The call to be a pastor is a high and holy privilege. It is one of the greatest callings in the world. Yet I believe it is also one of the most challenging callings in the world.
Peter Drucker, the late corporate leadership guru, once said that the four hardest jobs in America are—(and these are not necessarily in order), the president of the United States, a university president, the CEO of a hospital, and the pastor of a large church. When I read that, I felt some degree of comfort, i.e. that someone else understands—even if few in the church do.
It’s been said that to be a pastor you must have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros! Why the hard hide? Because you are working against spiritual lethargy. When you change the status quo (which is what leaders are supposed to do) you will never please everybody. Sooner or later you will be criticized for changing something “sacred,” or falling short in some way. If you do what is right, Jesus said you will be opposed. So you need thick skin for this job!
Not only that, the expectations these days for being a pastor are enormous. Consider what one pastor wrote about the job description of the average pastor: “I’m to be a strong administrator, a charismatic leader, an inspiring preacher, an effective teacher, a wise and empathetic counselor, a person of vision and a public presence. I reach out, welcome, visit, marry, baptize, and bury. I’m to affirm, encourage, exude holiness and sensitivity, chair committees, keep up on my reading, stay relevant, use humor, thrive on “constructive” criticism, prepare two sermons a week, work when everybody else is celebrating, and be available 24/7. Oh, and be a model spouse and parent to show what a prize family looks like.”
These days, pastoral work is more complex than ever. You have to wear many hats – to oversee worship, to preach and teach, to administer the sacraments, to supervise pastoral care, to counsel those in need, to bring an entire church to spiritual maturity, to focus it on mission, to lead the charge in evangelism and outreach, to ably oversee the ministries of the church, to promote stewardship, to represent the church to the community, and to promote the overall health of the church. In all this, hours are long (you are never off duty). If you are a teaching pastor, the pace can be relentless. When the holidays come, your job does not slow down, but you go into hyper-speed.
The world does not value the role of the pastor as it once did. And these days it often seems like the church does not appreciate the important role of the pastor. Is it any wonder that pastors regularly question their callings and the dropout rate of pastors is so high. A few years ago, Lifeway Ministries did a study on pastors. It said that for every 20 people who go into the pastorate, only one retires from the ministry. Why? According to the study, some burn out, are dismissed or just plain quit.
During this Pastor Appreciation Month (October, in case you forgot—though any time before the end of the year is fine), I’d like to affirm the role of your pastor. I happen to think it is one of the most important jobs and one of the highest callings anyone could ever have. In saying this, I am not belittling other vocations. I am just reminding you that so much depends on the influence of a faithful pastor.
Think of it—churches are mission outposts. Pastors are called to lead the charge as they proclaim the gospel and spread the influence of Jesus Christ in their communities.
Or think of it this way. You may be worrying these days about the direction of the nation’s politics. But politics is a reflection of culture. Culture is shaped, to a large extent by its moral fabric. But that moral fabric is affected by the faith of the people. In other words, faith is the bedrock foundation for a society. It is churches which shape that faith through its salt and light influence and the proclamation of the gospel. And it is pastors who shape the church.
It was the Puritan writer Richard Baxter who said, “all church rise and fall as the ministry (the pastorate) doth rise or fall…” In other words, as the pastor goes, so goes the flock.
It’s been said that God has two armies. He ordains the state to bear the sword to keep order and restrain evil. But God also ordains the church as a spiritual army. It engages in a conflict that is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. It goes forward by those who wield the sword of the Spirit—which is the Word of God. Its greatest asset is the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. What other institution is entrusted with such a call and with such a treasure?
In his timeless classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan (an imprisoned pastor in the 17th century) portrays the pastor with great esteem. Before the wayfaring pilgrim named Graceless comes to the cross, he enters Interpreter’s House. There the Spirit shows him what will be profitable to him. He sees the picture of a person—it is a pastor –whose eyes are lifted up to heaven, the best of books is in his hands, the law of truth is written on his lips, the world is behind his back. He stood as if he pleaded with men and a crown of gold did hang over his head. Bunyan says, this man can beget children (!) and nurse them when born. He is the only one the Lord has authorized to be his guide in all the difficult places on the way.
Because of the role of the pastor is so critical, I believe that pastors are regularly in the scope of sniper fire from Hell. They have, as it were, a great big target on their backs. The one named Diabolos, who throws himself against the cause of Christ, would like nothing more than to sift and destroy its leaders, (as he tried to do with Peter), because he knows of their strategic importance for kingdom work.
That’s why I think Pastor Appreciation month is important. Friends, we’ve got to double our efforts to bless and affirm our pastors. Pass this blog post on to the lay leaders in your church.
Figure out how you will bless your pastor before the end of the year.
In the next two posts, I will tell you a little more about the role of a pastor, and how we might affirm them.