I recently came across this particular blog entry by Michael Spencer. It is one of the most soul-bearing exercises that I have ever seen and I'm so thankful that he shared it despite it's personal nature. I actually found it at by going through this post by seratoninrain who got it from this post by Randy McRoberts. The original post might possibly end up being one of the most linked posts in history and here's why, so many people can connect with it. It's like it carries along a train of broken-down, disenchanted ministers, those battered and beaten by years of false expectations and bitter disappointments. I encourage you to read each post linked above for perspective and then read the following post...
It's time for a radical transformation in the way we view ministers. For anyone out there who's struggling and feels the need to throw on a happy face in the midst of so much discouragement I say - It's not supposed to be this way!!!! I'll be the first to tell you that following Jesus isn't meant to be easy, or a light-hearted endeavor, or a profitable venture by the standards of the world, but I will tell you that I believe it's supposed to be accompanied by an overarching assurance that you are exactly where you're supposed to be and that you're doing exactly what God desires you to be doing.
That assurance is rare these days. I don't believe it's because today's ministers are fake or phony, hiding a mountainous life of sin behind a plastic smile. Don't get me wrong, that is most definitely happening but it's not the source of the problem. It's more of an effect. It's the effect of ministers being held up to a standard that no one should be held up to. The source of the problem is that we have so warped the expectations and job description of a minister that they are forced to shoulder a burden they were never meant to carry. This is what we expect of our ministers:
-They must be perfect. Verbally we would never say this but we certainly expect it. In a world where just about anybody has a license to fail, implode, self-distruct, be all over the board, be manic, be wishy-washy, be non-committal, we expect our ministers to be perfect. We expect them to be a source of stability and sanity even though everyone else gets to check their brains at the door. So pastor, you better never have a bad day. You better never have a doubt. You better never have a discouraging moment. If they're going to expect this of us then they darn sure better foot the bill for plastic surgery so we can be sure and have that stupid smile plastered to our faces.
-They must have unlimited time for "ministry." Somewhere along the way there was this notion developed that pastors don't really have a "job" per se. Since all they have to do is pray and read the Bible they should have plenty of time for the other 6000 peripheral things that get dumped in their laps. For me, as a youth pastor, I needed to be at the extra-curricular event of every student at one point or another. I needed to attend 8 graduations, 3 on the same night. We need to have time to sit at the hospital, visit all the people who haven't made it to church in the past two weeks, write letters, set the course and vision of our ministry, plan events, and still have time to do all that "preacher stuff" like pray and study the Bible, or heaven forbid just sit and ponder the savior!! Let me just debunk that for the load of crap that it is. Can I just say that as a recent ministry drop-out I have more "free" time then I've ever had in my life. So much so that I've been working as much as 48 hours in a week, taking 15 hours of college classes, and still having more time to watch a random TV show or read a blog than I ever imagined while locked in the bondage of full time ministry.
-They must be CEO's in addition to being pastors. This one is fueled by pastors as much as it is by the flocks they tend. The idea of a minister as a humble servant has been replaced by the Fortune 500 pastor. We've got to have marketing skills, communicating skills, administrative skills, fund-raising skills, humor, good looks, and the like. Pastors have either ignorantly or unwittingly set themselves up as the be-all, end-all of the church. Someone once said to me that a successful minister is one who works themselves out of a job. Now, that might be overly simplistic and full of flaws but its still a beautiful picture of humbly raising up disciples. However, it certainly doesn't describe our cultural thinking. Our pastor is our indispensable guru. He is the single-most important person in our church, the point-man for every action, every good idea, every task in need of a leader. Our priorities are out of whack as well as our measuring stick.
I can't tell you how many times I've sat in my own home church and heard them talk about things are going good and we are very healthy. What is the determining factor in that health? It's not the number of people coming to Christ because there have never been less. It's not the addition of people getting involved in ministry because that's a continual battle. It's not the people who are willingly forsaking things to follow Christ more fully, we've just come to expect they'll love their big homes and comfortable lifestyle more. We know things are good based on the bottom line - giving is up! We're healthy because there's plenty of money. Now how silly is that as a determination for health. From what I understand the pornography industry grows substantially every year on the bottom line - does that mean they're healthy? If we were honest how many people give what they give so that they can feel good about the materialistic choices that they make or because they get to put a gold star in the righteousness box? We talk about how our giving is a sign of God's blessing and anointing. Giving is up in the LDS church, are we going to say the same thing about them? Certainly not as Southern Baptists we wouldn't. And what's even more funny is that we never take the reciprocal of that notion. If giving is down we don't say it's God's cursing or a lack of God's anointing. We say its "spiritual warfare" or "a test of our faith." Our mentality is so messed up. It's funny, we're commanded to be in the world but not of it. I think that the church of today is of the world but not in it.
I could go on but I'll save it for a later time. My point is that ministers are hurting because they're not really fulfilling the roles that they've been called to. We've created this image in our minds of what a minister looks like and we measure ourselves and other pastors by it. I've been reading the Sermon on the Mount lately, really trying to see those things that Jesus would seek of his disciples. I've also been pondering the "fruits of the spirit" as well. How many ministers are chosen or dubbed successful because they meet the standards of those two lists? Not many. We measure them up based on the standards of successful business leaders or military figures or politicians.
How many times did I prove myself a hypocrite by standing on stage and compelling teenagers to do things that I wasn't doing in my own life? How many times did I put on a mask that said "Real Christianity looks like this?" How many times did I put on a fake smile and act like everything was okay when I was crumbling on the inside? I couldn't even begin to tell you because it's far more than I could count. I did it with students, I did it with parents, I did it with other staff members, I did it with friends. And why did I do it? Because, spoken or unspoken, it is what was expected of me. I think that in truth, ministers ought to be more open and honest than anyone else. Their wrestling with Christ ought to be a display that is seen by others as an testimony and an example. Now how foreign is that idea?
Our churches are hurting in part because our ministers are hurting. No word more aptly describes the church of our day than dysfunctional. I think maybe the best thing we could do for ourselves is to stop the preaching, stop the teaching, halt the pot-luck dinners and the Halloween carnivals, and just go get ourselves some counseling. If a family exhibited the signs of dysfunction that our churches do that is the first advice I would give. Why should this situation be any different?