Recently, my wife’s flatiron unexpectedly gave up the ghost. Like the good, dutiful husband I am, or at least attempt to be on my better days, I bought her a replacement flatiron which arrived in the mail later that week. Now, this process revealed two things to me: First, flatirons are outrageously expensive! I’m currently taking donations to help the bank account recover. Second, our society is tailored to our every whim.
After draining the checking account to purchase the flatiron, my email was suddenly inundated with unsolicited flatiron ads. Never mind the fact that I’ve only bought two flatirons in my life—both for my wife—and the fact that my hair isn’t even long enough to go through a flatiron! You’ve probably had similar experiences with online shopping and suspiciously accurate ads. What does this tell us about our society? It tells us that if we so much as consider spending money on something, our culture races to encourage us to continue shopping. In short, society is tailored to our wants and desires.
I get strange looks when I tell people what I do for a living: I’m a twenty-three-year-old, who probably looks eighteen to most people, who pastors a church with an average Sunday morning attendance of approximately fifty-five people. When I tell people my profession, some are elated to find a young pastor. Others are incredulous. Some respond by snarling, “they sure are starting them young nowadays.” Others are down-right hostile.
Whatever you may think of me or of other pastors, let’s agree on one thing: Pastoring is extremely difficult. I’m not sure if other jobs require someone to be adept at so many divergent tasks; if so, I need someone to tell me how they do it because I haven’t quite figured it out yet.
Pastoring is difficult for a multitude of reasons: For one, you have way too many irons in the fire at any given moment. During the week, a pastor might have to prepare information and presentations for a business meeting, write three sermons, organize volunteers, make difficult visits to the hospital, call parents of kids who got in a fight at church, have meetings with church members, worry about whether the church will meet its budget for the year, and wonder why a given church member—or more likely a group of church members—has inexplicably taken a much-undeserved hiatus from church. Furthermore, the pace can be grueling. You can’t imagine the pressure to produce one hundred fifty Bible studies and sermons a year until you’ve done it, let alone trying to make each one profound and understandable, loving and challenging, relevant and rooted in a two-thousand-year-old text. And that’s just church work! May the Lord pity poor fools like myself who are concomitantly struggling through a rigorous graduate school schedule, work a second job, or run some other ministry organization.
But I don’t mean to sound too negative: Pastoring a local church is one of the greatest joys of my life. I love my church, and I would do anything for the people with whom I worship every week. As a pastor, I can honestly say that I desire the best for my congregation. However, I don’t want to pretend that pastoring is easy either because it’s quite difficult.
Perhaps the most significant factor contributing to the job’s difficulty is our cultural expectations: From the womb, we Americans are trained to be the prototypical, quintessential consumer. If it breaks, no fear, a new one can be purchased. If we want something, a simple swipe of the almighty debit card will satisfy our latest craving. If we shop for something, ads miraculously appear to reinforce our shopping habits. If a church isn’t meeting my needs, then a different one will. If the pastor makes me mad, I’ll go somewhere else next Sunday.
Here’s my point: A biblical definition of a pastor’s job refuses to submit to a consumer culture. Thus, if you bring your consumer mindset to church, you’ll (hopefully) be disappointed. The pastor simply cannot satisfy everyone and fulfill the biblical job-description of the pastor. In our culture, sometimes the pastor has to make a decision between satisfying the consumer and satisfying the Bible.
According to the Bible, the pastor’s ultimate goal is not to entertain you. Instead, his ultimate goal is to lead people—yourself included—to grow in faithfulness to Christ. To that end, he may challenge you in your sin, ask you to perform a difficult act of service, or refuse to participate in something important to you. The point to remember, however, is that he is willing to disappoint you and make you feel uncomfortable because he knows there is something so much better than what you’re seeking. If he didn’t love you, he’d let you settle.
Here’s what every pastor wants: Your pastor wants you to help the Church achieve its goal of knowing Christ and making him known. To that end, I encourage you to take a step of faith in your church. If you’ve been gone for three weeks, then go back. If you’re upset because he hasn’t called you, get over it: It’s extremely difficult to remember who hasn’t been there in three weeks—especially if you weren’t consistent in the first place. If there’s a job that needs to be done, then volunteer. If you aren’t involved with any form of ministry, then get off the pew and jump in head-first.
And to the church members who have realized that church isn’t about them and are faithful despite numerous reasons not to be—thank you. You have no idea how precious people with thick skin and a can-do attitude are to a pastor. My church, like many others, stands upon the shoulders of a handful of faithful volunteers who give of their time and possessions to make things operate smoothly: At my church, I don’t have to run everything, and for that, I am eternally grateful. While pastors are recognized by the congregation as serving, mammoth acts of service are done behind the scenes never to be seen. If you’re that person, know that your pastor looks up to you and is thankful for you in ways that are difficult to explain. I enjoin you—be ye faithful.