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When you compare one thing to another, you’re always in dangerous territory because there aren’t any perfect analogies. But when I think of pastoring, the best doppelganger that I can think of, when factoring in the complexity and continuous nature of the job, is being a mother.
Two characteristics that come to mind immediately are that there are no days off and you must multi-task at a high level. Even when mothers go with their families on vacation, they are always working.
For a pastor to have a valid day off to rest, he must take three of them in a row. The first day is to decompress. The second day is for rest. The third day is ramping up for the workload that is waiting for him when he gets back “on the job.”
And, truthfully, good shepherds always carry the burdens of their people with them. They don’t “check them at the door” when five o’clock rolls around, and pick them up again the next morning. Pastors are never free from the hurts and struggles of their sheep.
I remember before I went on staff of a local church in 1997, how wonderful it would be to start working for that church. I knew that the staff spent their entire days praying and studying their Bibles. It was going to be the perfect job. And then I started work.
It took about a week to realize that I had no time to pray or read my Bible. If I were going to do those things, I would have to wrestle with my calendar while mustering the courage to disappoint the people who wanted a piece of me because there were more people problems in my day than there were hours.
But pastoring is more than caring for souls. I pastored for five years during the 2000s, and only about 20 percent of my work was in the area of sanctification. The “other work of the ministry” stretches you so thin that finding time to care for the sheep is a challenge.
I had a friend ask me to plant a church with him, and my immediate response was, “No.” He wondered why, and I told him that when I pastored, about 20 percent of my time was caring for the sheep, and the rest was the administrative business of the church.
This ministry that I have today, I spend about 80% of my time helping folks through leadership development and content creation, and 20% doing administrative things for the ministry.
(I realize that in larger churches one pastor can focus on fewer things because they have the finances and human resources to do the other needs, but most churches are under 250, and they don’t have the money or the volunteers.)
My day off was Monday, so our goal was to stop work by midnight, Sunday. And I would not look at my laptop again until Tuesday morning, which I did most weeks. But I never rested. It’s not possible.
It’s like the “frog boiling in the kettle,” who never realizes he’s in a slow-boil until he’s boiled to death. It was only after I left the pastorate that I experienced rest.
The things that I’m talking about here do not speak to the needs of his family, specifically his wife and children. Many pastors do not have good marriages because they either don’t know how to care for their wives well or the ministry swallows their lives to the point that they (wittingly or unwittingly) sacrifice their families.
Though I’m speaking specifically about the job of a pastor, there is the silent hurt that his wife experiences as she feels every criticism, hurtful word, and divisive comment from a congregant. She carries these things in her heart while trying to shield her children from the abuse of the Christians they are trying to serve.
And then when his closest friends hurt him, the temptation to recoil and bury his hurt is strong. The temptation for his wife is not to take up an offense for how her husband is hurting. The “suffering parent” is an excellent analogy of what I’m speaking of here. E.g., their child hurts them again, and there is nothing the parent can do but suffer in silence, knowing that until God intervenes, this child will not see the light.
In the church, that disappointment can be twenty-fold, year in and year out, as new members come and older ones leave. The players may change, but the game is always the same. There are no breaks.
There is not a single aspect of the pastor’s life that the enemy does not attempt to attack. He can feel like the loneliness man in the world, and if he’s not careful, he can take his soul to some wrong places.
Most of the news about pastors is bad. It’s like when you read about a police officer on the take or one who kills an innocent person. The media is ablaze at how awful the police are, and their abuses of power. I often think about the police officers who love people, their jobs and take what they do to serve and protect seriously. There are more of those than the bad ones we read about on our social media platforms.
There are far more good shepherds than the ones we highlight when they fall or abuse someone. If your pastor is one of the good ones, will you let him know that? Will you thank him for his sacrifice? Will you ask how you can serve him practically? Then ask about his wife and children. What can you do for them? How can you be Jesus to them?
Finally, Hebrews 13:17 says that Christians should be a joy to their pastors. Are you a joy to your pastor? Will you ask him if you’re a joy for him to pastor you?
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. – Hebrews 13:17
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).