I don’t envy pastors the pedestals some people expect them to perch aloft. I prefer my pastors the way I like my steak: raw, a bit bloody, and a little battered by the tenderising mallet of life. Rare. Not tough. And certainly not over done.
A perfect pastor atop a pedestal is too unapproachable. I figure the more a pastor has engaged with the broken world we live in, the more likely he is to grasp the broken weirdness his congregations will throw at him. A pastor needs to be rusted and real, not shiny and show pony. Church is us and us, not us and them.
I’ve sat with three pastors this past two weeks, all of whom shared a similar look: exhausted. One of them kept saying the right stuff but it didn’t match the sorrow in his eyes. The other two I know well enough to call on any bullshit so simply said they looked rung out, what could be done to help, and had they booked a holiday?
We are a church. A body of Christ. Christ did not tell his leaders to feed the hearts and minds of his flock and let their bleating drain them dry.
We are a church. Which means my hands, your hands, my heart, your hearts, my brain, your brains, my ears, your ears, my eyes, your eyes need to look, listen, feel, and be other focused to help the whole body.
Other focused isn’t simply the people I sit with in the pews, or the people I hope to share Jesus with outside the church: other focused includes the ministry team. The bloke or blokette on stage. How are they doing?
In corporate world, there’s a saying: as the leadership team goes, so too the rest of the organisation. Apply this in a church and it would follow that if you’ve got a pastor in burn out, the church could lose energy too. But, unlike many corporate organisations, we are encouraged as churches to be the body of Christ. To hurt when one hurts. To laugh when one laughs. So we have an opportunity to give energy back when it is needed. That is a gift, a privilege and a chance to grow. In corporate world, trying to serve that way normally means a demotion 😉
However, may I also gently remind all pastors and pastorettes – you have to let us help you. Let us encourage you. Being eminently un-help-able because you think you are supposed to be strong for your congregation and running the show – maybe because a bunch of parishioners have you either on a ridiculously high pedestal of expectations or, worse, are after you with pitchforks – serves no-one.
As for any readers who attend church regularly, I don’t know about you but while I’m thankful ultimately to G&J, it has been the ministry teams in my life who have allowed God to deliver the goods.
Here’s a (now not so) private example: just over a year ago, my marriage hit a serious obstacle. I didn’t know if I was up or down, left or right, all I knew was, regardless of whether my marriage stayed whole or fell apart, I’d found a new strength in G&J that would see me through.
Yet I was still a snot-monstered mess, papering over the heartbreak with my usual acerbic wit. My rock of God was probably more of a pebble for me at that stage, so it really could have gone either way. It could have been easier for me to allow pride and fear win, let the anger hiding the hurt take centre stage, shove all the blame in one direction, fall off the pebble, and slam the door on my marriage.
So in response to a caustic SMS on a miserable, rainy day, the SAP carved out time between a Christmas end-of-year staff gathering, planning for Christmas services, and goodness knows how many other meetings, to meet me face-to-face. He then went on to contact a counsellor he knew and, thanks to the strength of their relationship, the counsellor agreed to see Big T and I immediately and intensively – although he’d already shut up shop for Christmas. The counsellor admitted to me later that he would not have done it had it not been the SAP asking.
Throughout the next couple of weeks, Big T and I received the SAP’s texts of support, guidance and suggested bible passages to read. What I didn’t know at the time was the SAP was also in the midst of finalising his new church role for the following year, having to help prepare a house for sale, move house, enrol in a new course of study, continue pastoring in his current role, finish Christmas sermons, still be a SAP to all the other flock in the church, deal with a horrible health scare in his immediate family, be a Dad, be a husband and, somewhere in all that, keep God top and centre and not go slightly insane.
Today, praise God, the pebble I stood on a year ago is a rock, my marriage is the healthiest it’s ever been, and Big T is growing his own pebble of faith into a larger rock too. The SAP doesn’t get all the credit – God, others in our church, and my husband and I also played roles – but it would be prideful, unkind and selfish of me not to acknowledge the effort and energy the SAP puts into his job.
As do all the pastors I’ve met. They may not have the smart-alec stripes that have worked so well for Big T and I, but they have hearts, souls and a passion to do God’s work. So help them out. Be kind. Acknowledge how much they do that you simply do not see because of the nature of their respectful, confidential work: funerals, death bed visits, taking calls from those who stand in front of a bottle after a year dry and need someone to hold them accountable; the wife whose husband has beaten her again and she needs help getting to the shelter; the family whose four-year old has a cancer diagnosis; even, dear Lord save us, having to attend parish council meetings.
Preparing a sermon each week is the tip of a large, often ungrateful iceberg. So be kind. Hug your pastor this week. Say thank you. Ask how you can help. If you’re holding a pitchfork, put it down. It’s Christmas.