We asked our bloggers what 3 things they thoughts pastors wish their congregations knew. This is how they responded.
I am sure there are many things pastors wish congregation members knew relating to faith, theology and life in general. I, however, will be focusing on three things I believe pastors wish their congregations knew relating to the role of being a pastor.
I am not a pastor, at least not yet. I am a lowly director of youth ministries and a candidate for ordination. However, many of my closest friends are pastors and I spend an inordinate amount of time with pastors. I have tried to surround myself with pastors whom I respect, enjoy and who can educate me. So, in this post, I will be recounting the things I have heard from them. I will not be saying any names, since the discussions in which these items were first told to me were in confidence. And, as a disclaimer, I am sure these items are not true of all pastors. So, please, don’t be afraid. I am sure your pastor is much more morally upstanding and humorless than the band of ruffians I spend my time with.
1. Many pastors tell inappropriate jokes to one another. Constantly.
I’m sorry, but it’s true. I have heard so many pastors tell some of the most off-color, in-any-other-context-offensive jokes I’ve heard in my life.
Perhaps some would find this truth offensive. When you think about it, though, it actually makes a lot of sense. Most pastors have to put on a show throughout their lives. As a pastor, you are taught to not let your congregation down at too fast of a rate. You have to fill a role, and doing or saying anything that will preclude you from filling that role can have catastrophic effects on your ministry. Saying an inappropriate joke to a member of the congregation shouldn’t happen and pastors need to have good boundaries in this area. When they are alone, though, surrounded by other pastors who understand and feel the same social pressures, it should come as no surprise that pastors let loose with their humor. It’s a release, a way for them to be human again, with failings and flaws and, yes, off-color senses of humor. And this brings me to #2…
2. The expectation for a pastor to be morally perfect is too much.
It really is. Yes, there are standards in Scripture to which leaders should be held, and I agree and ascribe to those standards. However, American culture has gone above and beyond those standards. In many contexts, pastors can’t show any sign of humanity in front of their congregations. Every move, every word is judged. When you also take into account the power dynamics in many churches, and the ways in which pastors can easily come under fire from congregations, it’s no wonder that many pastors suffer from depression. The job is isolating, and with the emotional demands of a congregation, it is difficult for some pastors to have anything left for friendships, marriages, etc.
It’s sad, though, because being morally perfect really isn’t what pastors do best, what with moral perfection being impossible and all. Pastors, when they are at their best, point to the God who is absolutely perfect, in every way. Pastors point congregation members to the hope we have in Jesus Christ, helping congregation members learn to place hope in the triune God, rather than placing hope in the moral example of the pastor. Yet, expectations and standards are placed on pastors constantly. And what’s sad is that fulfilling expectations takes up so much time and energy – time and energy that should be spent helping congregation members understand that only God is perfect.
3. Life really does seem hopeless at times. To everyone.
No one is alone in this. We all deal with death. We all deal with despair, loss and grief. And none of us actually has any control over life. Some people aren’t as afraid as others, but only a lunatic would fail to be perplexed by the uncertainty and ambiguity of life. As Christians, we definitely have hope, but let’s be honest – in the face of certain death, sometimes hope feels a bit distant.
We live in a fairly chaotic universe, where we spin at millions of miles per hour on this relatively tiny rock we’ve named “Earth,” circling a huge fiery orb and expanding out from some center at an incredibly rapid rate. There are, at any given time, thousand and thousands of ways our very existence could be unchangeably altered. And the tools we have been given to help us cling to hope in this reality? Some mysterious texts from 1,800 – 3,000 years ago, our Christian tradition and the Holy Spirit, about whose practices we understand very, very little. It’s really not easy.
The type of hope that glosses over these facts is a shallow hope. A hope that can’t dive down into the reality of death, despair and loss isn’t actually hope. It’s just blind optimism. Most pastors, though, have had to deal with these facts theologically. They have had to wrestle with these realities. Most have, in some way, had their hope diminished down to nearly nothing. And yet, somehow, God grew their hope, taught them to persevere in faith, despite the fact that so many things point us towards chaos, rather than hope.
This is what makes the best pastors special. They don’t inspire people because of their moral example, nor their supposed lack of dirty jokes, nor their intelligence, nor their abilities in general. They inspire people because they live with a hope so deeply rooted that they can’t help but have faith in the triune God.
Jonathan Saur is a candidate for ministry in Los Ranchos Presbytery. He lives in San Juan Capistrano, California.