What is EDGE-X?

Evangelize the Lost, Disciple the Found, Give back to the Community, Edify the Church, all to eXalt the Savior.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Hey everyone!

I thought I would post here about something very close to my heart and something I deal with on a daily basis: what it means to be a minister. What I have found is that I am not alone in how I feel many times. So, I thought I would tell you what it was like and hope you learn something from this.

First off, people who are in the ministry are not more spiritual than you: they are just like you in every way; they don't have more divine insight. They may study their Bible more because they have more time to do so, but that doesn't make them better in any way. They are human just like you, with (as my pastor would say it) hurts and hangups, blessings and baggage. Pastors will make mistakes and they will disappoint you, but do not berate them because of their position, they are doing the best they can.They will be held accountable to God for what they teach others and God will judge them accordingly. 

When people see a pastor, they tend to judge him more harshly. In some cases, that is necessary. Because I am put in a position as a "spiritual leader" of a group of people, I am called to higher standards. I am totally okay with that, even the Bible says that an overseer must be someone "above reproach" or "blameless." (1 Timothy 3:2) I try to live my life in light of 1 Corinthians 8-14, of which I focus on chapter 10, versus 31-33 which say in the NLT, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved."

Yet, I have found that no matter what I do, someone is always offended in some way. I try to "be careful so that [my] freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble," (1 Corinthians 10:9 NLT) but I often check my Facebook page to find depressing comments on my links and even more depressing messages in my inbox. Sometimes the criticisms are valid, and I need to change something about myself. Other times, people are trying to graft onto me what they think a pastor should be. (More on this later.)

Remember that pastors are not super-humans. They are not given more spiritual gifts than you have been given.You have everything that they are offered at your disposal as well. God doesn't give them special powers or make them more equipped than you are. The same God that loves them and gives them what they need will give you what you need. Don't leave everything up to the pastor and say, "Oh, that's the pastors job to do that," because you are called to be a minister too. You may not be called to lead a congregation, preach, or teach the Bible, but you are called to be a minister to every person you run into. Don't just chalk all these responsibilities as a Christian up to the pastor and let him do all the work. You, as a congregation member, have just a much work to do. Don't place the burden all on him. 

Second, pastors feel called or compelled to do their job, and are not drafted, forced, or beat into doing it. The calling is a unique experience. I cannot speak for every pastor, so I will just describe what it is like for me: 

I feel like no matter what I do, I cannot be satisfied in any other occupation other than ministry. Every time I have found myself searching out something other than ministry, I have found myself right back to ministering wherever I was at. Everywhere I go I do some kind of ministering. I cannot turn it off. It is like a compulsion that I just feel I should do. 

Understand, I am not being forced to do this, I want to do this. Well, I "want" to do it to a certain extent. Nobody wants to have to deal with complaining, bitter people who argue all the time about whether or not the church should have green carpet or grey carpet or listen to gossip about how Jane didn't bring a salad to the potluck like she was supposed to. Christian people tend to get very childish and irritating at times, so what person in their right mind would want to have to put up with stuff like that daily? Ministry isn't something I necessarily want to do, but at the same time I very much want to do it. It is an interesting paradox. I feel compelled to do it and found that I could not escape from it. 

We know that pastors are human and that they are called to this ministry, but the third thing you must know is that each pastor's ministry looks very different because they are led very different people. This is probably the biggest misunderstanding about pastorship because, for some reason, many people believe that each pastor should be the same. I do not understand this; God has called each person differently and equipped each person differently: why do people expect them all to be the same and have the same values and pursue the same goals? 

Every pastor is (at least supposed to be) pursuing Christ and trying to advance the Kingdom of God. How they go about those goals are different, because there are thousands of different types of people in the world. One pastor may be more soft-spoken, like a teacher. Another is more in-you-face and hardcore while another works with youth and tends to be a bit crazy. Some pastors work with the broken and those on the fringe of society so they go to places most Christians wouldn't dare step into. Each person is different for a reason: why don't we let them minister in the way they are called stop grafting them into our ideal pastor?

What most people don't realize is the pressure put on pastors or other ministers. They are expected to perform, to rise above, to be the flawless example that they can look up to and their children and grandchildren can aspire to be. I wouldn't disagree with these expectations. I want all pastors to be exceptional men or women of God that everyone should look up to.

However, what I have found is that most of the time people are not attributing Biblical characteristics of what a pastor should be onto a pastor, but are instead applying what their interpretation of a pastor should be onto that person. These people are well-meaning, but they are depressing the pastor more than anything. Rather than look at what the pastor is doing right, they hone in on one thing that they do not approve of and criticize the pastor for that.

I cannot count the number of messages I have received from people who had my best interest at heart, but have tried to graft onto me their image of what a perfect pastor should be. Most of the time these people remember a pastor from their past--or even a current pastor that really changed their life--and apply that template onto another pastor. Other times, people will create what they believe is a perfect God-man in their mind and graft that onto the current pastor they do not believe is living up to their standard. What results from this fusion of expectations is a frustrated pastor and a frustrated congregation member that is not happy with how the pastor is performing.  

