This past year, pastors have resigned and left the ministry at historically high rates. Depression and even suicide numbers have increased. With the stress of trying to minister to people while COVID-19 kept them separated from these same people, many ministers finally gave up.
While I’ve never quit the ministry, I do understand the pull of that temptation. In fact, while I’ve never surfed sexual pornography on my computer (or anywhere else, for that matter), I am guilty of one similar sin. Today I feel the need to confess, and you get to be my confessor. Here goes…
When I’ve been discouraged as a pastor, in the past I’ve read help-wanted ads online and fantasized about having a normal, secular job.
Thankfully, I’m not feeling that way right now. I’ve started a new church and things are going wonderfully. The people are loving and responding to my leadership. I’m so thankful to be there. But it hasn’t always been that way through the years.
As with most pornography, those job ads are mere fantasies. I would never truly be happy doing anything else. I’ve loved every church I’ve served and am eternally thankful God has called me to the ministry. But I’m looking at my notes now from a particularly tough week of ministry a few years back—remembering why those other jobs outside the ministry looked so seductive to me.
That particular Monday in my notes I had been to see my doctor about a sinus infection. But his focus was now on my blood pressure. It was dangerously high, even though I’d already taken my daily dose of medication to fight it. They were so concerned they made me stay and take my blood pressure again later. Thirty minutes on, it was still extremely high. When the doctor asked if anything was wrong, I tell him it’s just one of the perks of my job.
“But what’s so tough about being a pastor?” you ask. “You only work one day a week!”
Okay, Felicia. Instead of the whole week, let’s just talk about the Sunday that came before my Monday at the doctor’s office.
I started the day by playing the piano for an 8:00 a.m. worship service. It’s a service I started when I came to the church specifically for the older crowd that might not like my preaching and worship style. So basically all the people listening to me play are there so they don’t have to hear me preach. It’s a little humbling, but I did it to keep as many people active in the church. No one can accuse me of making church “all about me”…though I know that’s exactly what some will do nonetheless.
After that service, I led a praise team rehearsal and then helped lead worship for our second Sunday service. I got a 3-minute break during an announcement video to collect myself before I preached the sermon for that service.
When I got home a little afternoon, there was an adult small group in my home hosted by my wife. They had needed a place to meet while their regular teacher was out of town. Kids were everywhere. I grabbed a bite to eat while working the room to make sure everyone felt seen and welcomed.
Then I hurried back to the church at 2:00 p.m. to preach a completely different sermon for a foreign-language congregation meeting in our building. I sat through an hour and 15 minutes of music and announcements I couldn’t understand. Following that, I preached through an interpreter, which comes off with all the ease of a Baptist trying to order from a French wine list.
I went straight from there to our deacon’s meeting at 4:00 p.m. There we grieved together about a staff member we had just terminated because of low funds. But since this staff member’s also a church member, it made everything more complex. When you fire church staff, they lose their job and spiritual support system in one awful stroke. So we struggle with how to ease the blow.
Since one of my spiritual gifts is mercy, I haven’t slept most of the previous week worrying about that staff member. I know from experience, he and his family will see me as a villain who has destroyed their lives. Most likely, they will trash me with everyone who loves them in the church. Their friends will see me, the man they look to for spiritual care, as a tyrant who only cares about money. Nothing other than possibly the passage of time will change that.
That was my Sunday, endured on three hours of sleep the night before.
I read a note written soon after that where one of my deacons was reminiscing about my first interview with the church.
“So Dave, did anyone ever tell you about what Joe (not his real name) said about you after that meeting?”
Joe had been quite the thorn in my flesh at this church. About six months after I arrived, Joe abruptly resigned from all his positions, and he and his family left the church with a melodramatic flourish. The timing and manner of their exit appeared to be calculated to garner as much attention as possible.
So back to my conversation: “No, what DID Joe say when my interview was over?”
The deacon starts snickering. “He said he could never support you because you’d just used the Lord’s name in vain”.
“I did what? What in the world did I say?”
My friend paused for effect.
“After one question, you answered, ‘Gee, I don’t know.’”
“Yep, and Joe said ‘Gee’ is really short for God. So that meant you were taking the Lord’s name in vain, only using substitute words.”
I just stared at him dumbfounded. I’d been deeply grieved over Joe and his family leaving our church. I had worried about what I could have done wrong. What a lot of frustration I could have avoided if I’d only realized what an irrational person I’d been dealing with. But oftentimes, when people leave the church you never really know why. The accusations almost never come straight to your face. But you’ll still be seen as “running them off” by their friends.
This is exactly the kind of crap I’ve dealt with repeatedly as a pastor.
And by the way, “crap” would also be a word that bothered Joe. He’d probably join the church all over again so he could leave in shock over me saying something so crude.
That’s okay because “crap” was not the actual word I was thinking of.
So in summation, here’s the downside of the job: you often don’t sleep, you take responsibility for the spiritual growth of people who don’t always show concern back to you, who often have unreasonable expectations and insane standards of holiness they thrust upon you and your family. And quite often, you will be runoff from the church as a scapegoat for any challenge that the church is facing. During all this, you’ll pray for peace while hearing a voice in your head constantly tell you what a failure you are.
Are there harder jobs than being a pastor? Certainly.
Are there more complex, painful jobs that follow you home at night? I doubt it.
As my notes go further into that week from my past, I see things only got worse. There was a sudden death in the church family by a gunshot wound, and then more drama over the terminated staff member. It seems people can’t imagine a pastor having to make hard decisions like that, even when the financial stability of the church is at stake.
It hurts to care for people so much and be misunderstood so badly. Honestly, it’s a job you couldn’t pay me enough to do. But it’s also a calling you couldn’t keep me from either.
So I hope you’ll excuse me if I ever start scrolling those job ads again. It’s a sort of “Tinder” for pastors. Maybe there’ll be some new jobs posted. I’ll click the links and check out some sweet pictures. There’ll be cute little businesses where all the responsibilities end at 500 p.m. when you leave the office. It looks so tempting and peaceful. And seductive.
“Yeah, baby. You know what I like…”
Pray for me, and all pastors, that we remain faithful to our calling.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.