(This blog has not been edited for errors. These are my raw thoughts.)
From 1997-2011, I served 3 different churches in some pastoral or ministry role – including 3+ as Senior Pastor of Courageous Church in Atlanta. It chewed me up and spit me out. I’ve written about most of the highs and lows here on my blog. All things considered, I still love and believe in the church.
I admit, though, that I now only attend church occasionally, speak at churches rarely, and am still recovering and struggling to find my way in the contemporary church. I’m wide open to the possibility that the problem is me. This is not a post on how the church is ugly and I’m not.
I have a few rather random thoughts on the church that I want to share. While they do come from my own personal experiences, they each could transfer to your context.
- Too few people care about the mental and emotional health of pastors. If you attend a church I am almost 100% sure that you have a pastor dealing with more stress than you can imagine. People dump all of their secrets and troubles on pastors and daily come to them with gut-wrenching requests for money, support, advice, and much more. I bailed people of jail, saw couples through physical abuse, listened to secrets of molestation, served as a surrogate dad to fatherless children, wrote checks for bills that folk couldn’t pay AND still had to oversee the daily grind of running and managing the church. When I got very stressed myself, I got the feeling that very few people cared – particularly the members of the church. Even my “coaches” had little to say other than “hang in there”.
- Very few pastors get paid too much money. I worked 60+ hours per week. The job rarely had an off switch for me. For most of the time I was pastoring Courageous Church I made between $40,000-$60,000 including health insurance and travel costs, etc. However, somebody was always around to make me feel like I made too much money. Nobody hates the idea of a pastor driving a Bentley and living in excess more than me, but very few pastors are living this life. Most of them are struggling just to make it from month to month. You should read the book, Uncharitable, on how people who do good get paid too little and are often made to feel like crap for the little they make.
- Pastors who advocate innovation and new models of ministry are very lonely. I could say more here, but I just really want the point to be known.
- Pastors not only have feelings, but probably feel deeper than most people. It hurts when people leave your church. It hurts when people you prayed for and worried about talk crap about you. It hurts when folk treat you like you owe them something because they decided to give a good offering some random Sunday. As a pastor, you lead with your heart and it is so hard to lead with it out in the open and for it to not get hurt.
- New church plants, often envious of mega-churches, make the mistake of trying to do everything like the mega-church does it. This path is full of landmines. Furthermore, mega-churches sometimes do other churches a disservice by teaching what ends up amounting to “how to be like us” seminars that rarely work. Each church has to chart its own path and one way to fail is for you to listen more to your favorite mega-church pastor than you do to God. At the very least, do both, but always be open to God leading you down a unique path for your church in your town with the people God has called you to serve.
- I’m still shocked at how clumsily churches and denominations continue to deal with issues of race & sex in church leadership. It’s a mess really. Most ethnically diverse churches still have a white pastor and too often have all white senior staffs. Furthermore, it’s just outrageous how few women serve in senior and executive roles in churches in 2013.
- The men at the Thursday prayer meeting I attend in Manhattan have convinced me that churches and senior pastors have no idea how to empower and unleash the businessmen and women of their churches. I was guilty of this when I was a pastor as well and businesspeople now tell me that they are tired of being asked to just count money or help raise it when they could do so much more to help grow and build the church.