Let's give an example (and I will use a totally hypothetical one so nobody gets offended): 

Jairus, a young pastor, is called to the ministry and is called to reach a younger crowd of people. He decides he is going to get a Bible verse tattooed on his arm as a personal commitment between him and God and to act as a conversation starter between him and the people he will be witnessing to. He then proceeds to post a status about getting a tattoo on Facebook, where Sally Sue, an older member of his previous church, quickly jumps onto the status and writes him a personal message about how many people he will lead down a very dark path if he gets a tattoo.

Sally comes from a very conservative southern town where only the non-Christian bikers wore tattoos. They were a sign of rebellion and a wild parting lifestyle. She believes that a pastor, a spiritual leader, should never get a tattoo because he will be endorsing that behavior. She watched Jairus grow up in the church: he was such a strapping young boy with good potential! Now she feels he is backsliding and succumbing to the temptations of the world when in reality he is reaching out to a new generation. His other Christian friends support this decision and think that it will be a good conversation starter for his new ministry. Jairus feels stuck. He feels the severe questioning of his elder who desperately wants him to mold into her image of a pastor while he is trying to reach out to a group of people who have never been reached before. How can he reach one group without isolating himself from another?

Let's look at another hypothetical scenario: 

In high school, Cody was the star church boy. He was the exemplar of the youth group, the model of what a Christian young man should be. He wore the Jesus-ware, prayed every day out at the flagpole at his school, and even led a Bible study after school in one of the Christian teacher's classrooms. All the church members were so proud of him.

When he went to college, he realized that he could not relate to anyone who wasn't a Christian. Nobody wanted to be around "that hyper religious boy" because they felt he was always trying to convert them. Cody realized that he had been so wrapped up in the Christian subculture that he had lost his ability to talk to normal people. 

In order to reconnect with non-Christians, he started hanging out with those who did not follow Christ. He even went to parties just to talk to people, although he never drank anything. He stopped being so pushy about his beliefs and chose to let those conversations come up naturally. His patience was soon rewarded one night when he went to a bar with one of his friends. They ended up having a deep talk about spiritual matters over a game of pool. The young man expressed an interest in "this Jesus guy" and was eager to learn more about him. Feeling accomplished, Cody goes to church the next morning to tell everyone what had happened, but the more he shared, the more criticism he got from those he thought would be supportive.

"You went where?"
"Why did you think that would be a good idea?"
"You are called to the ministry, Cody. You should NOT be going to in places like that! What if someone saw you?"
"Do you realize what goes on in those kinds of places? Do you realize what could have happened?"
"You could have had that conversation anywhere outside that place." 

Cody was distraught. Didn't Jesus hang out at the houses of tax collectors and sinners? he thought. Wasn't Jesus labeled a "friend of sinners?" Why am I supposed to distance myself from them?

Cody didn't realize that they weren't trying to say he couldn't hang out with non-Christians; they didn't think he, as a future pastor, should go to a place where so much sin took place. These well-meaning people believe that by going to a bar, he is (1) endorsing all the sin that goes on there or (2) potentially leading someone else who is at a weak state in their life into more sin. 

In my experience (although it is rather limited), the only people who are ever rattled by events like this are those who have been in church for decades. Those who are younger or weaker Christians don't see a pastor succumbing to the wills of the world but often see it as a pastor being more relevant to them and sympathetic to their struggles, willing to go to places where they thought that  a pastor never should go. I have never met a young Christian or a weaker Christian say, "Ya know, I decided to start drinking again because I saw my pastor in a bar once." In fact, my theory has Biblical weight: the people who were most upset about Jesus traveling around with "sinners and tax collectors" were the religious elite of the day, not the weaker Christians.

Some pastors end up turning a blameless lifestyle into a self-righteous lifestyle, distancing themselves from others inadvertently. Instead of reaching people, a "holy" title is strapped onto them and those who do not follow Jesus feel they could never be apart of his "holy" lifestyle:

"I could never be like him, he is too perfect."
"Why would I be a Christian? He isn't allowed to do anything. He can't go here, he can't go there. All he can do is go to church and read his Bible."
"You can't say those words around him! He's a pastor! You'll get smited or something!"

What we, as the Church, have done is turned our pastors into holy men that are other than human. People feel like they are unrelatable as human beings. Pastors are in this "other" category that most non-Christians feel is (1) unattainable to them or (2) totally unlike them in every way and feel like they cannot be apart of it. In essence, Christianity has become its own culture to the detriment of the message of Christ. People feel Christianity is such a radically different lifestyle and totally unappealing to the common person that Christianity, as a whole, is shrinking.

Granted, in some ways, it should be unappealing. Sacrificing yourself daily isn't very fun at all. Giving up the things you love that take up all your time in order that you can devote that time to better things is not something regular people do. Realizing that there is nothing you can do to earn your salvation is a huge act of faith that seems ridiculous. Despite these very unappealing things, people were still drawn to Jesus. They came to him by the hundreds. 


