We’re all guilty of moving from one focus to the next. On Wednesday, your day may have been dominated by candy and kids knocking on your front door. Today, you’re already dreaming about turkey and dressing as well as falling asleep in front of the TV watching football.
Contrary to what calendars and a very old joke may say, pastors don’t get many breaks and they definitely don’t work just two days a week. They’ve answered a calling, yes, but it’s also their job. And, they’re pretty much always on call.
A trip to the grocery store can easily become a 30-minute counseling session in the parking lot. A “Pastor, can I talk to you for a minute” stretches into much longer than 60 seconds as he’s walking out to the car after service with a wife and children eager for lunch. That “quick question” over email has a tendency to become a string of back-and-forths lasting a few hours or even days.
Pastors have to develop – to quote Liam Neeson – a very particular set of skills. They need tough skin while remaining sensitive to each and every person they come across. If Big Church down the road is cramming in the young people, he has to pretend it doesn’t bother him in the least even after it’s been brought up to him for the umpteenth time. It’s okay for him to be passionate about his kids’ sports involvement (or other extracurricular), just don’t be one of those parents who obviously have their priorities misplaced.
And, of course, his theology and opinions have to be right. In fact, it must somehow line up with that of around a half-dozen or more, depending on the size of the church, very dedicated theologians in his midst willing to debate soteriology, missiology, social justice, politics, the Rapture, SEC football, the best gun for deer hunting, and whether or not Die Hard is really a Christmas movie. Failure to adequately defend his position gets him lumped into the category of “that guy don’t know what he’s talking ‘bout.”
The environment in which pastors minister today can’t be compared to 30 years ago. It’s not even close. In 1985, 67 percent of Americans saw clergy as “very high” or “high” in honesty and ethics. That number took a substantial hit in the late 80s due to televangelist scandals, and then got punched again in the early 2000s when news of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal broke. Today, nurses are seen as most trustworthy while with a “high” honest vote of 42 percent, clergy have slipped to ninth behind day care providers and judges. Ministers haven’t had a rating of better than 50 percent since 2012.
All this comes at a time of an increasingly secularized society. Communicating the gospel today comes with greater pushback as the culture has changed. In many communities, holding those positions in line with the gospel comes at a price people aren’t willing to pay. That can be seen in dipping church attendance.
Regardless of those challenges, pastors and their staff carry on their work. They study and prepare lessons, sometimes escaping to a local library or coffee shop one town over so they can focus without interruption since pop-in visit can happen at the office at any time. They make time to have lunch at school with the kid they know is going through a rough time. They stay a little later at choir rehearsal to get the sound just right.
All that considered, they don’t see their job as a burden; it’s a calling. They don’t do it for the money or notoriety, but because it’s where God called them to go.
Need some ideas on how to show your pastor you appreciate him and his family? There are plenty of examples here, here, and for your kids, here. Rare is the month that isn’t busy for families, but the end of the year gets particularly slammed. Find a way to let your pastor know you’re still thinking of him after October.