One of the things pastors and Christians talk a lot about is the calling of a pastor. While we often make that an incredibly mystical and mystifying conversation, being a pastor is more than that.
It is also a job.
Now before you get out pitchforks and torches, hear me out. I’ve said this in several circles, and the reactions are often the same. Some see this as completely heretical; others are convicted immediately as they think about it.
A pastor is a calling. Being a pastor is also a job.
A job ends. One day you will retire from your job. Your job is also something you do.
To many pastors their job never ends. They talk about dying in the pulpit, and for them their job is not something they do, but who they are.
Now to be clear, being a pastor is a calling. It is a role. It is a spiritual gift. But it is not the sum total of who I am. I am a man, a friend, a dad, a husband, a brother, a son and a neighbor.
Here’s why this is so important: Too many pastors over spiritualize their calling, which leads them to burnout, overworking and ultimately, sin. In fact, many pastors make their identities center around who they are as a pastor. I’m pastor so-and-so, which raises their level of importance.
This is also another reason why pastors take it so personally when a sermon doesn’t go well, people don’t respond to what they said, or someone is angry at a vision change. Why? Their role and personal identity are wrapped up in them. They haven’t separated the two, so when someone doesn’t respond the way they’d like, that person is rejecting them. But they aren’t. They are rejecting the message, the opportunity.
When you talk to pastors who burnout, you hear things about the needs of people, how they couldn’t say no, how they preached too much, didn’t take care of themselves, carried burdens into their sleep that they should’ve let go of.
In all this we sin, yet because we’re called we somehow give each other a pass, or at the very least talk about how hard ministry is and the suffering we endure.
Most of that, though, stems from our pride and need to be needed. We train our people in it, and they respond because it speaks to something in their hearts, a desire they have that resonates with wrapping up what we do with who we are.
While some have pushed back on this, this is a tension you have to wrestle with as a pastor. You are not as important as you think you are. You are not as needed as you think you are. And one day you will stop preaching, stop leading the meetings you lead, and someone will take your place.
It has been interesting to me watching pastors get closer to retirement and seeing the look of horror as they struggle with what is next. Many of them continue preaching and leading when they should hand those tasks off to someone else, but they don’t. They go past their effectiveness because this is their calling, without ever questioning how effective they are at their job.
Here’s another example. Many Christians trumpet the order of their priorities: God, family and job. For pastors their job is connected to God, so it is easy to see something like this: job/God, and family. It is dangerous because it is not always obvious.
Here are some ways I try to balance this tension:
- When someone rejects a vision, plan, strategy or sermon, do I take it personally? If so, why? Is that healthy or prideful?
- Do I have an overinflated view of my impact on my church?
- When was the last time I said no?
- Do I stop working at night and over the weekend? Do I stop thinking about work when I’m not working?
- Do I live out what I tell people they should do with their jobs: relationship with God, family, then work?