FIVE CONFESSIONS OF A MESSY PASTOR
I’ve served in vocational ministry for 20 years, but usually I try to talk people out of going into full-time ministry. Not because we don’t need more ministers, but because most people outside of ministry don’t know the cost.
I didn’t either. When I was ordained, full of a vision to save the world, I didn’t know the toll or the challenge. I didn’t anticipate a day like I had not long ago. In one 24-hour period I went from speaking and leading in public, to walking through death and personal hell with people I love, to celebrating new life with another couple whose baby had just been born. The emotional peaks and valleys were like the highs and lows of an EKG.
I don’t know how adequately to put into words the experience of day-by-day ministry. I have to be the guy who’s the rock, no matter the moment. People look to me to make everything OK. But sometimes I struggle to be OK myself.
I’ve always prided myself on being 100 percent real and authentic. But that’s hard for the pastor, because others can so easily misunderstand the pastor’s authenticity. Or criticize it. Or fear it.
This week and next, I want to be honest about how messy my ministry—probably any ministry—can be. I’m not in crisis. I’m not planning on quitting the church. I’m not unhappy with our church—I love our church! I’m thankful for a church and church leaders who let me be me.
I’m being transparent here, though, to help other ministers. Too many don’t feel they have the freedom to be themselves and share such thoughts. They don’t want to seem weak. They don’t want to seem not to love Jesus.
I want to help at least one other pastor understand they are not alone.
And so let me offer here five confessions of a messy pastor.
1. I question my faith—all the time.
There’s not a week when I’m studying the Bible or reading a Christian book or talking with someone about God that I don’t quietly think, “Do I really believe this?” When a 10-year-old dies, when one of the most godly men I know is in a car accident that will put him in rehab for years, my faith is shaken.
Someone told me this week, “Certainty is not faith. You don’t need faith for what you can see. You don’t need faith when you have all the answers.”
I readily admit I don’t have all the answers. Even if some think the pastor should.
2. I fear I’m not leading the church appropriately.
I pray, seek God’s will, and listen to wise counsel. But I always second guess myself. Even when I feel the answer is sure and the direction is sound, I question myself. I don’t want to ruin what God wants to do here.
3. I hate it when people leave our church, especially those I’ve been close with.
Even though people leave for a variety of reasons, I always take their departure personally. And often it becomes personal for my wife and kids, too. Their friends have left. There’s a void in our lives we must grieve. And sometimes the grief is heavy.
4. I let people’s church attendance affect me more than I should.
It’s a national trend: even many of those who consider themselves regular or engaged church members attend less regularly than their counterparts did a decade or two ago. According to one study, more than a third of those who say they attend church do so only about once a month or less often. These folks consider themselves a part of the body, but I worry how an arm or leg can stay healthy if it’s cut off from the body at large. But the statistics don’t help me feel better about myself and my ministry. When people don’t attend, I take it personally. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I hate that I let people’s church attendance affect my soul.
5. I genuinely love Jesus, want more people to share eternity with him, and will continue to fight through all of this.
The battle is worth it. The people we’re reaching are worth it. And I know God is with me.
If you’re a pastor, could you make any of these confessions? If you’re not a pastor, will you pray for yours in case one of these confessions is real for him? And if you have a confession not on this list, watch for next week’s post. Maybe you’ll see it there.