The Hard Thing About Being A Pastor

Posted by: Tom, 0 comments

Every now and then I will have someone tell me, "This has to be the hardest part about being a pastor." Sometimes they say, "This is why I could never be a pastor." It doesn't happen often but in my case it has only happened when I have been walking with someone through the crisis of a loved one passing away, especially if that loved one is a child. Those situations aren't easy but they aren't even close to the hardest part about being a pastor.

Those situations can are hard because there is usually a lot of pain involved. Sometimes difficult decisions are required. Emotions are very raw and sometimes things can get awkward.

But at those times I am expected to be there and most of the time I am welcomed. People are glad I'm there and appreciate the love and support. Sometimes they almost seem desperate for my presence. They want me to walk with them through those moments.

The hardest part about being a pastor is caring for my soul and the souls of my parishioners. Confronting sin is seen as an invasion of a place where I am definitely not welcome. The initial response to my presence is often hostile and unwanted. Encouraging spiritual growth is viewed with the same tiresomeness as the constant drip of a leaky faucet. Eyes are averted and even my presence can be seen as something to be avoided. This is the hard part.

One option I have is to avoid the hard part altogether. I can be there in those crisis moments and keep everything light and uplifting the rest of the time and everything will be fine. I just need to be harmless and I will be tolerated or maybe even liked. I'm afraid some pastors choose this path.

But how can pastors live with themselves if they avoid the hard part? It seems to me that there is just no option.


Posted by: Tom, 0 comments

Disclaimer: Sometimes I feel this post is very true, while other times I don't. I'm just processing here.

I typed in the word "change" in my library search and got 21 hits. I didn't check but I would guess a lot of them have nothing to do with change but I know several are all about the subject of change. So here are my rules for change. I know they won't be exciting but here goes anyway.

#1. Don't. Yes, my first rule about change is not to change. Things have been going pretty good before you showed up on the scene so why are you trying to spoil it. And if things aren't going so well what makes you think you have a clue how to fix it? Get over yourself and do something useful. Okay, so maybe a few things do need to change. But the changes that are really needed are probably a lot more subtle than your grandiose plan. You do not have as high a change IQ as you think you do and you really don't want to know how to raise that IQ.

#2. Be Right. If you must change, you better be right about the need for change and the actual changes you are making. Don't insist on changing things and then be wrong. That creates way too much collateral damage. Does that scare you a little bit? It should. You or the people you are leading can't afford for you to be wrong about this. If you aren't sure you are right you probably shouldn't be making the change or maybe you aren't a leader who should be making changes.

What about failure? Aren't we supposed to learn to embrace failure and learn how to grow from it? There are plenty of other ways you can gain experience from failure. Don't use change for your own education and development. Change is hard and that's why only a few people probably have the capacity to lead change. You can probably learn how to do it but not from a conference, seminar, class, or even a bachelor's or masters program. It takes a PH.D. so you probably aren't qualified. If you aren't 99% sure you are right don't bother.

#3. It's all about people. It doesn't matter what you change externally if it doesn't change people internally. In fact, if you change things externally you might even get people to like it, buy it, and consume it, but if it didn't change people internally it isn't really change. I suppose there are external changes that trigger internal changes but they are a lot rarer than you think. The renewing of the heart and mind are internal processes that are a lot more resilient to external forces than you think.

Irrepressible Joy

Posted by: Tom, 0 comments

In the 1990's my mom would call and let me know whenever a Billy Graham crusade was on TV. I was involved in ministry at the time so it wasn't that she was hoping I would become a follower of Jesus. I think she just thought I would enjoy it. I used to tease her that I wasn't going to watch it because Billy Graham always had the same message and I had already heard it. She really couldn't argue with that. I did hear Billy Graham speak at the Urbana Missions Conference one year and he was fantastic.

To this day, my mom also sends me her copy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's Decision magazine when she's done with it. I usually give it a read and find that same old message still comes through loud and clear. I was reading an article on author Bodie Theone when I cam across a phrase that caught my attention. "Like her mother, Bodie's irrepressible joy began testifying to God's power, goodness and love."

What a witness to strive for. As that phrase rotated around my brain I got to thinking that a witness like that is something we can strive for no matter what situation we find ourselves in. I recently was talking with an individual who is very concerned about the direction our country is headed. In that type of situation it is easy to become discouraged and grim. But I think that even under the worst political oppression imaginable we can still be people of irrepressible joy, testifying to God's power, goodness, and love.

A Final Thought on Forgiveness

Posted by: Tom, 0 comments

As all other living humans I breathe, most of the time. I mean, I try not to breathe if I am underwater or if something or someone just stunk up the room. But most of the time I breathe, regularly and steadily without even thinking much about it. It is required for life.

