It seems to me that there are four pressure points I experience on a weekly basis that seems to be common to all pastors and ministry leaders. These pressure points have no regard for person, giftedness, experience or size of church or ministry.
Note: I’m not complaining here. I’m just acknowledging what we all experience.
We care about people. It’s innate to our calling as pastors. God loves the people he has created and calls us to care for them. Most of the time this care comes in the form of a simple friendship or an encouraging conversation.
Many times, we provide spiritual care in the form of personal or group discipleship. Sometimes we have to respond to a crisis such as the death of a loved one, a job loss, depression or suicidal tendencies, divorce, a break-up, etc. Other times we’re tasked with managing conflicts, clarifying misunderstandings, and de-escalating disagreements. In all of our interactions with people, we, as pastors, are required to demonstrate a non-anxious and differentiated presence (even if we’re hot or stressed under the collar ourselves), a caring and compassionate heart (even if we don’t like it), a prayerful confidence of Spirit-led direction (even if we don’t have a clue what we’re doing) balanced by humility (even if we know we’re right and they’re wrong). There are so many variables in our interactions with people…we never know what we’re going to get hit with on any given day, any time of day.
That’s a lot of pressure. For most of us, responding well in every situation does not come natural. Things like grace, compassion, confidence, and wisdom don’t come easy. Hopes of being fun-loving, light-hearted, and playful are oftentimes squashed by the seriousness of what we’re dealing with that other people don’t know about because of confidentiality and discretion.
We’re all part of a program. Maybe you’re all about relationships and don’t like to use that word. But, like it or not, we’re all part of a program and we all implement programs. They just have different looks in different contexts for different purposes. Our church or ministries governance system and finances. Our outreach and discipleship strategies. Our events, trips, and fundraising plans. Our weekly worship services, youth group gatherings, classes, and small groups. Our weddings, funerals, and visitations. Our methods of communicating with parents, students, leaders, congregants, other churches, and the community at large. These are all programs, are all part of a larger program, and they all require us, as pastors, to manage them well. We are forced to, whether we like it or not, deal with the office stuff, be administrative, sit at the computer, and endure endless meetings. Especially if your going to let your church grow, you’ll need to work on the program to support the people.
Regardless of what size your church is, the pressure remains constant. From small to large, every pastor has to work on the program. Unfortunately, we have a hard time working on the program because we’re always stuck working in the program as the teacher, the leader, the coordinator, the officiant, the visitor, the preacher, and so on.
That’s a lot of pressure. After all, if the worship service or youth group gathering falls flat, who’s to blame for it? If the outreach or discipleship strategies become outdated or ineffective, who do people look at? If you don’t raise enough money to go on the mission trip, who do people get upset with? When communications are poor and people start arguing about who said or didn’t say what, who’s responsible for improving the process, adding more meetings, using more methods of communication, with more people? The pastor.
Oh yeah! I forgot…Sunday’s coming. Or, Wednesday’s coming. For some, both days are coming every every week! There’s a sermon to preach, a message to give, a class to teach. Some pastors take the approach of writing their sermon the morning or day of the gathering in a this-is-what-God-has-put-on-my-heart sort of way. But, most of us have to plan it out much further out and in much more intentional detail. There’s a lot of thought that goes into its development. And, these days, each sermon or message is usually part of a longer series.
That sermon better be good. It needs to be relevant and helpful yet profound and interesting. It needs to be clear and concise but not pithy or cliche. It needs to be firmly rooted in good biblical exegesis and applicable to the life of an 8th grader, or a single mom, or a couple of retired empty-nesters…or maybe to all of them at same time! It needs to be the wind that guides the daily sails of our people, our churches, and perhaps even our communities and culture.
That’s a lot of pressure. Especially when we all know the type of comments we’ll get after the service or the phone calls we’ll get the next day. Especially when we know that even one word or sentence misunderstood about a sensitive issue can lead to all sorts of conflict. Especially when we know that, in general (huge generalization here), the success of our churches often rise and fall with the success of our preaching.
And this is how we all feel by the time we get to this fourth “P”. You mean we have personal lives? Oh, what? The kids have to go where? The care broke down? The cousins are coming to stay with us this weekend? Hey, when’s the last time we had a date? But what about family movie night?
Yes, we do have personal lives with personal families, interests, hobbies, vacations, issues, and crises. For many pastors, the personal side of life can be another pressure point. The constant juggling of schedules, the challenges of family relationships, the financial stress, the never-ending list of projects at home…add them all up and it can be pretty stressful. For all of us, the personal side of life can be a source of rejuvenation, joy, and fulfillment. And, it’s all worth fighting for so we put the pressure on ourselves to maintain a healthy personal life.
When I think about these four pressure points, I am reminded of two things.
They are common to all of us. We all share this bond together. We can all relate to each other in these four ways. The small church pastor and the large church pastor both experience pressure from their people, programs, preaching, and personal lives. We’re in this together.So, let’s encourage each other, not envy each other. Let’s care for one another, not compete with each other. Small church pastor…show compassion for the large church pastor, not suspicion. Large church pastor…show compassion for the small church pastor, not contempt. Youth pastor…don’t compare how bad you have it to how good your senior pastor has it. Senior pastor…look at your youth pastor with love and care, not condescension.
Christ is our counter pressure. When we, as pastors, find our identity in Christ then…
…no personal crisis
can define who we are or how we see and feel about ourselves. We do not find our sense of worth from the people we deal with, the programs we manage, the sermons we preach, nor anything we find in our personal lives. Christ provides the inner peace, the inner strength, the inner guidance we need to counter the points pressing in on us. He is our solace, our refuge, and the center of our focus.As the saying goes, “God does not call the equipped. He equips the called.” None of us had any idea how intense the pressures would be when we accepted our call into ministry. But let’s not forget Who called us in the first place and His promise to never leave us nor forsake us.