This is not me being all complainy, and I have no intention of dogging on the ministry. The truth is, I love ministry. In fact, in my 20 years of full-time ministry, I’ve never once wanted out or spent a moment fantasizing about an alternate career. I’ve experienced ups and downs, heartbreaks and victories, normalcy and all kinds of weirdness… and I love it. I’m thankful for this thing I get to do called “ministry.”
Maybe you think I shouldn’t do what I’m about to do. You might suggest I talk about ministry like Bruno Mars sings about his “Just The Way You Are” girl…
Oh, you know, you know, you know I’d never ask you to change. If perfect’s what you’re searching for, then just stay the same. So don’t even bother asking if you look okay; you know I’ll say… When I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change, ’cause you’re amazing just the way you are.
Sorry. I can’t do that.
Look, I’ve been married 20 years and I love my wife—even more than I did at the beginning. She’s not perfect, but she’s real (by real I mean she exists).
Can you tell me who Bruno Mars was singing about? No, you can’t. That girl doesn’t exist. An actress, Nathalie Kelley, was paid to play the girl in his music video.
The perfect girl doesn’t exist. And the perfect ministry doesn’t exist either.
Perhaps a better analogy would be to compare ministry to a house.
I love my house. I’m super thankful for it and often feel like it’s better than I deserve. There are also a few things I dislike about my house – like its cheap carpet and weak water pressure in the guest bathroom sink. I don’t lose sleep over these things and they’re not gonna drive me away—but someday if I can afford it, I’ll probably attempt to change those things.
That’s the point of what I’m writing about: identifying a few things, if I could someday afford to change about ministry, I’d at least try.
I asked a bunch of friends in ministry to share with me the thing or things they dislike about ministry. These friends are in various ministry roles—some new, some experienced, some young, some old, some women, some men. Interestingly, there were common themes from all their responses.
Most of what was shared with me fits into one of the following categories:
1. Expectation Issues.
2. Inability to be completely honest.
3. Smallness of actual impact.
Since this is a 3-part series, I will tackle one theme in each post this week. So, let’s talk expectation issues…
Recently, author Thom Rainier wrote about the “Ten Things Pastors Like Least About Their Jobs.” As I read through his list, it seemed to me that 7 of the 10 things had to do with expectation issues – either coming from self or others.
There is a BBC television program called “Rev.” about the Reverend Adam Smallbone – an Anglican priest who has recently moved from a small rural parish to the struggling St. Saviour congregation in East London.
The Rev finds it difficult to ever say no and he’s faced with constant moral challenges as he balances the needs of genuine believers, people on the streets, drug addicts, as well as the demands of social climbers using the church to get their children in the best schools.
I love the humanity the show portrays of the Rev. He is weak, fragile, insecure, and doesn’t have all the answers. He’s not an expert or particularly successful in anything. He is frequently torn. He is definitely real.
People certainly have their expectations about who their pastors are, what they should be like, and what they do.
In my first few months at this church, a long-time member came up to me and somewhat jokingly said, “I just can’t picture myself having a bald pastor!” Guess what? That lady and her husband now go to another church down the street (with a pastor who has some pretty nice hair).
I’m sure it wasn’t just the hair—but I know it was about the expectations.
People expect the pastors to be perfect and holy and politically aligned with their views. Sometimes I think people view pastors as non-members of society, like some special class of human who are unable to participate in normal life.
But we are human and members of society. We doubt and struggle and hurt and swear.
Someone recently told me about an experience their pastor had years ago…
The pastor went to use the men’s bathroom at the church. A young boy was there washing his hands, and watched the pastor with wide eyes. As the pastor stepped up to the urinal, the boy ran out of the bathroom and shouted, “Mom, the pastor pees too!”
Sometimes the expectations and pre-conceived ideas are funny. They can also be a heavy burden.
Here’s what I know about myself:
I can’t be as amazing as people want me to be. I’m not that entertaining or knowledgeable or funny or holy or cool. I don’t have answers for all your questions. I’m definitely not an expert on how to raise your kids or how to make millions.
I’m human. I’m flawed. And I pee too.
I also heap expectations on myself. I’m harder on me than you are. I wish my sermons were better. I want to have all the answers and be able to fix everything, but I can’t.
Looking over my 20 years of full-time ministry, I can see how all the expectations suck. They suck joy and they suck peace right out of me. They leave me dry and weary.
I’m trying to learn how to not be a slave to the expectations.
Obviously, I can’t grow hair on my head. So I shrug my shoulders and think, “Oh well, if you need a pastor with hair, so be it. I can’t help you in that department. I can’t do everything or be everything.”
Maybe, as it relates to expectations, I need to do a lot more shoulder shrugging and “Oh wells.”
HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you found expectations to suck? How are you managing to not become a slave to the expectations?