The painful truths are usually the ones that best aid growth. These five truths about yourself as a pastor are painful to realize but will help you grow as a pastor and as a person.
1. You are not the best pastor out there. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but name a pastoral skill (e.g., preaching, discipleship, administration) and you can find another pastor out there who’s better at it than you. And that’s okay. You’re not trying to be better than Pastor So-and-so (at least I hope you’re not), you’re trying to be the best you can be with what God has given you so you can serve the congregation where God has placed you.
2. Not everyone likes you or will like you. I know you think you’re just lovable. Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t. Some people hate Teddy Bears and Mr. Rogers but lots of people like Lady Gaga. My point is, as wonderful as you are, some people just aren’t going to connect with you, like you, be able to follow you. That’s okay. As long as those people continue on to find a place where they can serve and don’t stir up trouble there, let them go with God and don’t bind yourself to their opinion of you.
3. You don’t know everything. I sure wish I didn’t have to tell you this. If you have seminary training then your area of expertise is ministry, theology, or biblical studies, or a combination of those. In seminary my recognized area of expertise was systematic theology (I’m a systems thinker). This was validated by the faculty award I received at graduation. I have been trained in the other areas, however, and that along with my experience both in ordained ministry and as a layman means that I can speak with confidence as somewhat of an expert in those areas. Sometimes I am able to speak outside these areas. I was in management at a large mortgage operations center before getting into ministry so I can speak to some aspects of business life. I can talk about which copy machine company we should use because I use the copy machine and have been responsible for the machines in my department when I was in the business world.
In other areas I must defer to other peoples’ judgment. I know nothing about roofing so my opinion is pretty much useless when it comes to which roofer we should contract with to re-roof the church building. Ditto on a company to repave the parking lot. I don’t know what is wrong with the air conditioner. I cannot tell you where you should invest your retirement funds (I have a guy and I’ll recommend him but other than that …).
And, you know what? I don’t have to know those things. The church didn’t call me because I was a reliable air conditioner repairman; they called me to serve as pastor. As long as I’m the best I can be at that, everything will be fine. If the church is looking for something more or different, then they have unrealistic expectations.
4. There are people in your church who can do some things better than you. This is similar to the previous point but hits a little closer to home. There are probably people in your church that are better than you are even at things like discipleship, evangelism, pastoral care, and other areas of church ministry. There are two ways you can respond to this. (1) You can be jealous, let ego get in the way, and refuse to let these people use their gifts to serve the church, serve the Lord, and make your life and ministry easier and better, or (2) You can be grateful God has sent someone to serve the church by making up for areas in which you are weak.
If this is all about you, then do the first, but if you’ve realized that this is about Christ and his church, then your only reasonable response is gratefulness that the body of Christ is being helped.
5. As gracious as you think you are with your people, sometimes they’re just as gracious with you. I know people can be difficult. (Please believe me when I say, “I know.” I really do.) But sometimes you can be difficult, too. This is just a fact and you know it’s true (don’t pretend it’s not).
If you serve your people well and love them with Christ’s love, most of them will love you back. (The ones that don’t you must still love and serve but you must leave them to the Lord.) When your people love you back, they will put up with your less-than-stellar behavior as well.
I am notoriously cranky. I’m more than half a curmudgeon anyway but sometimes I just plain get cranky. I try not to be and I’ve had to apologize more than once for my crankiness, but they’ve always loved me in spite of it. I know that they’re being gracious with me simply because they love me and it’s even easier to love them back.
Their love for me in return just confirms that I am where God wants me to be.
Michael Jones is pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Taylor, MI. Originally from Callahan, Fla., he’s now enjoying all four seasons, sometimes in the same day. In his thirteen-plus years of ministry Michael has done over 200 funerals but only one wedding, which is a source of great amusement to his pastor friends (but not his congregation). He’s doing his PhD at the university of Chester in Theology comparing the ethics of the Stoics and Paul with regard to suffering and death. (Michael claims it’s not as morbid as it sounds).
Michael blogs at Pastor-Theologian.