up when expected. Leaving when it was unexpected. Being - at times - unreachable.
You better believe that when Jesus left for somewhere else, people were angry and upset. That they assumed the worst of Jesus and His motivations. But Jesus was unconcerned with what people thought of Him. He was confident in His Father's love and approval. That's all He needed.
When pastors live solely out of the Father's love for them - and become less dependent on people's approval - then you better believe people get aggravated. When pastors seek to be faithful rather than successful, manipulative people no longer have the leverage to make pastors do what they want.
HE HAD TERRIBLE ADVERTISING SKILLS (MARK 1:43)
After Jesus heals a man of a skin disease Jesus tells him, "Don't tell anyone."
This instruction happens quite a bit in the Gospels, particularly in Mark. It can be confusing. Why would Jesus want to keep His identity a secret? Why keep the miracles out of the open? What a terrible PR policy, right?
But Jesus wasn't interested in PR. He wasn't trying to build a "platform" or develop his personal "brand." Jesus had no interest in notoriety. In fact, he actively worked against it. The man with leprosy went and blabbed about his healing anyway. So more people showed up to see Jesus. And what does Jesus do?
He keeps going to the lonely places.
It can be chic for pastors to create a personal brand and platform, nab book deals, and get their face in front of more and more people. And I won't presume to know the motivations behind every pastor that does so (even Jesus, who actively pushed against notoriety ended up with crowds following him everywhere!).
But pastors who are content with obscurity, with being not well-known, with being unpopular: they actually might be closer to Jesus' model of ministry. Jesus waited 30 years before he started his public ministry. Then, after a hot burst of popularity, He kept saying things that made the crowd thin out more and more until He ends up completely alone in Gethsemane, not a fan or follower to be found.
PITCHFORKS AND TORCHES
Let's face it, pastors aren't perfect. And neither are the congregations that pastors lead. This lack of perfection inevitably leads to friction and conflict.
But before we get out our pitchforks and torches, let's make sure that we are upset for the right reasons. Are we upset at a pastor because they didn't meet *my *expectations; or because we honestly feel that they are out of step with God's will for them?
Making people upset - by itself - is not a measure of how close to God someone is. Jesus - though perfect - still managed to have a traitor in his posse, anger the religious establishment, and get murdered by the state. Let's try to evaluate not only pastors but everyone by how faithful they are in moving closer to God, not just by how they make us feel.