Some people get excited about breathing, like a yoga instructor or fitness guru. I suppose there have been times in my life when breathing felt really good. Taking a nice deep breath of fresh air after you have been cooped up in a closed room feels great. I also have appreciated those first breaths of air after having the wind knocked out of me. But overall, breathing is simply a part of life that keeps me alive.

Sometimes we promise too much when it comes to forgiveness. I've read articles about how it will completely change your life when you learn to forgive. It leads one to believe that if I forgive someone I will be caught up in this rapturous moment of joy and will feel like all is now right with the world. I'm not sure forgiving someone is usually like that.

Forgiveness is important, just like breathing. It plays a vital role in our well being, just like breathing. It works in complex and interrelated ways within us, just like breathing. And just like breathing it often doesn't have the noticeable euphoric effect that some people claim it does. Go without it though, and you are sure to notice.

Okay, so the analogy is severely flawed. My point is that we can over-promise how forgiving will make us feel. We tend to give the impression that it will bring joy and happiness into our world and fix everything. The truth is that sometimes forgiving may actually hurt a little, or at least not have much of an impact on our overall happiness. Yet it is still vital for life.


Posted by: Tom, 1 comments

I have a person in my church who was abused as a kid by a neighbor and they will say, "I am not consumed by hate for that person and I don't wish them harm, but I could never forgive them." I completely understand that and I can only imagine the pain and hurt that was done. I'm actually very impressed that they can make that statement. But I have had a difficult time squaring the "never forgive" part with scripture. This morning it struck me that maybe our understanding of forgiveness is the problem.

I think it is fair to say that forgiveness is releasing another person from a debt that they owe us. Our usual narrative is that if someone does something to hurt us we want them to make amends for that somehow. At that point we will forgive them. However, if they make amends there is really nothing to forgive because they have repaid the debt. Forgiveness would be to release them (whether they are aware of my decision or not) from their debt without them having to pay anything back.

Maybe that is what this person in my congregation has done. Maybe they have forgiven their neighbor because they don't want or expect that person to repay them for the harm they have done. However, when they say they will never forgive them maybe they are really saying they won't forget because they know they need to keep a boundary there so that they will not be abused again.

The problem then is what to do about forgetting. The book of Hebrews twice quotes Jeremiah, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" which is where we get the idea of "forgive and forget." My first thought is that forgiving and forgetting are two separate things so when we are called to forgive we are not necessarily called to forget. I am not even close to being competent in Greek but Strongs gives one definition for the word "remember no more" as "to bear in mind, that is, recollect, by implication to reward or punish." So maybe the forgetting is a promise not to bring that debt up again for repayment once it has been forgiven.

I got to thinking that maybe we bundle too much into forgiveness and make it a lot harder to wrestle with emotionally than we should. First, we need to understand that forgiveness is releasing a person of a debt they owe to us. Forgiveness is NOT making up with someone after they have repaid a debt they owe to us. And forgetting their debt means that we will not change our minds and ask them to repay it at some later date. Forgetting is NOT wiping it completely from our minds so that we relate to that person exactly as we did before with no boundaries in place.

Heavy Lifting

Posted by: Tom, 0 comments

About 25 years ago I was a student in a 7 month program at Auburn University in Alabama. Kim and I lived in a nice apartment about a block from campus and next to a large traditional church. We tried a few other churches in the area but ended up attending our next door neighbor. I call it a traditional church but what do I know. As a Yankee I found it interesting that very few people attended that weren't dressed up in what appeared to be their best. Males wore suits and ties and females wore dresses and fancy hats. We did the same thing every week with hymns, prayers, and a 15 - 20 minute sermon.

The pastor had two passions in life; Jesus and weightlifting. And I don't think a Sunday went by that we didn't hear about both. If he was talking about setting goals you can be sure he would talk about a weightlifting goal he had set, along with the struggle to achieve it. If he wanted to stress support for one another he would put on his weightlifting belt and show us how it helped him lift weights. His sermons never got very deep but he always talked about how wonderful Jesus was and he backed it up with an illustration from weightlifting.

I liked him. I know all of us pastors probably overuse illustrations from our lives but somehow it made this guy seem genuine. He never tried to be someone he wasn't. He stuck with what he knew and that was Jesus and weightlifting. Even though I am sure there were others like me who were timing his sermons to see how long it would be before he mentioned weightlifting, I think it also gave us a sense of reliability and permanence. That's kind of good to know in a chaotic world.

I think most pastors realize, after they have been preaching for a while, that there is a long term effect we have on the people who listen to us. It is not just the message we preach week to week but also the message we deliver over the long haul. I noticed this when I started hearing words and phrases that I use regularly become part of the vocabulary of people in my church. Pastors need to pay attention to the overall message they are delivering over the long haul.


I'm Tom. I have a wonderful wife, 4 kids, a dog, and a cat. What more could a guy want.

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