“So, like, what do you actually do all day?”
It’s a fair question. People call me “Pastor.” It’s not a title I especially want but, it’s mine because of what I do now. When I worked with students, few people called me “pastor” because, for some reason, youth work is somehow perceived as less pastorlike.
Don’t misunderstand, I absolutely love my life and what I do, it’s just that a lot of odd thìngs cling to the pastor title. For example, my head tilts to the side in disbelief when someone calls me a “man of God” or a “man of the cloth.” I have no idea what to do when my catholic friends call me, “father” and ask about mass.
I’m a guy who snaps at my wife when I’m tired, gets angry when people cut me off in traffic, says naughty words when I stub my toe, craves cold beer with buffalo wings, covets cool new electronics and likes violent movies with lots of special effects and explosions.
I feel the same awkward inadequacies in finding the words to say when I hear someone has cancer or lost a loved one. You know how you feel empty and don’t know what to say when that happens? Me too.
But here I am, approaching two years of enjoying the privilege of sharing life, – messy, exhilerating, exhausting, ever-changing, grace-saturated life – with a bunch of people who, just like me, are doing their best to navigate life by living like Jesus. They asked me to take the point position, the head coach slot, and with that came the title I wear uncomfortably: “Pastor.”
When I read the ancient writings that shape my life, I see the “pastor-shepherd” position and I think, “yeah, that’s what I want.” But when I look around and see pastors making self-elevating moves, demanding respect by position or believing they truly are God’s annointed messengers, I cringe. I don’t want any part of that.
“shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5
I get that. I especially am growing to understand “eagerly.” This flock that I lead is imprinting on my heart. Though I am away on vacation, my first thought as I woke today was, “I wonder how Brady is feeling today after his surgery?” It’s a strange thing, really. I walked the dogs and prayed for my daughter Shara right along with little Brady. I prayed for Josh and Kristen and then Shelby came to mind. Then, “Lord, give the Morton’s an awesome summer of bonding in that little camper.” I prayed for my wife for a relaxing vacation and for my Mom’s shoulder pain.
They weren’t long, wordy prayers but more of a running conversation. The thing is that my “flock” is right there with Shara, Josh, Kristen, Robin and my mom. I’m not related to little Bradyman, or Shelby or the Mortons but they are right there on my mind with my family. I think the shepherd piece that the bible describes, writes people’s names on your heart. It’s the exact opposite of the counsel that a wise, old pastor gave me right after I accepted this position. He told me that the key to longevity and being a successful pastor is “to keep people at arm’s length. Don’t get too close.”
I’m eager to connect with the people who call me pastor but the thing is, the title does not create that eagerness, it is the eagerness that brings the title. I was a pastor before I got the title. Does that make sense? We have a number of “pastors” in our church family who care, shepherd, guide and invest in others without pay. I just happen to be in the point position.
But, this pastor gig still puzzles me after nearly 2 years of getting up every Sunday morning wondering what it is about me that qualifies me to stand up in front of the 120 or so people who will come sit on hard, wooden benches for an hour.
Reading from The Message this morning I came across Ephesians 3:8-10
Bam! That’s it exactly.
So, back to my friend’s question asking what I do all day. The truth is, sometimes I have no idea what I do. I’ll get to the end of a busy day and then feel like I didn’t accomplish anything. Sure, I have my routine things that happen week after week on certain days but most of my schedule is pretty fluid.
I joke that I only work 30 minutes a week and then sing for another 30 on Sunday mornings. Pastors only work on Sunday, right?
So, what do I actually do? I’ve been trying to figure that out so I know how to answer the question. I’m starting to think there is no easy answer.
I spend a bunch of time working on what I am going to say on Sunday mornings. I read a lot, look for resources, plan illustrations and outline it all in Powerpoint. Sometimes I’ll spend as much as 15 hours shaping, reshaping, tossing things out and then starting over. Other times I’ll spend maybe 5 hours total when everything just flows.
Then, I get the luxury of having time to spend on relationships. Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t count, or maybe shouldn’t count. Does that make sense? I mean, I get to go out to breakfast with people who I care about and now call friends. I get to ride bikes and sit around campfires. I get to do things like hangout at picnics and ballgames and organize fun, connecting events. What do we do? We just talk about life. We talk about relationships, conflicts and businesses. We talk about parenting and finances and decisions. We talk about faith and following Jesus. It happens in person, online, by phone and through text messaging sessions. Being a sort of life-coach comes with this pastor gig and I love it. But, a lot of times it leaves me feeling totally inadequate when all I can do is shrug and say, “I have no idea, I’m struggling with that too.”
Then there’s the awkward stuff that leaves me fumbling with no idea what to say or do. Weird stuff sometimes happens after “Pastor, can I talk to you?” One woman told me God sent her to speak that Sunday morning at our church. One guy vented about idol worship in America and told me to get rid of the flags. Another guy told me all about what he called “the modern Babylon” and how he is sure that Jesus is returning this year. Um … okay, what do I do with all that?
Uncomfortable stuff often comes after, “Pastor, can I talk to you.” Nothing prepared me to stand with an elderly woman and hear her say, “I found out this week that I am dying.” None of my seminary classes gave me the words to say. I feel so unprepared so many times. My quick prayer of desperation is, “God, help me out here!”
Nobody trained me or taught me what to say or how to help with situations I get invited into simply because I wear the title “pastor.” I feel so inadequate when someone calls to ask me to come pray for someone I’ve never met because “they need a priest.” I’m not a priest. My prayers are not more weighty or powerful. I’m glad to pray with people but not as some type of prayer specialist to swoop in and save the day. I’m still trying to figure all that out.
Imagine yourself getting a call to conduct a funeral for a family you’ve never met. Or how about a random call from someone you don’t know asking, “will you marry us?” I get it. It’s part of the pastor role. I’m just so new at it all that I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m totally comfortable with people I know but I feel like an invited intruder with people I’ve never met … like I shouldn’t be there. Does that make sense at all?
My older pastor friends tell me it’s a privilege that comes with the position. Honestly, for me, it still feels weird.
And then, I spend time on a wide variety of leadership stuff. My position means I have input in just about everything that happens around our church. On any given day I might have a conversation about facility repair or how to find the best price on coffee for the hospitality area. I might be defragging computers one day and editing video the next. One day I am meeting with a network of other pastors and the next I’m updating the website. I love the variety.
Sometimes I bring my laptop and sit in my office on Main Street and other times I lug it to Panera just to be around other people. Oftentimes I sit in my recliner outlining my message and sipping coffee in the early morning while the rest of the world is waking. I love that what I do is not locked to one spot.
Stress creeps in when I take too little down time and my blood pressure creeps up when my schedule gets too full but my work rarely feels much like work so it’s tough to hold back.
I feel kind of guilty sometimes because so many people hate their jobs and can’t wait to get away. Here it is, day one of my vacation, and I am working hard to make myself disconnect. I know it’s healthy for me to rest, I know everything is fine without me but still, it’s a challenge.
One of my mentors summed it up for me like this. “We have the luxury of having our bills paid so that we can spend our time helping people find Hope in Jesus. It is a gift we can never take for granted.”
I see what he means. I also now understand what Paul meant when he wrote “I long for all of you with the affection of Jesus Christ” in Philipians 1:8.
If “longevity” and “success” as a pastor requires keeping people at arm’s length and not getting too close, I’m going to be a short-lived, major failure.
I guess that’s okay by me.