Because they saw something in him they wanted. 

This charisma is what should be happening to our pastors, yet most of our pastors are seen as distant from everyday life. Normal people feel they cannot relate to them and don't really want to be around them. They are not drawn to them like they should be. But this isn't just a pastor problem: this is a Christian problem. Yes, pastors are supposed to shine the light of Christ, but as I said before, don't put all the responsibility on the pastor. Take responsibility yourself and let Christ move in you so you too can be "a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden." (Matthew 5:14, NLT)

I have been in very similar situations as what I described above in the hypothetical scenarios. In fact, I had one lady tell me (in essence; I am paraphrasing what I heard and interpreted from her statements, not what she actually said): 

"Adam, I could never go to the church where you are a pastor. In fact, I had to hide all updates from you on Facebook because they enrage me so much. I feel that you have gone too far and allowed to much of the world in. I fear that you will be leading other people down a wrong path. I fear for your future congregation and I pray for them if you are going to be their pastor. I think you will lead many people astray from God if you keep following this path."

Yup. That was really uplifting, which brings me to my fourth point:

You can make or break a pastor's ministry. 

I think this is the point I am trying to make in this long post: support your pastor. 

It is so easy to walk up to the pastor and criticize him or tell him what you think he should be doing in his ministry or at the church. It is easy to walk up and complain about someone else not doing their job and to tell him that he needs to speak to said person in order to make them do the right thing. It is so easy to vent to him about all your problems and then say, "I feel a lot better," and go home feeling refreshed, not realizing that he listened to six other people vent to him before you. It is hard to tell him just how much his ministry means to you.

I'm not saying that you cannot vent to the pastor; that is his job (and calling) to listen to you and help you out any way he possibly can. I am asking you to be sensitive to him, knowing his job is rough. Show him your appreciating from time to time. Take him out to dinner. Give him some time off. Tell him what a great job he has been doing. 

I think that last one is probably the most important because not enough people do it. Make sure to really let your pastor know how much he means to you. Send him an email, a letter--something to let him know how awesome he really is. Remember, it's the pastor's job to deal with a lot of junk within the church, so any form of encouragement is so welcome.

I am willing to bet that the current ratio of bad stories to good stories is about 10:1. (I don't know if that is actually true, and I haven't asked a lot of pastors nor kept track of it myself, but it seemed like a good estimate.) What would be wonderful for the pastor, and really encourage his ministry is to have that ratio 1:1. Tell him one good thing for every problem that you run across. Don't stop telling him your problems, just try to think of something positive as well, even if it may seem small.

What a pastor really wants to hear above all else is how God is affecting your life and changing you into a better person. That is the entire purpose of his calling: to help people and equip them to be better. Tell him when God has been working on you. It is one thing to walk up to him after a service on Sunday and say, "Nice sermon." It is another thing all together to say, "The sermon you just preached really hit me today. I have been having a hard time with pride lately, and that message really hit the nail on the head. I am going to really try to put into practice what you said."

Understand that you can really help or hurt his ministry. If you constantly badger him, then he will feel defeated because it is a lot of work to try to counter so much negativity. If you encourage him and lift him up, you will see his energy soar and he will feel so much better about his work. 

I have been attacked pretty severely to where I am super sensitive about my ministry. Any type of encouragement speaks the world to me. Conversely, any criticize smacks me like a load of bricks. I tend to question my calling on a weekly basis now--sometimes daily. I am not telling you this so you can reply with, "Oh, Adam... I'm so sorry... You are a great pastor and I think that you will be so fruitful and reach so many people--yada yada yada...." I am not looking for sympathy here. I don't do well with sympathy. I do best with honesty and sincerity. 

I am telling you this because I have felt the burn of criticism. I have felt people trying to mold me into what they think a minister should be. I have felt people try to graft me into their interpretation of what a minster is. I have been criticized, questioned if I am going down the right path, and told that "We'll be praying for you..."  so many times I cannot count. ("We'll be praying for you..." I have discovered is code for, "You are not doing what we think you should be doing as a pastor, so we are going to pray that God will morph you into what we think you should be," rather than who he made me to be.) I am saying all of this to say that I know for a fact what a pastor would love to hear. Hopefully, you can learn something from this post and show your pastor a bit of appreciation from time to time. I know they will love it. 

God bless you, and I hope you have a great week!

Following his call,
Matthew 7:12

1 comment:

  1. Adam, this was AWESOME! As we say in seminary, "That'll preach!" So many of these things are spot on. It's unfortunate that those in ministry (and those of us who are preparing for ministry) are seen as super-human, because we're not. My bishop was talking about this issue at Annual Conference. He jokingly said "When I get a request to send a church a new pastor, they basically want a 27 year old pastor with 30 years of experience." However, the point still stands, Christians in all denominations have this problem. But alas, it's not something that can be fixed right away.
    Kudos on the great post :)


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