“An Ode To Pastors”
In his book Men Sent from God, Richard DeHaan shares the challenges of a pastor: “If the pastor is young, they say he lacks experience. If his hair is gray, he’s getting too old for the young people. If he has five children, he has too many. If he has no children, he’s setting a bad example. If he preaches from his notes, he has canned sermons and he’s dry. And if his messages are extemporaneous, he isn’t deep. If he’s attentive to the poor people of the church, they claim he’s playing to the grandstand. If he pays attention to the wealthy, he’s trying to be an aristocrat. If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects the text. If he doesn’t use enough stories, he isn’t clear. If he condemns wrong, he’s cranky. If he doesn’t preach against sin, he’s a compromiser. If he preaches the truth, he’s offensive. If he doesn’t preach the truth, he’s a hypocrite. If he fails to please everybody, he’s hurting the church and ought to leave. If he does please everybody, he has no convictions. If he drives an old car, he shames his congregation. If he drives a new car, he’s setting his affection on earthly things. If he preaches all the time, then the people get tired of hearing one man. If he invites guest preachers, he’s shirking his responsibility. If he receives a large salary, he’s a mercenary. If he receives a small salary, well, they say he isn’t worth much anyway.”
When you hear the word “pastor,” what thoughts come to mind? There was a time when terms like honor, trust, and respect would instantly surface. The presence of a pastor was welcomed by presidents, school officials, business leaders, and those in the public square. But, the flaws of a few have now made pastors the object of ridicule and given way to long-running jokes like pastors only work one day a week. Most of the pastors I know feel wholly inadequate for the task in which they are called because of rising demands and expectations that are far greater than their ability to meet. Churches have borrowed from the secular standards of leadership to such a degree that pastors are now expected to be at one and the same time a Fortune 500 CEO, a shrewd accountant, a construction engineer, a wise philosopher, and a golden orator. Under this intense scrutiny, they pray to survive just one more day under the weight of the pressure.
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul is giving the details of all of the pains and predicaments he had endured, and in verse 28, the oldest manuscripts record Paul’s heart of dealing with “the pressure upon me daily for all the churches.” Ask any pastor who really takes his work seriously and he will tell you about the pressure he feels every day. It ranges from the pressures to feed, pressures to lead, and pressures to succeed. He knows that if he does not frequently say the incredible and do the impossible he is one business meeting away from being jobless. No wonder D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “A man should only enter the Christian ministry if he cannot stay out of it.” Most pastors are very guarded when it comes to the private places of their heart. But, allow me to give you a glimpse of what most pastors feel but rarely will ever verbalize.
The pressure of laborsome burdens. In Hebrews 13:17, it is a noted duty of a pastor that “they watch for your souls.” The word “watch” is the picture that comes to mind of a mother with a feverish child, and the mother goes without sleep to care for the child until the fever breaks. A pastor is invited into the most poignant moments of people’s lives. Whether it is the scene of an accident, a hospital room, or a funeral home, he steps into the center of the event. He is now an adopted member of the family forever, and all eyes are fixed upon him. There is a quick calm and renewed sense of hope because he represents the Lord. “Surely, God will hear his prayers,” they whisper. No one in the room wants a prayer to be spoken, the sick to rise up, and everyone can go home anymore than the pastor. It may happen, but when it does not, he leaves with his emotions frayed as he tries to reconcile within his heart his calling and his own frail humanity. He knows God is still in control, but he cannot escape the awesome sense of accountability he has to God for how he cares for those that have been entrusted into his watch-care.
The pressure of lively battles. In Matthew 18:12, Jesus described the heart of every caring pastor, “...if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?” He does so because he is keenly aware of the potential dangers his sheep may face. When the phone rings in the pastor’s office, nine out of ten times, there is a crisis on the other end. It could be a marriage falling apart, a child suspended from school, or a very shameful sin that will destroy lives. A pastor not only walks through these dark valleys with his people, but it becomes a personal matter to him. He wonders to himself if the problem could have been avoided if he had preached different sermons. He ponders throughout the day every possible angle for a solution. He prays throwing himself at the mercy of God’s wisdom. While he knows the decisions of others are ultimately their own, he can never rest in peace until he knows that all of his sheep are healthy, accounted for, and free of danger.
The pressure of leading blamelessly. In James 3:1, James writes, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” That is, those that teach others will be held to a higher standard of judgment. The strength of a pastor’s leadership ability is not found in his personality, his philosophies, nor his perception, but rather in how he handles the Word of God. Knowing that his chief responsibility is to feed others, he strives to deliver that which is accurate, meaningful, and worthwhile. He holds in his words the power to rescue or ruin. Life and death are at stake in every sermon he preaches. So, he preaches with reckless abandon as if it will be the last sermon he will ever preach. He agonizes at the thought of one hearing him speak and then passing into the next world void of eternal life. He wrestles to link his giftedness with his effectiveness when he has delivered his soul and his labor appears to be in vain. While he knows God’s Word does not return void, he lives with the recurring nightmare of one day standing before God empty-handed.
The pressure of living balanced. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul encouraged young pastor Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” It was a reminder that while seasons and people may change, he must remain steadfastly balanced in how he fulfills his ministry. If a pastor has stayed at a church any length of time at all, he has seen everyone at their best. But, he has also endured them at their worst. One of the most difficult jobs for a pastor is to keep his own heart pure from all he knows. The day-in-day-out chronicles of church life can become the breeding ground for cynicism and bitterness. Moses was surely not the last pastor to strike the rock when he should have simply spoken to the rock. No matter what people may do in their life, a pastor is pressed by a call that demands he step in when all others have stepped out. He must not only provide care for the white sheep, but he must also care for the black sheep as well. While he knows all judgment belongs to God, his heart and his mind are often at war for how to measure the rod and the staff appropriately.
Time fails me from talking about the pressures of spiritual warfare, living above reproach, church growth, pleasing men, and his family life. But, I think you get the point. A pastor will often live in solitude with his pressure. At the fear of appearing weak and vulnerable, he unwisely runs the risk of stress, depression, and burnout. Vance Havner said, “Many a church thinks it needs a new pastor when it needs the same pastor renewed.” Only those that have carried the mantle of a pastor can attest to the weight it bears. So, does your pastor have a look upon his face of being troubled and overwhelmed? It could be that he is not sure if today is the day he is supposed to be pitching or catching!
Your Most Proud Pastor,
© 2016 Alan Stewart
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