I love being a pastor. Since the age of 19, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. I’m passionate about preaching, developing leaders, and reaching the world for Jesus. I’ve never doubted God’s call on my life, and those close to me have continued to confirm my call along the way.
But as I began to prepare for pastoral ministry, it struck me strange that older leaders always seemed so cautious about the whole thing. They told me, “If you can do anything else, don’t be a pastor. Only become a pastor if God gives you no other choice.”
These older leaders weren’t doubting that I was gifted for pastoral ministry. (At least I don’t think so.) They apparently just wanted to save me the trouble. Their description of the life of a pastor seemed a bit bleak. But I didn’t really take it to heart. It seemed to me like they were crusty old cynics.
But that was before. Before I learned of their burdens. Before I learned that unless God has personally set someone on the path to the pastorate, they won’t last in the role.
Even though I’m still young and in the early stages of my pastoral ministry, I’ve begun to learn a few things that have shown me that being a pastor is a lot harder than it looks.
1. You belong to everybody.
Someone close to me once told me that “it’s lonely at the bottom.”
Don’t you mean, It’s lonely at the top?
Well, it might be, but pastors wouldn’t know anything about that. A pastor’s call is to be a servant to everybody. To serve the needs not only of the members of their church, but also the needs of their community. Pastors exist to pour themselves into others. To do everything you can to see other people spiritually thriving. To be there for them, day or night, rain or shine.
Being a pastor means that your life belong to the people of your congregation. Your family does, too. (You can read more about that here.)
It’s such an amazing call. But as such, you do live under a microscope. I’ve learned that even my current haircut can be the subject of much after-service patio diversion. And don’t get people started on my skinny jeans. Or what dress my wife is wearing.
While it’s easy to grow weary of the constant evaluation on every aspect of your life, I’ve learned that it’s only because people are looking to you for spiritual leadership. I belong to these people. I’m called to give them not only the gospel, but my very life (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Learning the sacrifice of giving your life to others without becoming a people pleaser is harder than it looks.
2. Yes, you work more than one day a week.
It’s a common joke that the pastor only works one day a week. The reality is that most pastors struggle to take one day a week off. As a pastor, you don’t ever “clock out.”
It’s hard to take time off for two reasons. The first is that most pastors are genuinely passionate about their churches. They feel a great sense of urgency to care for their congregation and lead it well.
The other reason it’s hard to take a day off is because most congregants take it personally when the pastor isn’t present at every single event or function – whether it’s a church wide gathering or their personal moment.
Most pastors overestimate their ability. And pastors’ warped view of themselves is rivaled only by their congregation’s view of them. Everyone expects the pastor to be superhuman, including the pastor himself.
Learning healthy boundaries and rhythms of rest as a pastor is harder than it looks.
3. It’s hard to know whether you’re doing well.
I recently painted the fireplace in my living room. When I was done, it was easy to tell that I had done a good job. I picked a good color. The lines were straight. There was no paint on the carpet. And my wife was happy. Success!
Being a pastor isn’t so simple.
No matter what you do, there will always be a group of people that that’s exceedingly upset with you. And there will always be a group that’s really happy with you. The troubling part is that you get both reactions simultaneously, centered on the same decision. The reason that one group is happy with you is the exact reason the other is upset.
It was Aristotle who said, “If you fear to be criticized, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” That seems about right.
But in the midst of competing voices, it’s difficult to discern if you’re leading the way God wants you to lead. Making the decisions God wants you to make. Being the person God wants you to be.
Learning to discern the voice of God in the everyday decisions of pastoral leadership is harder than it looks.
4. The burden of knowledge is a real thing.
It’s been said that knowledge is power, but many times it feels like a burden. Most people come to church just seeing the smiling faces. As pastors look out on the faces of the people, they feel their burdens. The secret things that have been shared with them.
As a pastor, you know whose marriage is on the brink. You know who’s on the verge of leaving your church. You recognize the face of the person who sat in your office and wept as they struggle with grief and depression. You know whose mother is in the hospital. You know who has been unemployed for six months.
That’s pretty weighty. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet people where they are. To pray for them with power and passion. It’s a privilege to be entrusted with the important things of people’s hearts. It’s also deeply burdening.
Learning not to take burdens that only Jesus can bear is harder than it looks.
A pastor is a man of sorrows.
In Isaiah 53, God foretells of what Jesus would be like. He’s described as a “man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.” That’s something of what the life of a pastor is like. To be a burden bearer. Sometimes, to be a punching bag. But always to be a man on a mission to see people’s lives transformed and renewed by the power of God.
It’s not all bad news.
God promises that if we share in Jesus’ sufferings, then we will also share in His glory (Romans 8:17). All things considered, it’s a pretty amazing life. A life of adventure and purpose. I thank God that He has invited me into it.